How To Deal With Armyworms (Zone 9 – Central Florida)

Armyworms

Something happened this weekend while we were camping. I left the house with a raised bed full of kale, spinach, beans and tomatoes and I came back to this swiss-cheese-esque MESS.

Leaves with holes

After examining the plants a little closer, I came face to face with dozens (maybe hundreds? maybe millions?) of tiny black caterpillars hiding on the back side of many of my spinach and tomato leaves.

Some were even hiding in my tomatoes. (Warning: this picture is CREEPY.)

Armyworm in tomato

These destructive little buggers are called yellow-striped armyworms. Apparently, these caterpillars are called “armyworms” because they descend upon a crop like an army and “skeletonize” plants quickly. Skeletonize is the official term that the garden experts use. Doesn’t it sound lovely?

So, what should you do if yellow-striped armyworms attack?

First, I read that neem oil is effective on arymworms and other leaf-feeding caterpillars. When these armyworms attacked, I was not using neem oil regularly. I’ll admit, with all the moving and packing going on, I’ve let my regular fertilizing and neem oil (organic pesticide) treatments fall to the wayside.

Second, I ended up removing my entire tomato and spinach crop to remove all the damage and, more importantly, all the caterpillars! Sometimes with armyworms, complete removal is the only option.

But there is good news. Armyworms do not like kale or beans! They ate their way through the tomatoes and straight down through the spinach without touching the other plants in my raised garden bed. Look at their path of destruction below.

Kale and beans

Here is a closer picture of the untouched kale. It did not suffer even one armyworm nibble.

Kale

After dealing with this frustrating situation, I have a game plan for preventing armyworm damage in the future. Want to know what I’m going to do?

I will never plant tomatoes in a raised bed or in a garden alongside other plants again. 

After two tomato growing seasons, I’ve discovered that tomatoes want to grow too big and attract too many plant-eating critters to be placed up against other plants. Remember when my first tomato plants took over my raised garden bed?

Wild Tomatoes

Also, remember when we had our tomato hornworm situation?

Hornworms

So, that’s my plan. This plan won’t prevent armyworms from ravaging my tomatoes in the future, but it will limit the damage and number of plants that get destroyed. I already have space for my tomato plants at my new house WAY back in the far corner. 🙂

Here are some other helpful posts about dealing with armyworms:

  1. Use BT Dust (Bacillus Thuringiensis)
  2. Use natural predators, such as wasps or ladybugs

Have you ever had a problem with armyworms? If so, how did you solve it?

Armyworm attack

 

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