Tomato hornworms are well-camouflaged 4-in.-long green caterpillars. They devour tomatoes, leaves and stems. Solution: Hand-pick and destroy them. Or, spray the nontoxic bacterial control Bacillus thuringiensis (sold as BT and Dipel, among others) when hornworms are small. If you find a hornworm with clusters of small white cocoons on its back, leave it alone. The cocoons belong to a small parasitic wasp that kills the worm. Blights and leaf spots are fungal diseases that first impact the lower leaves; they get brown spots, turn yellow and eventually die. These diseases slowly spread through plants and kill them. Solution: Mulch plants to prevent water from splashing the disease spores from the ground onto the leaves. Clean up and destroy all diseased plants. Rotate crops annually. In regions where disease problems are severe, spray the plants with a preventive fungicide, as directed by your extension service or informed nursery staff. Even with all the potential tomato problems, if you choose varieties carefully and take some basic precautions, you will have plenty of tomatoes to enjoy and extras to share with neighbors this summer.• • •Q: Does touch therapy work on tomato plants?
A: Cornell University researchers have found that gently stroking tomato seedlings occasionally produces short, stocky plants that are more desirable for transplanting. Start stroking when plants are 2 1/2 in. tall and continue until transplanting.
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