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LifestyleColumnistsJessica Damiano

Troubleshooting tomato hornworms along with nonblooming daylilies, zucchini

A tomato hornworm munches tomatoes in Tom Smith's

A tomato hornworm munches tomatoes in Tom Smith's Jamesport garden. Credit: Tom Smith

DEAR JESSICA: Something had been eating my ripe tomatoes that I have in pots on my deck, and today I finally caught what it is. This "worm" is about three inches long, and you can see what it's doing to one of the tomatoes behind it. Do you have any idea what this thing is, and what I can do to stop it, and others, from eating my tomatoes? — Tom Smith, Jamesport

DEAR TOM: That's a tomato hornworm. They typically feast on leaves and stems, but as the season winds down, they munch on fruit as well. It is easily identified by its large size (often 3 to 4 inches long), the tell-tale V-shaped markings along its side and namesake black horn. Moths overwinter in the soil, emerge in spring, mate, lay eggs and grow, then go into the soil to pupate and repeat the cycle. The easiest and most effective way to evacuate your uninvited guests would be to pick them off by hand and drop them in a bucket of soapy water. If you've got a full-on infestation that makes handpicking impractical, apply bT, a natural bacteria, according to package directions. If you find your hornworms are covered in small white blobs, however, leave them be: Those would be eggs of the parasitic braconid wasp, which will do the killing for you when they hatch. They'll take care of a bunch of other pests, as well.

DEAR JESSICA: Can you tell me why my daylilies only bloom in June, and the rest of the summer I only have green buds and maybe five blooms at a time? This happens every year. — Mary Dunphy, Amityville

DEAR MARY: There's nothing wrong with your daylilies, and those green things aren't buds. They're seed pods, which the plant produces when the flowers fade. Not all daylily varieties are repeat bloomers, and it appears you have June-blooming plants. The fact that you do see a few flowers later in the season, however, means you might get a bit more if you snap off the faded flowers from their base right after they bloom. This will prevent the production of seed pods and allow the plants to direct their energy into a possible repeat bloom instead of seed production. 

DEAR JESSICA: Do you have any idea why I am only getting flowers from my zucchini plants this year? I haven't had one zucchini grow. Not that I am complaining too much since I love cooking and eating the flowers, but I would like to make some zucchini dishes, too! Someone said I had to pollinate the flowers myself, but I never had to do that before. Any ideas? — Dianne Guarino, Centerport 

DEAR DIANNE: It could be poor pollination, but what concerns me is that you mentioned eating the zucchini flowers, which I enjoy, as well. But I'm wondering if you might be removing and cooking female flowers — or removing too many males before they pollinate the females. You can easily identify the male flowers by their skinny stem. They usually precede the emergence of female flowers by about a day, and the females have a swollen mass at their stem base that resembles a small fruit, because that's exactly what it is. You should wait until the male flowers fully open before collecting them, and when you do, snip them off at their base, leaving a bit of stem on the plant. Also be sure to leave a few male flowers to pollinate all the females on the plant.

That said, if you're removing flowers correctly, there could a couple other reasons for your fruitless plants. Zucchini require about an inch of water per week, so be sure they are getting that (be careful not to overwater). They also need fertilizer, so apply a high-nitrogen product, such as 46-0-0- or 27-3-3 to soil, when plants are fully established.

Sometimes, however, pollination can be to blame. To hand-pollinate, tap a small paintbrush or cotton swab on the yellow pollen in the center of a male flower and then touch the same paintbrush to the center of a female flower.

If your garden isn't attracting enough pollinators, consider planting flowers they prefer, such as lavender, cosmos, nasturtiums, penstemon, sunflowers, bee balm, milkweed, dill and zinnia. Aim for a variety of colors and heights when selecting flowers, and include early-, mid- and late-blooming plants. If you plant them, they will come.

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