Here are tips on how to identify, eliminate, and control cutworms in the garden.
What are Cutworms?
Cutworms is the name used for the larvae of a number of species of adult moths. Eggs that hatch in the fall can produce larvae capable of overwintering in the soil or a woodpile. They do the most damage early in the gardening season, when they emerge from hibernation. They are stealth, and tend to feed only at night, while hiding in daylight hours. Different species range in color from grey to pink, green and black and can be as long as two inches. They can be solid, spotted or striped. They tend be curled up when they are not on the move.
How to Identify Cutworms
Cutworms chew through plant stems at the base! They even cut off the plant from underneath the soil. In most cases, entire plants will be destroyed; they do a lot of damage in no time at all.
Try patrolling your garden in dusk and evening hours, when cutworms will begin to feed. They are also partial to cloudy days. Keep a close eye on tomato and bell pepper crops.
Variegated cutworm larvae
Black cutworm larvae
How to get rid of Cutworms
- In the spring, emerging cutworms will be waiting to feast on your garden. Cut off their food supply by delaying transplanting or planting by a couple weeks if possible.
- Make plant collars. Put a 4-inch piece of cardboard around each plant stem to help stop cutworms from reaching tender stems, especially right at transplanting. This time-consuming task works though it is only efficient for a smaller garden!
- Hand pick. Go out at night with a flashlight and gloves. Pick off the cutworms and drop into soapy water; repeat this every few nights.
- Sprinkle used coffee grounds or egg shells around your plants.
- Circle stems with diatomaceous earth, a natural powder made from ground up fossils which kills insects when they walk over it.
- Apply an insecticide late in the afternoon for best control. Some readers use Bacillus thuringiensism, a natural way to kill cutworms. However, note that this bacterium may harm butterflies, an important pollinator.
- Keep up with cultivation. The moths prefer to lay eggs in high grass and weeds. At the end of the season, plow or till the garden and mow surrounding areas to expose cutworms and destroy their winter habitat.