How to Get Rid of Cutworms in the Garden


Black cutworms can wreak havoc on your garden, so learn these tips for identification and control. Droege on Flickr Creative Commons

Cutworms can be a major annoyance in the garden, particularly for young seedlings or transplants. Here’s how to identify, prevent, and get rid of cutworms in your garden.

What Are Cutworms?

“Cutworm” is the name used for the larvae of a number of moth species. The adult moths lay eggs on plant debris from spring through fall. Some species’ eggs hatch in spring and summer, while others hatch in the fall, with the larvae overwintering in the soil or a woodpile.

Cutworms do the most damage early in the gardening season, when they emerge and feed on seedlings. Cutworms are caterpillars, but they are often mistaken for the grubs of beetles such as Japanese beetles (which are damaging in their own right).


How to Identify Cutworms

Cutworms feed on a wide variety of vegetables and flowers—any young seedlings or transplants. To identify them, try patrolling your garden at dusk or during the evening, when cutworms will begin to feed. They are also partial to cloudy days.

Different species range in color from grey, 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. Cutworms are stealthy, and tend to feed only at night, hiding during daylight hours.

Black cutworms, Agrotis ipsilon, are one of the most common cutworms. They have small dark spots on their bodies and mature into the dark sword-grass moth.

Variegated cutworms, Peridroma saucia saucia, are another common species. They are mottled brown and have a faint white stripe down their backs.

Adult cutworms are moths of dark wing colors. They are usually brown or gray, and get to be about 1½ inches long with a 1½-inch wing length. Keep an eye out for the adults, because the females will lay eggs in dry soil after they mate.

Photo Credit: on Flickr Creative Commons. The adult moth of the brown cutworm is an indicator that cutworm eggs could be in your soil.
The adult moth of the brown cutworm is an indicator that cutworm eggs could be in your soil. Photo Credit: on Flickr Creative Commons.

Cutworm Damage

Cutworms chew through plant stems at the base. They primarily feed on roots and foliage of young plants, and will 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. Even if only the bottom of the plant is destroyed, the top will often shrivel and die.

In the summer, cutworms sometimes crawl to the tops of plants and do damage there. Be careful not to mistake this damage for slug or cabbage worm damage.

Photo Credit: John Obermeyer, Purdue University. Black cutworms can cause severe injury to the base of plants, often killing them.
Black cutworms can cause severe injury to the base of plants, often killing them. Photo Credit: John Obermeyer, Purdue University.

Control and Prevention

How to Protect Your Garden from Cutworms

Because cutworms can do a lot of damage to seedlings, prevention is key!

  • Make plant collars. Encircle each stem with a 4-inch-tall piece of cardboard 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.
    • Aluminum foil also works well.
  • Hand pick. Go out at night with a flashlight and gloves. Pick off the cutworms and drop into soapy water; repeating this every few nights.
  • Surround stems with diatomaceous earth (D.E.), a natural powder made from ground up diatoms. When insects come into contact with D.E., the fine powder gets within their exoskeleton and eventually dehydrates them. Note: Pollinators such as bees and butterflies are also susceptible to D.E., so do not use it around flowers. Only place D.E. at the base of plants, where pollinators won’t encounter it. 
  • Apply an insecticide late in the afternoon for best control. Some gardeners use Bacillus thuringiensis, a bacterium that affects soft-bodied insects and their larvae. 
  • Try this folk advice from The 1963 Old Farmer’s Almanac
    • A mulch of oak leaves is useful against cutworms.
    • Tansy planted near cabbages keeps them free of cutworms.
    • A hog turned into a garden in early spring will root up cutworms.

How to Prevent 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.
  • 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.
  • Beneficial insects, like parasitic wasps and green lacewings, will attack cutworms and other soft-bodied insects. Learn how to attract beneficial insects here!
  • Birds are another natural predator to cutworms. Learn how to make your garden bird-friendly.


Reader Comments

Leave a Comment

Cutworm Problem?

Hi, I am trying my best to grow broccoli and hitting snags all the time, with cabbage worms, aphids, and just heat and other stuff. Recently i had a plant perfectly healthy that was standing fine and then the next day i come out it is laying on the ground. I looked at the stem and it was still connected but the bottom right in the soild was almost as thin as the roots of the plant so it can't support the weight. I'm 99% certain it is a cutworm problem as had a second plant with the same issue this morning. The only thing i'm struggling with is finding the cutworms and understanding why they didn't cut the plant stem clean off as in the photos shown typically for cutworms. Or do i have a completely different problem?

Damping Off

The Editors's picture

Unless you see visible chew marks, these symptoms sound more like a fungal issue called “damping off.” It’s a common problem with young seedlings! Check out this helpful guide by University of Minnesota Extension: 

What plants?

I've been looking online for a comprehensive list of what plants cutworms attack and I can't believe I can't find one. I've put collars on my peppers and tomatoes for years but I was wondering specifically about cucumbers -- I guess no problem because I sure can't find a page that mentions it.


Can I seed my pole beans in toilet rolls and then plant the whole thing in the garden...cause the cutworms chop the prime leaves off as soon as the bean time for covering with anything!

TP Rolls

The Editors's picture

You can certainly start the beans in toilet paper tubes, but you’ll want to remove them when you plant in the garden, as the tubes will restrict the roots. However, you can still keep the tubes above ground to discourage cutworms!


If you have a small garden or a small quantity of flowers you want to protect, try cutting half-gallon or quart size cardboard milk or OJ cartons to make collars. You cut the top and bottoms off as close to the seam as you can, then cut the remaining container in half. This creates about a 4-5 inch collar the can be places around the base of the plant stem. When pushed lightly into the loose soil, the cutworms are deterred from climbing over it and attacking your plants. The collars can also help in watering the root system when the plants are young as they are “waxed” to prevent the milk from leaking and they will breakdown over the season for easy recycling. Any carton of this design will work.


It may be an old wives tale but I have been putting a large nail next to the stems of all of my small transplants. I have done this for years and have never had a loss to cutworms. I was told to do this by an old farmer.

Cutworm HELP!!!!

I live in Oregon and the cutworm showed up in Oregon in 2017. The cutworm has not only been eating our garden and flowers but has made it into my beautiful home. We have tried organic methods and they do not work. Are there any insecticides that work and are pet friendly for indoors and outdoors?

a thank you for this article

I had often seen the dark brown, mottled moth that you identify as the adult moth of the brown cutworm. I am fairly ignorant, didn't like that moth, but didn't know what it was. I just lost a number of small lettuce transplants in a garden plot in which I had had previous problems with cutworms. Now I will know better. Thank you!

Years without cutworms, and now I have them.

A couple times in the past few years, while turning the soil in my raised planters, I have had to pull out 100+ grubs from a 4x8 box. This year, I am finding a few cutworms in my planter boxes and planter pots. I have some dead patches of grass that I have dug through and not seen grubs. I am suspecting that cutworms have made their way into my garden. I typically find them by digging, not seeing them out of the soil.

Alternative Pesticide

Hello we want to try having an experiment on using alternative pesticide other than coffee grounds, eggshells, and dipping thr cuteworms in soapy water. What can you recommend some alternative pesticide for cutworms that won't harm plants specifically we want to try it in a tomato plant. Thanks in advance!!

cut worms in hydrangeas

Leaves on my hydrangeas are being eaten. I think it is cutworm. Any suggestions in addition to above?

Cut worms

I think my hydrangeas are being eaten by cut worm. What should I use to get rid of them


Oregon hydrangeas are being eaten too!!! Help!!!

Everything you provide should

Everything you provide should have more photos for make more tangible every pest and disease .



cut worms

Here is a good one. Started my spinach in a grow flat beginning of june indoors.Transplanted them to those cardboard planter pots 2 weeks later. I set them on my patio table to get them use to the sun (1 week). I go out today and they are all chopped off. I found black cut worms in the pots. The funny thing is that I only used miracle grow veggie soil and they have had no contact with the ground and have not been outside long enough for eggs to hatch. Is it possible that the packaged garden soil is infested with them when you purchase it?

Cutworms killing our lawn in patches

We have sections of our lawn with roots eaten by cutworms. I have been removing these sections. If I did not remove would the grass reroot? I have been putting on different cutworm killers but not sure they are working. I have also had Terminex put granular poison on lawn.

cutworms or grubs?

The Editors's picture

This sounds more like the work of grubs, which can resemble cutworms (see above). Grubs are Japanese beetle larvae that live underground and feed on the roots of lawn grass. We have more information and some organic/non-chemical ideas for eliminating there here: And keep this in mind: If you see birds, skunks, armadillos, raccoons, or moles poking around your lawn, don’t be in a hurry to shoo them away: they are probably eating your grubs.

Rhubarb and cut worms?

My rhubarb had finally taken off. I checked it in the morning and it was fine, I came back and walked through the garden around 9 pm and the stalks were cut off at the ground. Could this be cut work? Will my plants produce next year?

Damage to Meyer lemons

The outer peal and pulpy layer of several of my Meyer lemons have been eaten. The damaged lemons are interspersed along the entire tree. The damage does not go into the fruit. What would cause such damage?

Citrus Cutworms

The Editors's picture

Citrus cutworms are the most likely culprit. Does the damage look fresh or does it look like the fruit has had time to develop a scar? Citrus cutworms feed on the rind of developing fruit, which leaves scars when the fruit eventually matures. They are also known to eat only some of each fruit before moving on to the next, which is why you see damaged fruits throughout your tree. The good news is that their damage should not have affected the quality of the inside of the fruit, so you can still use them. Cut off the affected areas, if you like.

Citrus cutworms do their damage from late spring to early summer. In spring, you can apply Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) to your tree to help keep them at bay. Bt is non-toxic to humans and must be ingested by insects to be effective, meaning pollinators like bees and butterflies are not harmed.

Cutworm eggs

So I found three of these worms in my garden boxes in my green house used btk, I sprayed Finn my garden boxes after that the next day I found the worms one was dead the other fell out of the plants I killed it the other went into the plastic cup of beer I put out not sure if there are more haven't noticed Amy more plants being eaten or poop anynwhere, but I noticed these little balls when I squish them there is liquid in it, searched they are eggs I'm guessing from the cutworms they are everywhere I smoothed I couldn't tell u how many but there are tons, how do I kill the eggs before they hatch, or did spraying btk in my garden box help with the egg to? What can I do I don't want them to hatch and get more cutworms. Like imsaid only caught out three not sure if there is more or not but want to get rid of the eggs.

Cutworm Eggs

The Editors's picture

Bt will have no effect on cutworm eggs—only the larvae themselves—as it must be ingested. You could try spraying the eggs with a mixture of equal parts rubbing alcohol and water, which will dry them out. Test this on a single area of the plant before applying it to the whole thing, just to make sure there are no adverse effects. Other potential solutions include insecticidal soaps, neem oil, and compounds containing pyrethrins—all of which should be available at your local hardware store or garden center. Most insecticides target pests after they have already hatched, so you may be better off waiting until the eggs hatch, at which point Bt will be effective.

iris cutworms

well, I had a good laugh at your solutions to stop cutworms on iris. I have over 1,000 CLUMPS.not about to handpick,do collars or use Bt on that many.besides the fact that I am ideas on a larger scale than a handful of iris? like a spray or something?

hundreds of cutworms

The Editors's picture

Well, at least you’re laughing, Sheryl. There are a variety of chemical treatments on the market—too many to mention and not a category from which we can make recommendations with experience. Visit your local garden/lawn supply stores. Some sources suggest that tilling your garden before planting helps to expose and kill overwintering larvae, as well as remove plant residue which helps to discourage egg laying. Make a plan to till your garden in the fall, too, for the same effects. You might also inquire at your local cooperative extension service. Folks there have some creative ideas. Click on your state to find the one nearest you:

We hope this helps!


I accidentally found a way to locate and then remove cutworms. I was drying a black plastic tarpaulin on my lawn and when I went to roll it up I noticed quite a few cut worms on the tarp trying to escape the heat I think. I also found heaps of cut worms on the top of the lawn driven out by the heat of the sun. I presume this would work better on a sunny day. I collected several hundred in a few 15 minute searches on a 4 square metre lawn.

Cut worm

I have a tunnel with raised beds enclosed by shade cloth. Had several years of fantastic veg until a month ago when cutworm destroyed most of the veg. Would clearing the beds which are not too long, then pouring boiling water over them several times get rid of the cut worm??

boiling water on cutworms

The Editors's picture

We’ve heard of baking soil but not soaking it with boiling water. You may be on to something, as the cutworms lay eggs in the soil. We can not comment on the idea because we have never done it, but we can advise removing weeds and plant residue, Til the garden before planting to help expose and kill overwintering larvae (if your beds are covered, perhaps the lack of exposure to cold enables the cutworms/larvae to thrive?), and avoid green manure; instead use compost. To that point, have you considered replacing your soil?? If you still think there are larvae in the soil, collar the plants with aluminum foil. Cutworms have many natural enemies but none can really eliminate them. We hope this helps.

Chemical control cutworm

Hello dear
Plz gave me information about chemical
control cutworm. There are alat of cutworms in khost afghanistan.



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