Gardening Update: How to Get Rid of Cutworms

April 17, 2021

For the last couple of days, I have noticed a drastic change in my newly transplanted seedlings. They had been thriving, but suddenly began to show signs of what I thought might be “transplant shock.” I was checking the soil for moisture, deep down, when I discovered a Cutworms! Right away it all made sense: the curved leaves, the holes, and the snapped trunks. The Cutworms are eating my new veggies!

Dealing with a Cutworm Problem Cutworms are the larvae of several species of nocturnal moth. They live under the soil, in high grass and weeds, or under piles of debris. Their eggs, which can be expected to hatch in the fall, can also be found in similar, enclosed or shrouded locations. They come out to feed at night and will eat the first portion of the plant they encounter, which is generally the stem. They do the majority of their damage when they first emerge from hibernation, which is at the beginning of the growing season. Often mistaken for grubs, they are actually a type of caterpillar. Cutworms received their name because of how they feed. Since they eat the plant beginning at the stem, they “cut” down the plan from its base. They can be found most easily at dusk when they first emerge to feed. They also prefer cloudy days over sunny ones.Cutworms may be up to two inches in length and can range in color from grey to pink, to green and black. They are often spotted in color as well. They will generally be found curled up when not moving about. Adult cutworms are dark-winged moths – usually 1 ½ inch in length with brown or grey dark, possibly spotted wings. Female moths will lay eggs in the dry soil. Cutworms eat the roots and bottom-most vegetation of almost all plants. They usually eat the foliage and roots of young plants, destroying them from beneath the soil. Usually, the entire plant will be destroyed, often very quickly.


Make Collars for Your Plants

An easy home DIY method is to make collars for your plants. These can be made from paper towel or toilet paper roll insets, which you have cut into two or three-inch tall rings. Cut each ring along one side so that you can slip it around your plant’s base. Voila! Now the cutworms will not be able to crawl over this barrier to chow down!

Using Items from the Kitchen

A second simple home option is to re-use some of those coffee grounds or eggshells you have been saving. (You have been keeping those, right?) The scent and texture of both will repel the cutworms.

Using an Organic Insecticide

If you decide to use any forms of insecticide, apply in the afternoon, close to dusk, for the most effectiveness. We recommend a natural pesticide if you choose to go this route. Bacillus thuringiensis is one option that has proven effective for many growers, but beware that it is harmful to butterflies, which are beneficial and necessary to pollination. A better option could be proper mulching, especially with oak leaves. Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) is a species of bacteria that lives in soil. It makes proteins that are toxic to some insects when eaten, but not others. The proteins are not toxic to humans because, like all mammals, we cannot activate them.

Natural Predators

Cutworms also have multiple natural predators.Fireflies can be a fun addition to your garden, and if you have kids or pets, these are always a fun summertime treat to watch with them in the evening.

Several species of bird also consider the cutworm delicious. Placing feeders and bird baths around your property will help to encourage our flying friends to stick around and find a snack. Currently, I have a family of Sparrows that nested near my veggie garden.

Finally, skunks will also dig up cutworms. We suggest if you see a skunk in your yard, just leave it alone. You’ll be very glad you did.

Beneficial Insects or Diatomaceous Earth

Our final suggestion for cutworm removal is to invest in beneficial nematodes or Diatomaceous Earth. These can be purchased and added to your garden and will help to prevent many pests, including cutworms. We really cannot say enough about beneficial nematodes, or DE. 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. I am currently trying several of the methods mentioned to abolish the Cutworms that are eating my newly planted veggie seedlings. I have created “collars” around the stems made out of modified plastic cups. I have also applied some Diatomaceous Earth around some of my veggies. I am also encouraging our resident Sparrows, and other birds to stay in the garden, by providing some food and a bird bath. Finally, I plan to order the Bacillus thuringiensis. I will spray it on the plants, to completely eradicate the Cutworms!

What pest have you encountered in your garden? Please share in the comments. Thank you for sharing!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s