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.
Dealing with a Cutworm Problem
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.
Getting Rid of Cutworms
Thankfully, we don’t have to resort to accepting these nocturnal moth larvae plant-cutters in our gardens! There are a few different methods for cutworm removal, so feel free to take your pick. But, first, you should mow any grass where the worms may be hiding, and clean up litter or debris piles. Then, you can find a prevention and/or removal method that works for you.
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
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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.
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.
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.
Cutworms are probably one of the more disgusting pests to deal with in the garden, and we feel your frustration. None of the insects or critters we battle are fun, but these guys are just downright gross. Hang in there, the cutworms too will not defeat us. Every pest has a solution.