How to Identify and Control Cutworms in Your Garden
Cutworms are the larvae of several species of moths that feed on the stems and roots of young plants. They can cause serious damage to your garden by cutting off the plant’s supply of water and nutrients. Cutworms are most active at night and hide in the soil or under debris during the day. They can attack a wide range of crops, including vegetables, flowers, fruits, and ornamentals.
In this article, you will learn how to identify cutworms, how to prevent them from infesting your garden, and how to control them organically if they do.
How to Identify Cutworms
Cutworms are not worms, but caterpillars that have a soft, cylindrical body that can vary in color from gray to brown to black. They can also have stripes, spots, or patterns on their body. Cutworms can grow up to 2 inches long and curl up into a C-shape when disturbed.
The easiest way to identify cutworms is by the damage they cause to your plants. Cutworms feed on the stems and roots of young plants near the soil surface, often severing them completely. This can result in wilted or dead plants that look like they have been cut with a knife. Cutworms can also bore into fruits and tubers, creating holes and tunnels.
How to Prevent Cutworms
The best way to prevent cutworms from infesting your garden is to practice good sanitation and crop rotation. Here are some tips to follow:
- Remove weeds and plant debris from your garden regularly, as they can provide shelter and food for cutworms and their adult moths.
- Till or dig your soil in the fall and spring to expose and destroy any cutworm eggs, larvae, or pupae that may be hiding in the soil.
- Rotate your crops every year to avoid planting the same type of plants in the same area where cutworms may have overwintered.
- Avoid planting susceptible crops near grassy areas or fields where cutworms may migrate from.
- Plant early in the season or use transplants instead of seeds to give your plants a head start before cutworms become active.
How to Control Cutworms Organically
If you find cutworms in your garden, there are several organic methods you can use to control them without harming your plants or the environment. Here are some options:
- Handpick and destroy any cutworms you find on or near your plants. You can do this at night with a flashlight or during the day by digging around the base of your plants.
- Use barriers to protect your plants from cutworm attacks. You can use cardboard collars, aluminum foil, plastic cups, or paper tubes to wrap around the stems of your plants and bury them an inch into the soil. This will prevent cutworms from reaching the stems and roots of your plants.
- Use beneficial insects and animals to help you control cutworms. You can attract birds, frogs, toads, lizards, spiders, parasitic wasps, and predatory beetles to your garden by providing them with food, water, and shelter. These natural enemies will feed on cutworms and reduce their population.
- Use organic pesticides to kill cutworms if other methods are not effective. You can use products that contain Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), a bacteria that infects and kills caterpillars without harming other organisms. You can also use products that contain spinosad, a natural substance derived from soil bacteria that affects the nervous system of insects. Follow the label instructions carefully when applying these products and avoid spraying them on flowers or beneficial insects.
Cutworms are a common pest that can cause severe damage to your garden by cutting off the stems and roots of young plants. You can prevent them from infesting your garden by practicing good sanitation and crop rotation. You can also control them organically by handpicking them, using barriers, attracting beneficial insects and animals, or using organic pesticides. By following these steps, you can protect your plants from cutworms and enjoy a healthy and productive garden.