Someone, or something, was viciously cutting down my plants. Each morning, vegetable and flower seedlings lay strewn about, victims of a massacre by some unknown fiend. What was causing such heartless devastation? The culprit, I discovered, was none other than that menace to gardens, the cutworm.
Despite their small size, cutworms can wreak havoc on gardens. The black, brown, grey, green, or yellow striped bodies of these moth larvae reach lengths of only 1 inch, but they routinely feed on leaves, flowers, vegetables, and attack plants by chewing through stems and cutting off seedlings at the ground level. They occasionally even consume entire plants, and are therefore not garden-friendly critters. During the day, these nocturnal caterpillars burrow in topsoil. While they occasionally feed underground, they do the majority of their damage at night, when they emerge to prey upon hapless plants.
Protecting Your Garden from Cutworms
So, if you have a garden, how can you prevent cutworms from attacking your precious seedlings? In many regions, cutworm larvae and pupae spend the winter beneath the soil, so farmers who plow during winter months can kill many of these pests. Individuals who have smaller gardens often find that tilling the soil before planting will destroy any larvae in the soil. Those who discover the caterpillars later in the season can still eradicate many of these pests by digging into the soil to a depth of 2 to 3 inches, and manually killing the cutworms.
If you have a large number of cutworms in your garden already, you may find that starving the creatures is effective. Keep weeds down before the growing season, and reduce manure and compost. Doing so can also can not only make it harder for cutworm larvae to find food, but may also discourage adult cutworm moths from laying eggs in the area.
Baits are also often effective against cutworms, specifically baits of sweetened bran mash that contain poison. Make the mash crumbly and thin, rather than lumpy, so that pets and other wild animals will be unlikely to accidentally consume it. Additionally, consider giving your plants aluminum or cardboard collars, as these often serve as effective barriers to cutworm damage.
Don’t let cutworms ruin your garden! They may be mean, but they are not indestructible, as I soon discovered!