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Past Articles Library | Organic Pest Control | Cutworm



At night, these pesky worms will sever the stems of unprotected seedlings, killing many young plants and transplants in your vegetable and flower gardens.



Adults are brownish or gray moths with 1 1/2 inch (4 cm) wingspans. Larvae are thick, gray or dull brown caterpillars with shiny heads, almost a greasy appearance, and are found in the soil.



Adults emerge and lay eggs on grass or soil from early May to early June. Eggs hatch in 5 to 7 days. Larvae feed on grass and other plants for 3 to 5 weeks, then pupate in the soil. Adults emerge in late August to early September. Some species of cutworm will overwinter as eggs that will hatch during the first warm days of spring and feed on the earliest seedlings. Cutworms have one generation per year; however, a late second generation is possible and can damage crops in warm fall weather.




Low-growing perennials, annuals, root vegetables, flower and vegetable seedlings, and transplants.




Caterpillars feed at night on young plant stems at the soil line. A tell-tale sign is that you'll find the severed plants lying on the ground in the morning; seedlings may be completely eaten. During the day, caterpillars rest below the soil surface, curled beside the damaged plant stems.




Use cutworm collars on transplants to shield stems. To make a cutworm collar, simply take small strips of paper or newspaper, lightly wrap the stems of the young plants at the soil level. Make sure the collar is both below and above the soil level so as the cutworm crawls along the ground, it can't eat the stem.

Keep the growing area free of weeds, which might attract egg-laying moths.

Spread diatomaceous earth around the base of plants to discourage egg-laying by adults.


Apply insect parasitic nematodes to the soil.

Dig around the base of damaged transplants in the morning and kill any hiding larvae.

Because Bacillus thuringiensis (BT) and Bacillus thuringiensis var. kurstaki (BTK) can also kill butterfly larvae as well as pest caterpillars, only apply this material to plants that you know are infested with pests and use with great care.