Photo by Melody

Protecting New Plants From Cutworms

By Lee Anne Stark (threegardenersMay 29, 2009
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There is nothing more disheartening than planting a whole vegetable garden with new plants just to find them all cut off at ground level the next morning. Here is an easy, inexpensive way to avoid this heartache.

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The cutworm:  the beaver of the insect world. They wreak havoc on our new plants by cutting them off at ground level. The results look like somebody came along with a teeny, tiny chainsaw. As a gardener, there is no worse sight than a row of new plants lying wilting in the sun, severed from their roots and left to die. Other cutworms are climbers and they'll chop off the top of a plant. That's what happened to the flower pictured to the right.

The cutworm is the larva of any of a number of species of night-flying and otherwise harmless moths. Since cutworms feed at night, we have no idea of their presence in our gardens until the morning after planting out tender young plants. Then the damage is obvious. A little digging by hand or trowel in the immediate area of the fallen plant almost always reveals the culprit:  a small, soft-bodied grey or dull brown caterpillar-looking creature that curls up when disturbed.

tp rollsThere is a very simple tip to avoid this damage. So simple, incut open fact, that you'll be amazed. It uses something each and every one of us has a multitude of right at hand. You'll never guess...not in a million years. Give up? Empty toilet paper or paper towel centres. The cardboard tubes are perfect cutworm foils.

Gather up a bunch of them, and use a pair of scissors to cut right up the centre, making an adjustable cardboard "cuff" or paper collar.

When you plant out your brand new seedlings, take these cuffs with you to the garden.  Plant the seedling just as you normally would. Open the "cuff" of cardboard tubing and wrap it around the Imageplant's stem. Close it up and push the tube into the soil. Some peple fill the tube up with soil but I always leave it empty above ground level. Leaving it empty allows for better watering. Pour the water right into the tube and it goes directly where I want it to go with no run-off.

Now your plants have an effective cutworm barrier. The cardboard tube is biodegradable and disintegrate with time, composting back into the soil. By that time, your new plants will have become tough enough to survive cutworm attacks.

If you aren't entirely thrilled with having your vegetable garden filled with rows of cardboard tubes, there are other organic options. Till your garden area in the fall to expose any soon-to -be-hibernating larvae. Before planting in the spring, remove any weeds andImage till the garden again. This will expose and kill many of the soon-to-be-awakening larvae. Beneficial nematodes will destroy any cutworms in the soil. Also effective is a sprinkling of diatomaceous earth around each new plant. Encourage birds to hang around your gardens by placing feeders and baths nearby. As much as I dislike starlings, they do an amazing job of keeping my garden bug-free. I can see the holes where they've shoved their beaks into the soil looking for grubs and caterpillars. Plant sweet alyssum to attract parasitic wasps. BT (Bacillus thuringiensis) is effective if applied to the soil around the plants, but do not apply to leaves since it will kill butterfly caterpillars as well.

Hopefully this article will be useful in helping you thwart the cutworms' mass-muder of your newly planted vegetable plants.

 

My thanks to Melody for planting,"cuffing" and photographing some vegetables when my garden was still frozen solid.


  About Lee Anne Stark  
Lee Anne StarkI am an avid gardener who shares my gardens with 2 other equally avid gardeners. I garden for fun and relaxation, never paying attention to the rules!! During the long, cold winter months I occupy my time playing with over a hundred house plants, my six cats and two dogs.

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Discussion about this article:
SubjectTopic StarterRepliesViewsLast Post
Cutword Question Glowing 1 27 Jan 11, 2010 4:01 PM
BT Margaritari 1 9 Jun 6, 2009 7:24 PM
Another one that works for me! Mima56 5 82 Jun 2, 2009 1:00 AM
cut worms GEENP 0 26 Jun 1, 2009 9:42 PM
Cutworms NancyMcD 0 35 Jun 1, 2009 6:07 PM
Another Anti-cutworm Technique SonnyMTate 0 54 Jun 1, 2009 5:06 PM
Basket of Gold or Creeping Basket of Gol scole456 1 51 May 30, 2009 12:04 AM
New and improved! Fitsy 3 69 May 29, 2009 9:49 PM
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