Now that most gardens are planted and transplanted, gardeners are ready to start weeding and harvesting. So we walk through the garden each morning checking the progress. If we notice something has been eating our new transplants and the tops are eaten off, it could be deer, rabbits, birds, etc. If the stem is eaten off at ground level or just above the ground, chances are it’s cutworms. If it is a fresh cut, dig around under the ground and you’ll probably find it curled up in a C position.
All cutworms are the larvae of moths. As moths they are light brown to grey and they are the ones that fly into light bulb light come nightfall. If the number of moths that are flying around at night is any indication, we are in for a bumper crop of cutworms next spring. The larvae are grayish or brown, one to two inches long. They, like grub worms, curl up into a C when disturbed.
Cutworms can be a serious problem for gardeners and farmers. Cutworms in corn or soybean fields can destroy the crops. If serious enough gardeners and farmers must spray an insecticide in the soil and replant. This can be the difference between profit and loss.
Cutworms feed near the soil surface, cutting stems below ground level or just above it. They feed mainly at night and rest during the day in the soil. They feed on all garden vegetables and flowers and especially on seedlings and transplants.
I can remember when I was growing up, the good gardeners, including my dad, were always dealing with cutworms. My dad placed an eight or ten penny nail along the stem of the plant when transplanting. The theory is that since the cutworm must encompass the stem before it can chew it off, the nail or a small stick will prevent this. Some use a collar of cardboard or a juice can around each plant when it is transplanted into the garden. I have tried all of the above including hollowed out coffee cans around each plant. Most of the time it works but sometimes it doesn’t.
Deep spading in late summer or fall destroys cutworm eggs and exposes the pupae to the elements or to the birds searching for food. Rotating the crops to areas where cutworms have not been a problems and plowing or deep tilling may also destroy the worms. I would not advise the average gardener to use chemicals to control cutworms. If the infestation is that severe, consult with a feed mill or authorized store that is certified to use those chemicals for their advice.