Cutworms can invade your lawns any time of year and cause some severe damage. Even though the moths themselves do not harm crops, the larvae, called cutworms, damage young plants by destroying the stems at or near ground level.
If cutworms invade your seedlings, you would want to find out how to get rid of cutworms. And the good news is controlling cutworms is feasible with a bit of know-how.
Here’s how to get rid of cutworms:
- Manually remove them
- Use a barrier to prevent cutworms
- Maintaining a healthy garden or lawn
- Using pesticides
Read on to find out everything you need to know about cutworms and how to get rid of cutworms successfully.
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What Are Cutworms?
Cutworm larvae are smooth, large, dull-colored caterpillars that tightly curl when handled. They sneak in the soil during the day and feed at night at the base of small corn plants throughout May and June.
Symptoms include cut, missing, or wilted plants. And the large mature larvae do most of the feeding damage. Each one can destroy several plants, and damage may appear very suddenly as the larvae grow larger. When together in large numbers, cutworms can destroy up to 75% of the crop.
Cutworms look similar in general appearance. They are:
- 1 to 2 inches long when fully grown
- Smooth with very few hairs
- And typically curl into a tight ‘C’ shape when disturbed
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How To Identify Cutworms
All varieties of cutworms curl into a tight ‘C’ shape when exposed, making them easy to identify. In addition, most cutworms cut plants off at or slightly below the ground, making recent transplants particularly susceptible.
Adult females are attracted to tall grasses for egg-laying, and cutworm numbers tend to be higher in trashy or weedy fields.
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Types of Cutworms
The most common types of cutworm are:
- Bronzed cutworm
- Black cutworm
- Variegated cutworm
- Army cutworm
- Dingy cutworm
- Glassy cutworm
What Crops Do Cutworms Affect?
Cutworms attack almost all vegetables. Cutworms may attack a variety of plants, but broccoli, cabbage, beets, cauliflower, and kale are their most favorite.
The table below shows all the plants that attract cutworms. If you have any of these plants in your garden, be extra careful.
|Plants Commonly Attacked By Cutworms|
Understanding Cutworms’ Life Cycle
Most varieties of cutworms overwinter in the soil or under vegetative debris as partly-grown or full-grown larvae. Generally, the larvae start feeding in early spring and keep growing until early summer, when they will pupate in the soil and emerge as moths one to eight weeks later.
Most species lay their eggs on the stems of grasses and weeds, even though some lay eggs on bare ground. Depending on the kinds of cutworms, the eggs will hatch in a few days to two weeks.
A moth may find some hiding spot in your lawn and lay its larvae. Soon, you will start finding damaged leaves or castings from the caterpillar. Cutworms lay most of the damage mainly during autumn.
And most species of cutworms take shelter in the soil by day and come out to feed at night.
Watch out for surface cutworms because they will cause the most damage to your gardens or lawn. They will chew the stems of newly-emerged transplants and seedlings in early to late spring.
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How Do You Tell If The Damage Comes From Cutworms or Some Other Species?
It is quite challenging to spot cutworms during the daytime as they go into hiding and come out at night to feed. To be sure that it is cutworms who are putting your lawn at stake, dilute some liquid soap in warm water and pour it on the damaged area. Light your torch, and you will notice them wriggling to the surface.
Damage Occasioned By Cutworms
Cutworms curl their bodies nearby the stem and feed on it, causing the plant to be cut off just above the ground. The higher the number of cutworms, the more severe the damage to your garden.
- Black, bronzed, and army cutworms can cause severe injuries by attacking and cutting new plants nightly.
- The variegated cutworm can climb the stem of trees, vines, shrubs, and garden plants and eat the leaves, fruit, and buds.
- Varieties such as glassy cutworms live in the soil and feed on roots and underground parts of the plant.
- Cutworms feed in the night or evening and hide in plant debris throughout the day.
- Young plants or new transplants have more risks of damage because their stems are tender.
- Damage is most critical in the early season when plants are small and have tender tissue.
- Cutworms are active during the summer but are rarely a problem after spring.
- Adult moths often do not damage plants.
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Should You Be Concerned About The Damage?
Yes! As cutworms stay deep under the soil, they feed on the plant roots or the foliage of the young plants to the extent that the plant gets cut off from the soil underneath. Most of the time, the entire plant gets crushed, leading to a shriveled and dead top and bringing forth a lot of damage within the spur of the moment.
Most of the cutworm species also crawl toward the plant top during summer to do damage there. Many gardeners confuse such damage with cabbageworm or slug damage.
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How Do You Prevent Cutworms?
The best way to get rid of cutworms is prevention. Early detection will save time and money, and the best way to do this is to monitor the arrival of the moths.
Cutworms are the larval or young form of several species of night-flying moths. The adult moths do no damage, but the larvae do. Some cutworms feed at night at the soil line, others feed just below the soil, and some climb into the plant and feed from there.
During the day, cutworms hide in plant debris and wait for the evening’s banquet.
Here’s how To Prevent Cutworms:
- Before starting a new garden, remove weeds and plant debris that might feed, encourage, and shelter developing larvae.
- Turn the soil after fall clean up, then let birds and other predators pick off the exposed larvae and pupae.
- Generally, moths like to lay eggs in high weeds and grass. At the end of the season, till or plow your garden and mow surrounding areas to expose cutworms and destroy their winter habitat.
- Mow your lawn or garden as closely as possible to the edge of your garden or yard to give cutworms less to feed on and less shelter near your plants.
- A three-foot-wide (or more) bare-soil strip between your lawn and your garden plants can prevent larvae from reaching your plants. You will also increase your chance of spotting them.
- In the spring, developing cutworms will wait to feast on your garden. Cut off their food supply by delaying planting or transplanting by a couple of weeks if possible.
- Place a protective collar made of plastic, sturdy cardboard, milk cartons cut up, drink bottles, and toilet paper around the transplant stem at planting time. Ensure you work the collar into the soil at least 1 or 2 inches.
- Grow sunflowers along the edge of your garden because sunflowers are a favorite target of cutworms. It will attract the larvae making it easy for you to pick them from the ground before heading to other crops.
- Avoid planting in areas of your garden where you have previously identified cutworms.
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How To Get Rid of Cutworms
Now that we have discussed everything related to cutworms, let’s discuss how to get rid of cutworms. Below stated are some of the proven preventive techniques that will surely keep cutworms at bay.
So now you know how to get rid of the cutworms. Keep up with your cultivation and make your garden bird-friendly to prevent cutworms.
It is better to control cutworm larvae when they are small and because they go out at nighttime and apply treatments late in the day.
Consider using chemical pesticides as a last resort because non-pesticide solutions are the best way to get rid of cutworms. And pesticides are often unsuccessful, according to experts from Michigan State University.
1- Manual Remove Them
If you wonder how to get rid of cutworms, begin with natural and non-toxic methods like removing them by hand. And when you remove plant debris and destroy it, you will also eliminate and destroy any cutworm eggs laid there.
How to remove cutworms by hands:
- Look for signs of freshly cut plants.
- Take a flashlight at night to examine the base of the newly cut plants and the top layer of soil for cutworms.
- Handpick any cutworms you find, crush them, and drown them in a bucket of soapy water.
2- Use a Barrier to Prevent Cutworms
Another way to keep cutworms from damaging your seedlings is to create a barrier to keep cutworms out.
How to use a barrier to keep cutworms out:
- Put aluminum foil or cardboard collars around transplants creating a barrier that stops cutworm larvae from feeding on plants.
- Install the collars around your plants such that one edge is pushed several inches into the soil and the other edge extends a few inches above the ground to prevent most species of cutworms from getting to your plants.
3- Maintaining a Healthy Garden or Lawn
Keeping your garden or lawn healthy can be an excellent way to prevent and get rid of cutworms.
How to Inspect Your Garden For Cutworms:
- Plowing, good weed control, and early planting can help you get rid of cutworms.
- Check your garden every two or three days for signs of missing, cut, or wilted plants until your plants are well established.
- Search for the larvae in the soil near damaged plants if 5 percent or more of the plants have been cut.
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4- Using pesticides
You don’t need to use pesticides in the home garden to get rid of cutworms. However, you can apply pesticides to the stems or leaves (for climbing cutworms) if cutworms invade your garden.
Since the larvae are active at night, you should apply pesticides late in the day. Larvae remain beneath the soil surface when the soil is dry and crusted; therefore, they are challenging to control.
Direct the spray at the base of the plants. Be careful; you might need to replant if damage has gone beyond the point of control.
The best time to apply pesticides is in the evening before the cutworms come out for feeding.
Here are examples of commonly effective pesticides against cutworms are:
- Carbaryl ( Here’s a link to Amazon)
- Cyfluthrin ( Here’s a link to Amazon)
- Permethrin ( Here’s a link to Amazon)
Despite all claims by the insecticide manufacturer, applying pesticides at planting does not provide effective control of cutworms, according to experts from Cornell University.
Cutworms are invading pests that can destroy your garden or lawn. And learning to prevent and how to get rid of cutworms will help you keep these dangerous pests at bay.
Preventing and naturally getting rid of cutworms proves to be the most effective way; however, if things got out of the hands, try these pesticides (carbaryl, cyfluthrin, or permethrin)