Cutworms are nasty little bugs that can put an end to your tomato plants (and others) in a hurry. In some areas of the country, they are notorious garden and agricultural pests. You may or may not be surprised to learn that cutworms are not worms at all. Rather, they are the larva stage of certain types of moths. The larvae are from a subset of the Noctuidae Moth, a large family of moths. So, if they are present in your area the success of your garden depends upon practicing cutworm control. And, that begins with easy to make tomato plant collars…. read on.
The Cutworm gets its name, as they often feed on plant stems, cutting the seedling or plant down, by eating away the stem at or near the base.
These grubs are nighttime feeders. During the day, they hide in garden litter or under the soil.
In the larva stage where they do damage to garden plants, Cutworms are about an inch long. They are brown, green, gray, or yellow in color. Some but not all, have longitudinal stripes.
Cutworms emerge to feed on plants at night. They eat the stem, leaves, and buds. They feed on the first part of the plant they encounter….the stem. Sometimes, they will eat the entire plant. Other times, they cut the plant down as they eat, consuming some of it, before moving on to graze on other garden plants.
Late in the season, cutworms can chew holes into the fruit of tomatoes, peppers, and more.
There are a variety of ways to control this pest:
The larvae or pupae overwinter in the soil or even a mulch pile. Winter plowing or roto-tilling can kill them.
Tomato Plant Collars – Create a barrier around your plants. Use cardboard, aluminum, plastic bottles, milk jugs, or plastic cups. Place them around the plant, a couple of inches deep into the soil, and 3-4 inches tall above the soil.
Home gardeners should roto-till the soil as soon as the ground can be worked, to expose and kill dormant larvae.
Manually kill any cutworms you see.
Minimize compost piles and garden mulch, as these are places they hide during the day.
Keep weeds down in and around your garden, to “starve them out”.
Poison baits – See your local garden store for baits specific to cutworms.