Avert Cutworm Catastrophe

by Ken Greene

OK, so not really a catastrophe, but when you wake up in the morning and go out to your garden to discover that tiny lumberjacks have felled many of your new transplants, it can feel like a catastrophe!

In most cases, seedlings felled like little trees are the work of Cutworms. Cutworms are not actually worms, they're caterpillars and turn into various types of moths. And they don't actually cut, they chew their way through the base of your seedlings and then move on. You'll find the dead remains of your seedlings lying on their sides in the soil.

The first thing to do is cultivate. With a small how or, as I like to do, with your hands, uncover the top 1/2 inch of soil in a 6 inch radius around your seedling. That's where you'll find cutworms lurking during the day. You can also go out at night with a flashlight if you want to catch them red-legged. See the video below- if you're not squeamish!

But the best way to deal with cutworms is prevention. If you are direct seeding you can cut up paper towel rolls (the center cardboard cylinder) into 3 inch rounds. Place each one around the seedling so that it is seated into the soil and above the soil. It's like a tree-hugger barricade.

Our method, since we are transplanting seedlings, is to use toothpicks. We place a toothpick along side each stem. This prevents the cutworm from being able to wrap itself around the stem and crew through. Yesterday we ran out of toothpicks and used matches instead. I king of love the way they look around the hot peppers!

You can see our toothpick method on Facebook here.