Eliminate Cutworms Using Natural Pest Control

Excerpt from a field guide to natural pest control eliminating cutworms from crops, including using the cutworms predator, the tachinid fly, caterpillar-killing bacterium, insect-killing nematodes, and more.


| March/April 1987



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The cutworm (inset) is probably the most common and troublesome early spring pest facing North American gardeners. The tachinid fly (right preys upon these pests, which can also be controlled by paper-collaring seedlings.)


PHOTO: © J.H. ROBINSON/PHOTO RESEARCHERS, INC.

The second issue of American Country, MOTHER's new sister magazine, contains an indispensable field guide to natural pest control. This brief excerpt will help you keep cutworms from your crops.

Eliminate Cutworms Using Natural Pest Control

Cutworm (Noctuidae family)

Range: Throughout North America
Description: 1 inch grayish brown caterpillars, some with spots or stripes. Nocturnal-rarely seen in daytime. Curl up when disturbed. Adult "Miller's moth" is gray or brown with paler hind wings and 1 inch to 1-1/2 inch wingspan.

The name cutworm is justifiably ominous. You won't know you've got cutworms in your garden until they've performed their guillotine act and decapitated several of your plants. There are approximately 20,000 kinds of cutworms, including tunneling, subterranean, and climbing species (such as the armyworm), but the surface feeders are the most common. These spend two summers as destructive larvae (overwintering in the soil) before they mature into harmless moths.

Modus operandi: Fells young plants by cutting off stems at or just below soil surface. Favorite victims: Your carefully nurtured garden seedlings.

Natural Pest Control Methods for Cutworms: 

• The traditional-and very effective natural pest control method is to set a small 2 inch to 3 inch collar, pressed 1 inch into the soil, around each vulnerable plant. Collars can be made of paper, cardboard, PVC, metal cans, paper cups, or toilet tissue tubes.
Bacillus thuringiensis, a widely available caterpillar-killing bacterium,is a very effective control for climbing cutworms as well as for the surface feeders.
• Handpick larvae at night by flashlight.
• Mulch plants with oak leaves, crushed eggshells, damp wood ashes, or other skin irritating physical barriers.
• Deep plowing, digging, or tilling in fall and again in spring will expose and kill soillaid eggs and overwintering larvae. Chickens let into the plot after these cultivations will help improve the effectiveness of this technique.
• Tachinid flies, trichogramma wasps, braconid wasps, and insect-killing nematodes parasitize cutworms.
• Toads, moles, shrews, blackbirds, meadowlarks, and firefly larvae are all natural predators.
• The adult moths can be attracted to, and killed by, electronic bug zappers.
• Sprinkle cornmeal around your garden. Cutworms love it but can't digest it. Some will die from overeating the treat.
• Make a mixture of molasses (another vice), water, wheat bran, and hardwood sawdust. Circle plants with this glop. It dries on the cutworms' bodies and immobilizes them.
• It's said that if you push a small twig, nail, or toothpick into the earth right next to a seedling, the cutworm cannot wrap around the stem and fell the plant.
• According to University of British Columbia student Greg Salloum, cutworms would rather starve than eat plants treated with extracts of pineapple weed or sagebrush.





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