Practice Organic Cutworm Control to Protect Seedlings

Cutworm collars made from plastic drinking cups or cardboard tissue rolls help protect young seedlings from cutworm damage.

  • Cutworm Illustration
    The larvae of night-flying moths, cutworms damage plants by feeding on both roots and foliage.
    Illustration By Keith Ward

  • Cutworm Illustration

This article is part of our Organic Pest Control Series, which includes articles on attracting beneficial insects, controlling specific garden pests, and using organic pesticides.

Cutworms (Agrotis ipsilon and Peridroma saucia)

The discovery of cutworms in the garden always comes first thing in the morning, when you find seedlings that have been cut off at the soil line during the night. Direct-seeded beans and corn are frequent victims, especially when planted into soil recently cleared of weeds and grasses. Young transplants are also frequent victims. 

Organic cutworm controls include protecting seedlings with rigid collars, encouraging predation by birds and thorough bed preparation. The two most common species, black cutworms (Agrotis ipsilon) and variegated cutworms (Peridroma saucia) are both found in temperate climates worldwide. In spring, moths are carried northward and become summer pests in areas where they do not survive winter. 

What Are Cutworms?

Rarely seen by day, cutworms are grayish to brown smooth-skinned caterpillars that feed above-ground at night. The larvae of night-flying moths, cutworms damage plants by feeding on both roots and foliage. Black cutworms have small black dots on their bodies, while variegated cutworms are mottled brown with a faint white stripe down their backs. When encountered in the soil, cutworms immediately curl up and become still.

What Cutworm Damage Looks Like



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