Cutworms: Identification and How to Get Rid of Cutworms in Your Garden


by Bethany Hayes

Young seedlings and transplants face a serious adversary when placed in the garden – cutworms. Cutworms sever seedlings the stem right at the soil line. It’s hard to find these pests in your garden unless you’re specifically looking for them, so gardeners must know how to identify, prevent, and get rid of cutworms. 

Cutworms are some of the most frustrating pests to deal with in the garden. It might seem harmless when moths fly around your garden, but they lay their eggs in the ground and, before you know it, you have cutworms. 

If you know that cutworms are the problem or aren’t too sure, we’re going to look at how to identify these pests, along with prevention methods and how to get rid of cutworms. 

What Are Cutworms?

Cutworms are a stage of the adult moths that might fly around your garden. They are the larvae stage for different species. Moths hatch eggs in the fall, and the larvae overwinter in the soil of your garden beds. 

Once the soil warms up in the spring, they emerge from hibernation and start their destructive path. Their damage happens early in the gardening season. 

How to Identify Cutworms

Cutworms are caterpillars, but it’s easy to confuse them for the grubs of beetles, such as Japanese beetles. Grubs damage crops as well, so don’t discount those little pests either. 

The hardest part of identifying cutworms is finding them. They’re nocturnal and live in the soil, making it particularly difficult to start. Cutworms prefer cloudy days. The best time to see them in your garden is in the dusk or evening hours when they begin to feed. 

Since cutworms are different moths species, they range in color, including pink, grey, green, and black. Most measures up to two inches, and they are solid, spotted, or striped. If spotted during the day, they curl up and stay still; they only feed and move around at night. 

Look for Cutworm Damage

Besides looking at their appearance, the next thing you should look for when identifying cutworms is to check for their damage. 

Cutworms eat through the plant stems right at the base because they primarily feed on the young plants’ roots and foliage. They might even eat through the stem underneath of the soil. Since they target the small seedlings in the spring, cutworms destroy the entire plant. It takes little to no time for these pests to cut a plant entirely down. 

By the summer, cutworms emerge from the soil and crawl to the top of the plants and eat there. It’s easy to mistake their damage for slugs. 

How to Prevent Cutworms in Your Garden 

Since cutworms are hard to spot and catch, the best plan is to prevent the cutworms from taking over your garden in the first place. Here are some suggestions to try.

  • Delay Transplanting Seedlings

Cutworms emerge in the spring, so if it’s possible, try to delay transplanting or planting the seedlings in the spring. Doing this helps to cut off the food supply of the cutworms, and they die off. 

  • Destroy Their Winter Habitat 

Moths lay their eggs in high grass and weeds, so cutting your grass and mowing around your garden beds helps destroy their habitat. Tilling the garden in the winter and removing dead plants is also one way to reduce the cutworms’ chance of overwintering in the soil. 

If possible, consider laying mulch or rocks over the grass that is next to your garden bed. This makes it harder for moths to lay eggs close to your garden. 

  • Remove Weeds in the Early Spring

If weeds popped up in your garden beds before transplanting time, remove them as soon as they appear. Cutworms feed on weeds as well, so taking them out removes their food source as well. 

  • Release Fireflies

Everyone loves fireflies; they’re fun to watch, but no one knows they’re beneficial in the garden. Fireflies are a natural predator for cutworms, so you have two benefits when you release these in the springs. 

  • Attract Birds 

Another natural predator of cutworms is birds. Making your garden bird-friendly is another step to prevent these pests from taking over your garden beds. 

  • Plant Sunflowers

Sunflowers are a favorite plant for cutworms, so plant them along the edges of the garden. Instead of attacking your vegetable plants, the cutworms will head to your sunflowers first. 

How to Get Rid of Cutworms in Your Garden

Unfortunately, even the best preventative measures sometimes fail, so that’s when you have to learn how to get rid of cutworms in your garden. It’s best if you spot the cutworms early; that’s when these methods are most effective. A severe infestation might not be eradicated without insecticides. 

  • Make a Collar 

One of the most common tactics to get rid of cutworms is making a plant collar. There are several ways to do this, but the most common is to use a toilet paper tube cut in half. You can either cut it and put it around the stem, pushing an inch of it into the soil. Then, tape it in place. 

Some gardeners prefer to create a collar out of aluminum foil. It’s best to try a few of each to see which you think works best, but either way, the barrier needs to extend into the soil to keep the cutworms out. 

  • Hand Pick at Night

Go in your garden at night with a flashlight and handpick the cutworms off when wearing gloves. Drop them into a container of hot, soapy water. Do this every few nights to get rid of as many cutworms as possible. 

  • Sprinkle Different Things on the Soil 

Many gardeners swear by sprinkling used coffee grounds or eggshells around your plants. Diatomaceous earth works because its ground-up fossils kill insects when they walk over the top of it. 

  • Use B.T. 

B.T., or Bacillus thuringiensis, is an insecticide that is best applied in the afternoon to kill cutworms naturally. 

Final Thoughts

Dealing with cutworms is a frustrating thing for gardeners; these pests can destroy entire plants overnight. Using preventative measures to keep cutworms out of your garden is vital, but if you need to get rid of them, try these proven methods, with handpicking being the most effective choice. 

cutworm with text overlay how to get rid of cutworms in your garden

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