11 March 2014

Cutworm Control in Your Garden

My friend L left a comment on my last post asking about cutworms, and whether cutworm collars really work to defend plants against them.  So here's a short answer.  Sort of.  If you can ever get a short gardening answer out of me!

Years ago, when I first stumbled on a blog, I read about a book called The Victory Garden Kids Book.  I ordered one right away, and have loved having it in my gardening library as a wonderful and simple yet detailed guide to gardening.  

That's where I first read about cutworms.  I had never encountered them before, and indeed it would be several years before I would meet any of the dreaded things.

Which brings me to last summer, when I planted a row of sunflowers for my mother.  We watched each one come up, eager with anticipation.  They germinated well, but every morning, I came outside only to find a few more missing from the row, as if someone had taken a pair of scissors and snipped them off, leaving the top part of the plant lying flat on the ground.

Well, if only my Victory Garden Kids Book had not been in storage all summer!  Perhaps we would have saved the last few sunflowers from their doom. As it happened, my mom only got one sunflower out of the whole row. 

Then here in south Texas, we lost every one of our first batch of eggplants, as well as a few other plants, to cutworms.  We were finally on to their schemes, and I looked up the entry in my trusted, used little book.

Here's the scoop:  Cutworms are fat, short, and sort of white or gray in color.  They feed at night, close to the surface of the soil.  

But apparently they aren't very smart:  If you put a cutworm collar around your young plants (the cutworms usually go after young seedlings--older plants are too big for them to chew through), the cutworm will come along during the night looking for food.  It will bump into your cutworm collar, and go another direction, leaving your plant for you to enjoy, never realizing it could have gone a little deeper and gone up through the collar's opening in the bottom to get the plant.

You can buy cutworm collars, or you can simply make them out of paper cups, making sure the collar goes down into the soil for about an inch, and sticks up as much again above the soil.  When the plant gets big, you can take the collar away.

Do they work? 

Well, since we have been using the collars for our seedlings, we haven't lost even one to cutworms.  So my vote is, YES, they work.

In a big garden, it would be hard to protect every seedling or seed you sow in the garden, but the cutworms probably wouldn't eat every plant in a large garden.  Since our garden is fairly small, we use the cutworm collars for almost everything.  For our dill patch, above, I put in four collars, and sowed seed in and around the collars, thinking that perhaps the collars would protect even the plants in the middle by creating a bit of a maze around them.  So far, so good.

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