Cutworms and White Grubs

mjandkids(6)April 21, 2012

Okay all...I've got a lot of cutworms in the garden. I've been destroying as many as I can, but now I've lost one of my two California Bells and I'm ready to treat with something. What should I use?

I also have white grub worms in the soil all over the yard...everywhere I dig I find at least one, but usually two or three. Since they live under the soil is there even anything I can do?

The bugs are bad this year. I've already seen a squash bug up on the fence and I haven't even put out any squash yet. I've got a couple of George's pumpkins ready to go out soon too.

Blech! I hate bugs.

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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

For the cutworms, it is easier to prevent the damage via the use of cutworm collars or sticks than to stop damage once it starts. When I say sticks, I generally mean toothpicks, although you can even use twigs. When I transplant seedlings into the ground, I put toothpicks on two sides of the stems, with half the toothpick below ground and half above ground. This largely interferes with the cutworm wrapping itself around the whole stem and cutting it in half. When climbing cutworms are an issue, I use bamboo skewers since they are so much taller and the climbing cutworms can climb above the toothpicks. However, the sticks will not keep cutworms from eating the plants even if they cannot cut them in half.

I've linked a page from Planet Natural that explains cutworms and how you can treat your garden for them. There is a lot of good info there.

Because climbing cutworms are a huge issue this year here, along with other caterpillar damage, you could spray your plants with Bt 'Kurstaki' if you can find it in stores. It is largely sold out where I live, but I found some in a farm store a couple of days ago. If you use it, try to keep it off your flowers or it can harm the butterflies that visit the flowers. The Bt will not prevent cutworms from killing tiny seedlings. However, if they are climbing cutworms and are climbing and feeding on plants, it should put a stop to that.

If the loss of the California Bell plant is recent, dig into the soil just below the surface where the California Bell plant was growing to see if you can find and destroy the specific worm that got it.

Earlier this week, I ordered trichogramma wasps to release. They should arrive around Tuesday or Wednesday of next week. On Thursday I saw the first 'native' trichogramma wasp in my garden that I've seen this spring. I'm not sorry I ordered more of them though because the one I saw cannot possibly deal with all the caterpillars we have here this year. In the meantime, I am going to spray my plants with Bt this evening. I've never seen caterpillar/cutworm damage like I'm seeing this year. In fact, if you took all the damage I've seen in 13 prior years and added it together, this year's damage would be greater than all the prior damage from those 13 years.

White grubs generally are not an issue as long as they are not damaging your grass. They are beetle larvae and most ground beetles are beneficial insects who are garden helpers. I tend to ignore the white grubs. If they bother you, you can treat the ground with Milky Spore powder, which is a natural agent that kills them. Applying beneficial nematodes to areas with soil-borne pests is a slower-working solution if the nematodes are applied to moist soil before the heat arrives, but they are not a short-term solution.

Bugs and insects are a natural part of the garden ecosystem. There are many good bugs and insects that help control the bad ones and do other important garden tasks as well, so maybe you could develop a liking for those!


Here is a link that might be useful: Cutworm Control Page from Planet Natural

    Bookmark   April 21, 2012 at 11:22AM
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Dawn thanks so much for the response.

The grubs don't seem to be harming things too much as of yet so I guess I'll just let them go and keep an eye on things.

I do have Bt so will apply some of that. As for that specific worm...he's gone--I got kinda murderous and dug around for him. I found two and killed them. They were the climbing kind.

Thanks for the link :-)

The pesticide shelves at Atwoods this morning were getting bare. Lots of pests this year. *Sigh*

I'm glad you ordered the wasps so your garden can flourish.

    Bookmark   April 21, 2012 at 1:31PM
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I was amazed at how many cut worms are in my yard. Both front yard and back. After loosing branches of my balloon plant, I put collars on it... and I put sticks, nails and popsicle sticks with my tomato plants.

So far, that helped.

Meanwhile I destroy every cutworm I run across.


    Bookmark   April 21, 2012 at 4:42PM
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I had a Green Zebra tomato that was failing to thrive, and had some damage to lower leaves, but near the top it almost looked like the top had been taken out.

I never have had a problem with cutworms so I don't put anything around the stems. I dug out that plant today to replace it and found a small white grub and what I think was a cutworm. The chickens ate that one, but I hope this is not a trend because I just put a nice new tomato plant in it's place.

    Bookmark   April 21, 2012 at 9:15PM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

I dug up and squished cut worms all day. I found them in the soil near holey plants, in the mulch, in the pathways. I found some curled up on foliage, like they ate so much last night they were too fat to climb back down to the ground, so they just curled up on the leaves to rest. I squished 'em, I smashed 'em, and I beat them to death with a trowel. I bet there's still a lot more.

I mixed up the Bt and sprayed every edible plant in my garden. I sprayed the grass and weeds just outside the garden fence. I sprayed everything. Tomorrow I'm going to search for more and squish them, smash them and crush them. My garden still looks beautiful from a distance, but up close it looks like I'm growing Swiss cheese plants because of all the holes in the foliage. Tomorrow I'll replace six tomato plants (good thing I raise back-ups) that have nothing left but bare stems.

I've never seen cutworms in these numbers before. It is just crazy.

I'm so looking forward to the arrival of the trichogramma wasps. Once they are here, they should take care of everything. I don't know why they are so scarce this year, but suspect it has something to do with last summer's drought.

Carol, Most years I don't lose a single plant to a cutworm and really barely see any at all--maybe I'll see one or two in the spring. Usually I dig them up when I am transplanting plants into the ground.

I haven't used Slug-Go or Slug-Go Plus because I haven't seen all that many sow bugs and pill bugs, so maybe after several years of fighting to control them, I'm making progress there.

On the bright sign, I didn't see many flea beetles at all this spring. The first Colorado Potato Beetle showed up on a potato plant today, so I'll be watching for its siblings and squishing them as they appear.

Yesterday and today, I noticed a new trend--a new hatch of hungry mosquitoes, but I also saw the first dragonfly yesterday, so they likely will take care of the skeeters.


    Bookmark   April 21, 2012 at 9:38PM
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helenh(z6 SW MO)

Cutworms will cling to cardboard that you lay over weeds in the garden. I found this out because I put cardboard down temporarily and moved it. There were 4 or 5 cutworms on the backs of the cardboard sheets every time I turn them over. This is not a solution because I am sure there are many more in the ground. I thought it was interesting though.

    Bookmark   April 22, 2012 at 9:49AM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

Helen, I've noticed that. Also, this year I have found a lot of them just by lifting up the weed-block fabric in the tomato beds. They don't even burrow into the soil--they just lie on the soil surface between the soil and the fabric. There is mulch on top of the fabric and, otherwise, I think they'd roast to death underneath that fabric. It sure makes them easy to find and kill! I can only lift up the fabric along the edge of each raised bed, and I have to pull out the U-shaped ground staples that hold the fabric down, push back the mulch and then lift the fabric. It is kind of a PITA to do it, but I did find a lot of cutworms to kill that way.

I always put a board on the ground near squash plants. The squash bugs congregate beneath that board and then all I have to do is lift the board and quickly crush them by stepping on them. Until this year, I never knew cutworms would shelter under cardboard or landscape fabric. So, that gives us a couple more ways of knowing where to look for and find them anyhow.

I have hesitated to put any more plants into the ground because of the cutworms. I felt it best to wait until the cutworm issues had been addressed. After this weekend's squishing and crushing spree, I think now I will go ahead and put a few dozen pepper plants into the ground, along with a few more tomato varieties, and two flats of flowers.

Even though I don't have slugs, and not many snails, I am going to put Slug-Go Plus on the ground around everything I plant today in the hopes that any surviving cutworms will eat the Slug-Go Plus and die.

Oh, I even found cutworms underneath flowerpots that hold herbs like mint that I want to "contain" and underneath the boards that edge my raised beds, and underneath a couple of rocks about the size of an extra-large hen's egg. I found one in the gravel driveway underneath a rock. I've always been able to find them hiding just below the soil line in the area where they're feeding, but this is the first time I've found them underneath virtually anything and everything.

    Bookmark   April 22, 2012 at 10:21AM
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Bugs are crazy this year. I did one stupid thing by moving backup seedling from greenhouse to outside to harden off for for spring fling give away. Cutworms have ate many of the seedlings, I lost many of them as they cut at the base. But still I have many to share. I did not find BT here in store, ordered online,I hope it will arrive to save my garden.

Grape plants are also not happy either. I just got a Liqui-cop copper spray, need of spray this evening.


    Bookmark   April 22, 2012 at 5:19PM
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helenh(z6 SW MO)

DiPel is usually pretty easy to find. I don't like the dusts but a little bit on small tomatoes would be OK.

    Bookmark   April 23, 2012 at 11:12AM
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