Microbial Control of Black Cutworm

chickencoupeJune 13, 2014

I've been claiming to have an army worm infestation. I was wrong. It's the black cutworm. Some sites are not careful about their identification. Eventually, I noticed the discrepancy. (Dawn, these are the ones I've been harping about since the very beginning when I only had the planter. I really have a bad infestation of them. It's a conspiracy put upon by our very own Lisa. I just know it.) :D

While clarifying, I read black cutworms are susceptible to a virus. It's like wormy ecoli. It's quite gross. Then, they eat their wounded, so to speak. Uber Gross. Finally, the virus spreads quickly and naturally kills off the entire lot.

Does this stuff come in a bottle, yet? All I can find is scientific studies and that they're wanting to treat GOLF COURSES. We must have our priorities in order. Golf courses > food gardens. *sigh*

But I know it works! I just watched hundreds die in the manner described. Heck, I considered swabbing some of it up to apply to a plant later down the road when they appear.

Microbial Control of Black Cutworm in Sciency Terms

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In my experience, the best control for cutworms is a little time. I get up in the middle of the night and handpick. I get up the next night and pick any that I missed. Problem solved.


    Bookmark   June 13, 2014 at 10:15AM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

Cutworms are found worldwide so your problems with them are hardy unusual. Normally, the infestation is heaviest in places that have been growing grass, pastures or weeds. Once you convert that soil to growing edible crops, the cutworm population will drop over the years. That doesn't mean you won't have them, but just that as your soil moves farther and farther away from its grassy/weedy beginnings, you'll have progressively fewer of them. There are tons of soil-dwelling pests that, like cutworms, are worse in the first couple of years after a formerly weedy/grassy area is converted to garden space. (Note: if you let weeds, especially grassy weeds, infiltrate your garden every year and you let them overwinter, the cutworm population will take notice and will live there.)

Most microbial controls like the one you found in the study are very expensive if they're even available to home gardeners at all, but you can use plain old beneficial nematodes (applied at the right time when the soil temps, air temps and relative humidity values are in the best range for that specific type of beneficial nematode) to help control them. I've linked below the specific beneficial nematode that helps control black cutworms.

Because the moths can fly in whenever and lay their eggs, you'll always have cutworms to some degree, though.

Since I began using Slug-Go and then, later on, Slug-Go Plus, for pill bugs and sow bugs several years ago, I rarely see cutworms at all. Still, because I know they could make their triumphant reappearance in my garden at any time, when I transplant young plants into the ground, I stick two toothpicks into the ground with them---on opposing sides of the stem, and I leave half the toothpick above ground and half above. Cutworms cannot cut the stem of a plant in half if they cannot totally wrap their body around it, and the toothpicks make it impossible for them to totally wrap themselves around the stem. With really important plants, like tomato plants, I use a bamboo skewer broken in half so it goes way down deep in the ground (I like to plant the transplants deeply) and can stick way up above ground (in case it is a year when we have the south's dreaded climbing cutworms). With plants raised from seed sown directly in the garden, I don't do the toothpick routine obviously. I just sow more seed than I need under the assumption that cutworms will get some of the young plants. In my garden, it is beans that the cutworms love above all other things so I just sow 2 or 3 bean seeds for every plant I want. Then, once they sprout, if I notice that I am losing young plants to cutworms, I walk down the row and stick toothpicks on either side of each young seedlings.

I agree with Leslie that with a little time, you can rid the garden of them mechanically (by hand). I don't go looking for them, but find them occasionally in the soil when doing something else. Yesterday I found one while I was weeding the flower border that is filled with poppies, larkspur, zinnias, etc. I pulled out a little sprig of grass that had sprouted and a black cutworm came up out of the ground with it. Oops, I believe I cut it in half with the pruning shears that I had sitting there in my tool bucket a few feet away. Good riddance. That's one less cutworm I have to worry about now. Today I found the first leaf-footed bug of the season and cut him right in half with the scissors I had in my hand. I'm not a violent person, but I love cutting pest insects in half when they magically appear right in front of me.

Unlike Leslie, I do not set foot in my garden after dark, because my garden is just too snakey. I barely set foot outside after dark because too many predators roam at night anyhow. If there is something in the garden that must be retrieved before morning, Tim goes out there with a flashlight when he gets home and retrieves it for me.

It has been almost 24 hours since my last snake encounter in the garden, and that was in broad daylight. You won't catch me in the garden after dark looking for cutworms. Who knows? Maybe the snakes are eating cutworms while I am safely inside at night....I sure hope so.

There's also tons of beneficial insects that prey upon cutworms, so as your population of beneficials grows, you should see fewer cutworms most years. Like everything else, their population fluctuates and some years we have huge numbers of them, but I haven't had a year like that since maybe 2010.

Here is a link that might be useful: Beneficial Nematodes for Black Cutworm Control

    Bookmark   June 13, 2014 at 4:38PM
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