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Gardening with Laurie: Watch out for cutworms in spring gardens

By By Laurie Garretson
Feb. 14, 2013 at midnight
Updated Feb. 13, 2013 at 8:14 p.m.


This is the time of the year when many gardeners are starting their spring gardens. It's always fun starting a new season of gardening. We have great expectations for all the wonderful crops we are planting that season. I think expectations are one of the great things about gardening. If a certain crop doesn't work well one season, we know that we can always try and make it better the next season. I bet most gardeners learn something new with every season of planting.

There have been many reports of cutworm damage in vegetable gardens over the past couple of weeks. There are several types of cutworms. Some cutworms feed almost entirely below the soil on root systems, others climb up onto plants to feed. For now, the problems have been coming from cutworms that chew through the stems of young plants at or slightly above or below the soil line.

These pests prefer tender seedlings, so damage usually occurs during the early part of the planting season but can last throughout the summer.

Cutworms come from several species of night flying moths. The moths can mate and lay eggs from early spring to late summer. The moths do not cause any problems other than to lay the eggs which then hatch into the worms. Cutworms are grayish black in color and usually about one and a half inches long. When disturbed this worm will curl into the shape of the letter "C." You will usually find these guys just under the soil level or under old leaves and other types of dead organic materials on the ground.

Cutworms, as are most insects and animals, greatly affected by the weather. Our mild fall and winter is probably why there has been this increase in their numbers and so many reports of crop damage. When cutworm populations are high, it is common for them to devastate a vegetable garden overnight.

It is important to frequently check on your crops. Pest problems are always easier to control when first discovered. And with daily checking, you are more likely to spot problems as they first occur.

Cutworms are most active during the evening and nighttime hours. It will be easier to detect damage in the morning when it's easier to see. Look for wilting plants or plants that are cut off near the ground. Worm droppings near these plants would indicate their presence. Lightly digging around the plants, you can usually discover the cutworm in the soil or under any debris.

Some gardeners will place cardboard collars or aluminum foil around the lower stems of young plants to create a barrier to prevent the worm from chewing on it. These collars need to be pushed a few inches into the soil and to also extend several inches above the soil to be effective. Other methods to eliminate this pest include keeping the stem dusted with Dipel worm killer and beneficial nematodes.

Until next time, let's try to garden with nature and not against it, and maybe all our weeds will become wildflowers.

Laurie Garretson is a Victoria gardener and nursery owner. Send your gardening questions to laurie@vicad.com or in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77902.

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