Cutworms in the Garden

Cutworms can quickly defoliate a plant and ruin garden crops. How do you know if it’s cutworms chewing on the leaves and stems?

How do you know if your garden problem is cutworms?

The short answer to that question is that whole stems will be cut off at the base. This is how the cutworm gets it’s name. The other part to that answer would be you won’t spot anything that could be doing the damage. It will seem to be a mystery.

Unlike many insects and worms that show up in a garden, the cutworm hides. When inspecting damaged leaves, you’ll likely see nothing. Cutworms sleep in the dirt during the day and feeds at night. Sneaky little buggers!

I noticed that something was eating my potato leaves. I was thinking “potato beetle” or slugs, and kept inspecting the plants and leaves closely. I saw nothing. Each day more leaves were eaten, and then the stalks began to fall – chewed off at the base. That clicked, because I know I’ve dealt with this before. Cutworms! Now, what is it they do? And how do I deal with them?

Organic Spray Did Not Help

I got my handy organic spray and sprayed the heck out of the plants. That didn’t seem to stop the problem one bit. I have two raised beds of potatoes and one was doing very poorly and then it began to show up in the other bed.

It was time for drastic measures. This meant researching online. Sure enough, it seemed the culprit was cutworms. I read that they overwinter in the soil and emerge in spring.

My Mistake

I believe I brought the cutworms into the raised beds when I added leaves from the yard as mulch. The potatoes were planted in dirt – new this year – from bags purchased at the local Home Depot, so I think the only way they could have been introduced was through the leaves and Spanish moss I added.

While researching the problem, I read that slugs will also eat potato leaves and mounding the soil around the plant will help. ( This page about slugs and potatoes is a good one for advice if you have that problem.)

I began scraping away all the leaves I had on top of the gardens and throwing it in the woods. Then I began digging up hills to mound around each of the plants. And that is when I saw it – a big cutworm! Altogether I found about 6 worms, large and small. One was greenish, one was pink and the small ones were black.

The pupae stage is when the worm / caterpillar has become a cocoon. The adult moth will emerge from this reddish orange shell to fly around and lay eggs that become more worms. But the worms are the worst in Spring – just in time for planting.

This hard orange-red thing in the dirt is cutworm pupa.
Cutworm pupa is reddish-orange

Getting Rid of Cutworms

My potato gardens are small. I have two raised beds with a total of 10 plants growing. I simply continued to dig around in the dirt searching for the worms.

Hand-picking

The cutworms I found were placed into my tray bird feeder and within a couple of minutes a cardinal was having the worms for a meal! This is a very simple way to get rid of the worms while helping out the birds. If you don’t have a tray feeder, just set them on a board or rock in the yard where birds visit. The birds come fast for the juicy meal.

I also went out at night to inspect the plants and found one more worm which I hand picked off. I continue to check for worms but haven’t found any more.

Eggshells and Coffee Grounds

Lots of online sites have advice about getting rid of these destructive worms, but I like to do so as naturally as possible. I had a few eggshells leftover from my eggshell seed starters project, so I crunched them up and sprinkled them around the base of the remaining potato plants. The only problem with this is that the shells get moved around when watering.

Also, the worms do not like coffee grounds so you could do the same thing with leftover grounds.

Eggshells sprinkled around the base of potato plants

Make a Collar

After checking on my potatoes, I came over to the other raised bed and one of the bean plants was totally chewed off! Just in case the cutworm was to blame, I made tin foil collars for the other plants. They have to be pushed down into the dirt and must surround the stalk.

This is best done when the plants are very young so the roots will not be disturbed. I used foil, but other things work. Think toilet paper and paper towel cardboard. Plastic cups, plastic bottles, and anything round and open will work.

Now my potato plants (in garden number 2) look like bare stalks. I’ll continue to check for worms and watch to see if the stalks come back.

Ways to Prevent Cutworm Problems

The worms emerge from eggs in Spring and they have been existing underground. Till the garden or dig down a few inches to search for the worms and remove them before planting. Take precautions by using the collars mentioned above – this is not that difficult to do if the garden is small.

Please visit this page at The Real Dirt Blog which is full of excellent information and advice about the cutworm.

How to know if you have cutworms in the garden, and what to do about them.

Read more here about cutworm stages: adult larvae and pupa drawings.



The Impromptu Bird House For Wrens

Crocheting a little wren birdhouse.

Last year we had wrens flying into the garage and we discovered they were building a nest. The nest, unfortunately, was inside my son’s tool belt which hung up high near the window.

I told him to leave it alone and let the birds do their thing. It was an odd place to have a nest because with the garage door closed, they couldn’t get in or out. Usually the door was left up a little during the day for the cats, but it was always closed tight all night long.

Photo credit: Pixabay

Did that appeal to the wrens? Maybe. They never did make a complete nest or have babies in our garage, but this year they began the same routine. They love the tool belt because it has big open leather holders that are deep. I suspect a handyman would carry his drills or whatnot in them.

This time my son was having none of it. He is not a nature lover and didn’t want birds in his belt. He dumped out the few little leaves inside and put the belt away. I know. Mean.

So I got to thinking that maybe I could make a nest, or buy one, that the wrens might use. This led to me searching for a nest to make out of yarn.

I have a website about my knitting projects called New England’s Narrow Road. I am an avid fiber artist… fancy name for knitter of things. But I wanted this birdhouse to be done fast, so I chose to crochet it.

My Birdhouse Made of Yarn

I hadn’t crocheted for a while, but it all comes back when you begin. I love knitting, but crochet is much faster and easier to correct mistakes.

I can’t tell you exactly how I made this birdhouse, but I began as if to crochet a bag – at the bottom. After expanding up and out, I made the hole. Then I decreased for the top and made the loop.

I used pure wool (Jamieson & Smith) so it would be a natural material that would last outside in the elements.

Crocheted bird house

When the whole thing was finished – it took only 2 nights of work – I washed it and dried it in the dryer to “felt” the wool yarn. This tightens up the strands of yarn so it’s less porous.

I took it outside and hung it on a shrub where I would often see wrens. This is where I stumbled across a pretty little orange flowering milkweed plant.

Crocheted bird house

I want to make more houses and possibly create a pattern that I can share with others. Around here, we have frogs and other creatures that take over birdhouses, so there may never be a wren inside. Maybe I will make a bunch of houses and hang them inside the garage!

Please Keep Reading the Blog

Ladybug Friends For the New Garden Season

It’s 2022 and aren’t we glad to have the last couple of years behind us? New problems are brewing, and with ridiculously high gas prices, it’s best to just stay home and garden! ….. Right?

The ladybugs are already beginning to arrive for the new garden season. I saw one crawling on my eggplant and sure enough, I later found yellow eggs planted beneath a leaf!

First ladybug of the growing season!

Her eggs are tiny and yellow and they will be left under leaves. If they survive, they will all become ladybugs eventually.

Ladybug eggs

The next day, I saw that the eggs had hatched into black critters that were crawling a bit. They look like tiny, black spiders. They will soon turn into long black bugs with red markings. I wrote a page with photos about the life stages of ladybugs here.

As a gardener, I want to be aware of which bugs are good, or beneficial, and the ladybugs – in all stages – are good! But we must know how they look before they become ladybugs in order for them to survive.

Ladybug eggs hatching into black larvae
New little ladybug larvae looks like tiny black spiders

My Fear: Do Anole’s Eat Ladybugs?

I’ve searched for an answer and have not found one that is exact, but I am hoping that brown (and green) anole lizards do not eat ladybugs. Here in Florida we have both types of lizard.

There is a very large brown lizard that loves to hang out on the eggplant plant (see him below). I have seen some green aphids, and maybe he is eating those. But aphids are also ladybug food. The lizard could be eating ants, or something else. I’m wondering if he will gobble up the baby ladybugs too.

Ladybugs Do Not Taste Good

I can attest to the fact that ladybugs do not taste good. Accidentally, I had a ladybug in my mouth – it was in the water I drank – and it left a horrible taste. I hope that our lizards think so too and will let the larvae live.

Ladybug on eggplant stem
March ladybug on eggplant

Please Keep Reading

Florida Native Frogs or Cuban Invaders?

Summer brings an over-abundance of frogs to my yard. I often find them tucked down inside curling pepper leaves or snoozing on top of a growing pepper. They don’t hurt the plants, but the invasive Cuban tree frog can hurt the environment, by killing off our native frogs.

Cuban Tree Frogs?

I think these are Cuban tree frogs. I have seen frogs like this inside my house. One day I had one sitting on a plate in my kitchen. When we first moved into our house a huge, whitish frog came out of the tub drain! I’d never let frogs creep me out before, but there was something about these that I never liked.

frogs sleeping the day away
3 Frogs on my front light – one is sitting on another

They are nocturnal and come alive in the evening when they hop all over the windows and door eating bugs.

They also leave their poop everywhere as you can see by my disgusting looking light. I think this photo shows the Cuban frog. This type of frog will kill and eat the cute green ones – which I never see these days. And the Cuban frog can become quite large. They can also get into the plumbing – they do that by getting onto the roof – and other places and become a big problem.

It is true that these frogs do not appear to be the cute little green frogs that were once everywhere in Florida. You literally could not avoid them and they were simply part of Florida life. Florida life has changed.

Tree frog sleeping on a green pepper
Tree frog napping on my garden pepper – he is what type???

After I had a palm tree cut down in my front yard, the frog population seemed to decline. They may have been living in the tree.

frog on pepper leaf
Frog on pepper leaf

Good Frogs

This striped frog is one I came across while cleaning out the yard. I’d had some plastic containers stacked, which had filled with water. I was getting rid of the containers and discovered this frog swimming around with a bunch of tiny creatures – possibly tadpoles..? Once I disturbed his home, he climbed out of the container and disappeared.

I think this frog may be the Florida Chorus frog, but I’m not sure. I hope he makes it. Life is tough for Florida wildlife.

Florida Tree Frogs or Cuban Pests?

Just like the little green lizards, the green Florida tree frog seems to be disappearing. Well, the Cuban tree frog could be the reason. This article at the UF site says to catch the invaders and humanely euthanize them! Put them into the fridge, then the freezer! Yikes.

I would have to know for sure I had the right type of frog. Some of the links below lead to pages with photos of Florida’s various types of frogs.

That is not a bird peeking out of my birdhouse. In fact, frogs can take over birdhouses so the birds can’t use them to nest.

Frog inside this birdhouse

One more thing to mention. We have a Ring camera set up in the backyard and witnessed an opossum climb the wall to the light and pull a frog off to eat it! I can’t say which type of frog it was, but I rarely ever see the cute green frogs. I would assume that the opossum ate a Cuban tree frog. Let’s hope so.

More Florida Frog Info Links

All links go to the University of Florida website pages.

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