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Permaculture controls for cutworms

 
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Paul and I are working on the Animal Care badge for the PEP system.  We're detailing out some options for people to use when attempting to mitigate/eliminate cutworms.  Here's our list, can you add some more ideas???

Improve diversity of plants
- some species improve the strength and health of target plant
- some species discourage cutworms
- some species draw cutworms away from other species (sacrifice)
    - these species typically attract cutworm predators
Build cutworm predator habitat
Add mulch to target plant
Document plant of the same species in another spot not being bothered by pests
Bring fowl in to eat the cutworms

 
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In our garden we sprinkle diatomaceous earth around the plants that are coming up from seed.
We use inverted paper cups with the bottoms cut out for cutworm barriers around small transplants along with diatomaceous earth.
Cutworms do their damage at night and hide in the dark during the day. Placing cardboard flat on the ground in the garden will provide cutworms with places that they think are safe, but are not.  
 
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+1 on physical barriers.

Cutworms burrow deep during the day and do their mischief/mayhem at night, just below the surface.

My mother has been gardening for 60+ years. She saved all her old screw top lids from glass-lid canning jars and pushed them into the soil around new, tender plants. It defeats the little finks, unless they get really lucky and burrow up inside the ring.
 
Mike Haasl
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Thanks guys!  Steve, how does the cardboard work?  I'm trying to understand how the place it makes for them isn't safe.

So do the cutworms burrow to the surface and then search around for something to eat?  All the while staying just below the surface?  Would the canning rings be flush to the ground on top so that they provide a moat about 3/4" deep around the plant?
 
Steve Mendez
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In our garden there are cutworms crawling around above ground at night. In damp conditions they are more numerous. They chew seedlings and small transplants off about 1/4" above the soil and then consume the toppled plant. I have observed this behavior by flashlight.
Earwigs are also out at night eating the newest growth on seedlings.
The cutworms and earwigs hide under the cardboard that we place in the garden. During the day I turn the cardboard over to expose the hiding cutworms and earwigs. It doesn't take much to give the cutworms mortal wounds with my crutch tips. The earwigs run for it and are harder to kill. I don't hurt the centipedes and fast beetles because they are predators.
We try to be judicious with our use of diatomaceous earth to avoid injuring predator species.

 
Douglas Alpenstock
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I defer to Steve's practical observations in his zone.

In my area, the damage is always just below the surface -- perhaps 1/2 inch. During the day, I have dug them up at the better part of a spade's depth. Sometimes whole, temporarily; otherwise halved, since I run with a sharp spade.

Edit: I should say shovel, not spade, to be correct. Old habit. Though my spades are also sharp enough to dice onions.
 
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As Steve Mendez mentioned, paper cups with the bottom cut out work really well.  

We used waxed paper cups because plain paper cups would deteriorate in rain and dew before stalks grew thicker and tougher than cutworms prefer.

And now it makes sense that we laid 2 x 4s between the rows for a few weeks or so.  That worked like using cardboard.  Though I am sorry to say my parents turned the boards over, sprinkled Sevin dust and quickly turned the boards back over on the dust to kill all the bug critters.  Ugh.

We were not concerned about toxins in paper cups, or the ground 50-ish years ago.  

I'm not sure what is a better material to use instead.  After just reading about paper cups, now I am wondering if this is an opportunity to find a healthier replacement for paper cups when possible, going forward.  Though bamboo is not available everywhere, large bamboo cut into short lengths could be a reusable option where it is available.  Thinking about other options...
 
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Maybe this anecdote will assist some:

My Dad would routinely use a small putty spatula to ‘till’ the earth around seedlings to reduce compaction and let in air and moisture - can be hard work if there's a large garden area.

It broke the life-cycle of weeds and when cutworms, curl grubs (African Beetle) or other pests were brought to the surface, they’d be flicked to a chicken that was always waiting nearby – gobbled-up and added to egg nutrition!

The digging goes against convention, but it was proven over 90 years so I’m not arguing with that. (Stressing the seedlings in such a way also tended to improve their overall vigour and , along with other additives like liquid chicken manure, seaweed/fish emulsion, etc, produced excellent vegetables.)

 
Catherine Windrose
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Efficacy of entomopathogenic nematodes for control of cutworms

The success of nematode applications depends largely on the biology and ecology of both the nematode and the pest, which should be well understood. EPNs are more effective in habitats that protect them from extreme environmental conditions such as UV, high temperature and drought, hence their natural habitation in soil. EPNs are therefore preferred as control agents of soil-borne insects or insect species that spend at least part of their life cycle in the soil. The cutworm is a suitable candidate for targeting with EPNs since it spends both the larval and pupal stages in the soil.

 
Mike Haasl
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I just saw a suggestion that fireflies are a predator of cutworms.  So attracting fireflies would be a worthy goal.
 
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