May 23, 2011

Tomato Update (Cutworms)

Filed under: Food and Farms — Tags: — Russ @ 5:43 am


The other day I asked for some help with a tomato plant dying from its injuries after a cutworm assault. Since then I had another plant attacked, sustaining even worse damage.
As of right now, both plants are alive. The first, while not looking great, still looks better than it did. The second seems fine, even after having had its stem almost completely severed.
So I wanted to describe what I did and some conclusions I take from it.
First the facts. I had all my tomatoes partially protected by cardboard cuffs around the stems. The cuffs didn’t reach all the way around. I got back from camping on a cool, rainy Wednesday afternoon at the perfect time to catch the cutworm gnawing at one of my Purple Cherokees. The stem was still upright, but there were two big gouges out of the stem. I killed the worm, piled soil up around the stem to cover the wounds, and left it. On Thursday morning (still cool and rainy), the plant looked OK.
Over the course of Thursday it warmed up and the sun came out for awhile. The soil was still wet. I found the plant badly wilting, although the stem was still upright. I asked for advice here at this blog. Based on the advice I pruned off some of the suckers (although it’s just a seedling) and kept watering it even though the soil was moist. That night it cooled off and rained more, and the weather has stayed mostly wet, overcast, and cool since then. By Saturday morning the first plant, what was left of it, had perked up.
Meanwhile I found the second plant (a Black Krim) almost destroyed. The stem was mostly severed and had toppled over. If it hadn’t fallen on the cardboard cuff, it would’ve been laid out on the ground. I killed the worm, piled up soil, staked the plant to a pencil. Even though rain has continued off and on, I’ve also been watering it. It’s been over 48 hours, and the plant has looked fine throughout.
In the meantime I got more cardboard and completed the circuits of the stems.
So the two conclusions this seems to imply are:
1. If the cuffs work, they’re only reliable if they completely encircle the stem. A 90% circumscription (the extent of the piece of cardboard I was using; I was simply too lazy to go look for a bigger piece, or to find more to supplement the first piece) isn’t good enough.
2. Cooler temperatures and clouds seem better for a plant injured this way. I would’ve expected the opposite, but the evidence here is what it is.
So there’s some new stuff I learned. Hopefully the problem is solved now, the two hurt plants will recover, and there won’t be anymore cutworm unpleasantness.
(Unless they also go after squash and cucumber. But I never heard that before and never had it happen before, so I left those unprotected. Anyone think that’s wrong?) 


  1. Hey Russ. I never (so far) get that kind of worm. I get those big horn worms that eat my leaves and such, but never the kind that cut the main stalk. I know they are around because my friends speak of them, but I’ve yet to see them myself. I use “organocide” on all my stuff. With those worms, I just pick ’em off as I encounter them.

    Comment by Johnny D. — May 23, 2011 @ 2:28 pm

    • Hi JD. I guess you’ve been lucky. Those cutworms are a scourge all over the place.

      Comment by Russ — May 23, 2011 @ 3:35 pm

  2. russ, cutworms will go after anything that has a tender stem, so your squash & cukes are at risk…

    i’m guessing this is a new garden, from former lawn or field…if its any consolation, cutworms wont be much of a problem after a few years of tilling…

    Comment by rjs — May 26, 2011 @ 6:56 am

    • Thanks, rjs. I haven’t had cutworms go after them, although a slug seems to have ravaged one of cucumber seedlings the other night. I guess I should look for something to collar the hills, just in case.

      It is a new site on former lawn. (Three years gardening, and I’ve had to start over at a new site each time.) Almost all bagged topsoil and manure. I don’t know where the cutworms came from.

      Comment by Russ — May 26, 2011 @ 8:38 am

      • some cutworms overwinter in grassy areas, so that may be your problem…those moths that migrate from the south wont lay eggs on bare ground…

        its hard to stop slugs, they’ll crawl over most everything…

        for cukes, i use a dozen seeds a hill; that way i figure at least a few will survive…

        Comment by rjs — May 26, 2011 @ 8:51 am

      • I left five plants per hill thinking the same thing.

        Comment by Russ — May 26, 2011 @ 10:03 am

  3. Just read your article made a coffee and went outside to check my vege patch – I hadn’t checked it for a couple of days and the grubs have got into plants cannot spend any more time reading articles I must get out in the garden

    Comment by kerry01 — March 26, 2012 @ 7:25 pm

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