How To Keep Pesky Cutworms From Ruining Your Tomato Plants

Cutworms are quite the rascals in the garden, aren't they? Cutworms, the larvae of banded moth species, are so named because of their habit of "cutting" off a seedling at ground level by chewing through the stem. These sneaky caterpillars hide in the soil during the day and come out at night, ready to snack in your garden. Unfortunately, tomato plants are particularly susceptible because cutworms can quickly eat through their tender stems. So don't be surprised if your tomato plants are thriving one day, only to be felled overnight by these pests. Infuriating, right? Sadly, once a tomato plant's stem has been severed, it can no longer grow.

If you've found young tomato plants cut off at the soil line, cutworms are likely the culprits. And while preventing cutworm damage can be challenging, there are several strategies you can use to keep them from ruining your tomato garden. These include cultivating companion plants, using barriers, practicing garden hygiene, and manual removal.

Ecological controls and preventive measures

Prevention, as they say, is better than cure, and that's definitely true when it comes to cutworms. To keep cutworms from running your tomato plants, till your garden early in the season to expose the worm larvae to predators. Birds, spiders, toads, and other critters can help reduce cutworm numbers. Further, planting cutworm-resistant companion plants like pyrethrum of Dalmatia, tansy, sage, or garlic near your tomatoes can also help deter these pests. (It's like having a security detail for your plants!) Another strategy to place collars, made from materials like cardboard or aluminum, around the base of your tomato plants. Just ensure the collars are a couple of inches above and below the soil line. The physical barriers will confuse those little rascals and keep them at bay.

Another thing to remember is that cutworms love hiding out in weeds and plant debris. Keep your garden clean with regular weeding and remove dead leaves so cutworms will have fewer places to hide. You may also choose to delay planting your tomatoes to help them avoid the peak cutworm season, which typically falls from early spring through fall.

Targeted treatment and ongoing monitoring

If prevention hasn't worked and the cutworms have arrived to cut down your tomato plants, it's time to take some targeted action. If you're an early bird or night owl, go out with a flashlight and manually remove the cutworms. Then, just drop them in soapy water, and they're history. You can also make use of beneficial nematodes available in garden supply centers. These microscopic worms can be watered into the soil to deal with cutworms naturally. When these tiny superheroes get inside the cutworms, they release bacteria that'll eventually paralyze and kill their hosts.

Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) is also another guaranteed cutworm killer. Simply spray this organic, bacteria-based insecticide on your plants in the early morning or evening, and the cutworms will die off. It's gentle on plants and you can purchase it in garden supply centers or big-box stores. Of course, keeping a close eye on your tomato plants is essential so you can spot any infestation early on and apply your preferred method of treatment. With these comprehensive strategies, you can keep those pesky cutworms from ruining your tomato plants, so you can finally enjoy a bountiful harvest.