How to Stop Cutworms with Toilet Paper Rolls

A cutworm on a leaf
John Macgregor/Photolibrary/Getty Images

Cutworms are definite nuisances in the garden. They destroy perfectly healthy seedlings within a matter of hours by chewing at the stem at the soil line. If you've had cutworms attack your seedlings, a little bit of prevention can save you from further horticultural heartbreak. Did you know a toilet paper roll can help? It can do wonders to protect plants from cutworm.

Create a Toilet Paper Cutworm Collar for Organic Gardening

You can make a simple "cutworm collar" to place around your seedlings from a toilet paper tube. Save a few toilet paper or paper towel tubes, and cut them into two- to three-inch lengths. When you plant your seedlings, put a section of the toilet paper roll around each plant, pushing it at least a half an inch into the surface of the soil, so the collar stands on its own.

The tubes will protect your seedlings from cutworms and will fall apart within a few weeks in the garden so you won't have any cleanup. By the time they start to fall apart, your seedlings will be too large to sustain any damage from those pesky cutworms. Problem solved.

A Bit More on Cutworms

Cutworms are active during the summer, so whenever you are seeding, you can use the toilet paper roll protective sleeves. Typically they are only a problem during spring, though you may have to monitor some plants through the summer, such as celery and peppers. Their populations can vary and destroy a garden if there are too many. 

As a result of them feeding on the seedlings, it can cause some plants to drop into their burrows. Climbing species of cutworms can get into vines and shrubs to eat buds, fruit, and leaves. Other species—like glassy cutworms—stay on the soil and feed there. 

The best way to protect your garden from cutworms (other than using the toilet paper rolls) is to check your garden regularly. You may spot them in the afternoon or early evening. If you inspect plants in the morning, you can find fresh damage. Keep an eye out for plants that have been severed near the ground or those that are noticeably wilting, as cutworm chewing may wilt them but not cut the stem in half. Sometimes you may see droppings on the ground. You can probably control them best with the larvae are small. 

Try to keep the garden free of weeds and plant residue. When you do this, you give them less space to lay eggs and feed on weeds. Till the garden before planting, as it helps to bring up and kill any larvae. Green manure can encourage egg-laying, so be sure not to use it—try compost instead. If you till in the fall, it can get rid of overwintering larvae or pupae.

In addition to using toilet paper or paper towel rolls to protect the seedlings, some people place aluminum foil around them in a similar fashion. 

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  1. Cutworms in Home Gardens. UMN Extension