Rid your backyard of bugs and slugs with these non-pesticide strategies | House & Backyard



A bristly cut worm moth.

E. Jason Wambsgans / Chicago Tribune

Cutworms only take a few bites out of new grafts, which wouldn’t do much damage other than keeping those bites at ground level. Attacked seedlings fall dead. Don’t confuse this damage with dampening disease caused by a fungus that also attacks the soil line but usually only affects very young, freshly sprouted seedlings.

Cutworms can be repelled by a kind of barrier, such as a cardboard collar around each plant. For this purpose, toilet paper tubes that are cut a few inches long are suitable. Surround each graft and press the collar into the ground a little

Another approach is to fool the cutworm, which, before biting a plant, wraps its body around the stem to make sure it’s tender enough. Once the stems of vegetable and flower transplants harden, cutworms leave them alone. I fake cutworms by sticking a toothpick in the ground right against each of my transplants. The insects think they are hugging small trees with wooden stalks and leaving the young plants alone.

Another method of wrapping cutworms (which I haven’t tried) is to trap them in foot-deep holes made with a broomstick or an inch thick dowel. As daylight approaches, the cutworms climb into these holes for shelter. What they don’t realize is that they won’t be able to ever climb out again.

Fortunately for us gardeners, the life of a cutworm is not easy due to the threat of birds, ground beetles and certain small parasitic wasps.

The number of cutworms is often so small that if you scrape around in the soil near a damaged plant, you can find and kill the cutworm. Do this regularly and at some point even the toothpicks or collars will be unnecessary.