Posted by: Dave DeWitt on Jun 12, 2010
Cutworms should be called Paul Bunyan worms because when they arrive in your garden, the tender bedding plants resemble newly fallen trees. These are not worms, of course, but caterpillars of small gray moth. They're in the group called solitary surface cutworms because they cut off young plants at the soil line or slightly above or below it, sometimes dropping the severed plants into their burrows. Because most of the plant is not eaten, these cutworms do an amazing amount of damage, attacking and felling new plants nightly, like they did to two of my chile plants this week.
Master gardeners usually describe about a dozen ways to attack or prevent cutworms, but for a small garden the best method is called a cutworm collar. Buy plastic drink cups, or save yogurt containers, and simply cut out the bottom. Position the collars over the plants and push them about a inch below the surface of the soil. These physical barriers need to stay around the plants until (like peppers and tomatoes), the stems become somewhat thick and woody.
Update: Today, while replacing those chopped down plants, I found the cutworm, tossed it onto the gravel, and it was promptly eaten by a robin!
I have found that ants also make quick work of them, I tossed one aside this week and a group of ants started attacking it, especially its underbelly. Within minutes they were carrying it off to their ant hole!