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Ways To Discourage Those Garden Pests

Everything you wanted to know about cutworms in the home garden and then some. But first, let me allude to conversations I’ve had with Herman Swab of Andrew, Alberta, 70 miles east and a touch north of Edmonton on Highway 29.

Herman seeds 400 acres to wheat and canola and grows a half-acre to garden. When I asked what he does for cutworm control he told me: “I lose very few plants to cutworms — just hand eradicate them and apply an occasional sprinkle of diatomaceous earth around plants, but no chemicals.”

Herman makes his own sauerkraut too. In addition to adding pickling salt to shredded cabbage, he mixes in some loose pickling spice (not in a bag). He likes the flavour these spices impart.

Here’s one of Herman’s favourite ways to serve sauerkraut. No specific measurements are given; just some of this and some of that. Sauté onions, fry bacon slices, roast pork button bones and then add them all to sauerkraut and cook the combo at medium-low heat about a half-hour.


Let me share an email from St. Brides, in northeast Alberta. Stan Harder writes: “An excellent article on tomatoes. It’s a long day when one learns nothing and your article is chock full of good ideas. One point you didn’t cover. Cutworms. We don’t use commercial fertilizers or pesticides. The only additive we use is wood ash but we don’t have enough to cover the whole garden, so toss it out more or less at random so that over time we cover the field. Wood ash is rich in potash as you know and (in our experience) is beneficial in controlling near-surface underground grubs (wireworms etc.) seeming to spare deeper-buried earthworms. Where we have ash, cutworms seem to be held down, but what can we do for places not covered in that way? When tomato plants sell for over $4, walking out to see all but one lying wilted on the ground (like last summer) is a poor start for the day. Any thoughts?” — Stan Harder.

(Note from Ted: Stan pointed out that he’s only saying what works for him. He’s not suggesting what others should or should not do.)


The adults (sometimes referred to as miller moths) have grey or brownish wings with a powdery coating on top. These night flyers have wingspans between one and 1-1/2 inches and are attracted to street lights and other lit-up areas. Their eggs are usually laid in soil where pupae or young larvae pass the winter or eggs hatch in spring. Cutworms feed near soil surface, severing stems an inch or more below, or just above it. They love all garden vegetables, especially young transplants.

During early spring, cutworm moths are seeking egg-laying sites. Keep the garden clean of mulches and old plant residues. Outsmart them by tilling the soil as soon as it can be worked, especially during the fourth quarter (i. e. dark of the moon). You can effectively get almost total kill. Cutworm larvae depend on weeds and other volunteer seedlings during the first week after hatching. The best tilling dates are: April 24 through April 30 and May 1 and May 2. Delay planting for 10 days to two weeks after tilling if possible and starve out not only cutworm larvae but many other pests as well.


Here are things gardeners can buy, or salvage and then recycle. They include paper coffee cups, inner tubes from toilet paper and paper towels; plastic and wooden stir sticks and cotton-tip sticks.

Insert two sticks of choice into the soil around each transplant and leave a bit showing above ground. Or, cut out the bottom of paper cups and with both ends open, use as collars around plant stems. You can also make protective wraparounds using those inner circular tubes from rolls of toilet paper or paper towelling. Place collars so they’re one to two inches below and one to two inches above soil surface.

For something stiffer and longer lasting, a roofer suggested making collars from roofing tarpaper cut to size to deter cutworms. Besides collars, circular disks can be cut out from tarpaper and laid flat on the soil around transplants. This effectively defeats maggots by preventing them from laying eggs just under the soil near young plants. The tarpaper pieces can later be removed.


Diatomaceous earth is made from ground skeletons of tiny fossilized sea creatures. It creates a barrier to stop crawling insects and is 100 per cent natural. It’s probably one of the safest and most effective deterrents that can be sprinkled on soil or slightly worked in around young transplants. Sharp edges lacerate the soft exoskeletons of cutworms, caterpillars, maggots and grubs, causing them to dehydrate. A dusting of diatomaceous earth inside birdhouses and on chicken feathers controls bird mites and fleas.

Also consider broken pieces of dried eggshells or coarse ground limestone made from crushed white rock. Such material is sharp in nature. When lightly spread around plants, an abrasive surface is left that soft-bodied cutworms and slugs resent.

Let me also mention Bt (short for Bacillus thuringiensis) as a caterpillar control. It’s not a chemical pesticide, but a micro-organism that kills all types of worms. They stop eating as though paralyzed shortly after ingesting the natural bacteria and die a few days later. Very low rates of Bt application are required on vegetables, ornamentals, rose bushes, evergreens and fruit trees.

A surface mulch of dried oak leaves (best gathered and saved in fall) can be applied alongside onions, radishes and turnips to repel maggots as well as cutting down on cutworms, slugs and June bugs. Some gardeners are of the opinion that fresh green oak leaves have an inhibiting or restraining effect on vegetables and should be composted first or at least fully dried before using as a garden mulch.


Encourage frogs and toads to hang around as they are great friends of the gardener. A clay flowerpot on its side will serve for housing if buried a few inches in the ground, preferably in a shady place. A shallow container of water nearby will entice them to remain.

Contrary to belief, toads do not cause warts, are not poisonous to humans, but they do exude a slime that’s distasteful to any potential enemy. A single toad or frog is able to consume up to 10,000 insects over a three-month period and many of these will be cutworms, crickets, grubs of various and sundry nature; ants, beetles, caterpillars, flies, moths, mosquitoes, slugs, squash bugs and — get this — even moles. Of course, you can also grow castor beans around the edges of your garden and their plant juices and roots will certainly drive moles away — but that’s another story.


… if using hydrated lime. Some folks sprinkle it around plants in a two-or three-inch circle. This keeps cutworms and other pests off limits, even when spring showers get it wet. A cement contractor told me that “hydrated lime has a heating and drying effect and people should avoid breathing in any dust when handling.” He also recommends “wearing gloves and applying it sparingly.” Hydrated lime, he says, “will burn green grass and the browning effect may not appear until a week after application.” If you opt to go this route, thinning down hydrated lime with dried, used coffee grounds or tea leaves will help avoid burning young tender seedlings.


This is an effective recipe, but be prepared for an unpleasant odour. Mix 2 teaspoons of liquid beef bouillon and 2 well-beaten eggs together into 4 litres of water. Leave the mixture outside, in an out-of-the-way spot for several days. It will really begin to stink. Once it smells terrible, pour the concoction with a few drops of liquid soap into a watering can or sprayer and sprinkle over shrubs, ornamentals and plants subject to deer attack. You’ll need to respray after every rainfall, so it’s probably worthwhile having an extra ready-made batch on hand. There’s a bonus too. This formula seems to ward off grasshoppers.

Something else you’ll want to try is seeding a blend of 17 wildflowers that grow into deer-resistant plants. But keep in mind when food is scarce, deer will nibble on almost anything, if really hungry. This excellent deer-resistant blend is available in seed packets from West Coast Seeds, 3925-64th Street, Delta, B.C. V4K 3N2. Also, welcome butterflies and beneficial insects into your garden and hold on to them with a seed packet of butterfly-blend wildflowers from WCS.

For lots more, visit their web-site or email [email protected] or phone toll free 1-888-804-8820 for a print catalogue listing over 600 vegetable, flower and herb seeds for organic growing.

ThisisTedMeseytontheSingingGardener andGrow-ItPoetfromPortagelaPrairie, Man.Ijoinwiththecallofthecrowsdownby thegardenpathinexpressingappreciation forarrivalofspringandlongerdaylighthours. I’llbewaitingforthetrillofthemeadowlark sometimeinAprilandwatchingforanother seasonofthingsgreenandgrowingas30 freighttrainstwomileslonggoby.Myemail addressis [email protected]


Sue Armstrong

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About the author


Ted Meseyton

This is Ted Meseyton the Singing Gardener and Grow-It Poet from Portage la Prairie, Man. I salute all gardeners and farmers who help make our world a little safer and more ecologically balanced, and who toil to provide health-giving produce to others who cannot produce their own. It takes all sorts to make a world. One half of the world doesn’t know how the other half lives. The best physicians are Dr. Diet, Dr. Quiet and Dr. Merryman.



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