How to Manage Pests

Pests in Gardens and Landscapes


Cutworms are dull brown caterpillars ranging in length from 1 to 2 inches when fully grown. They curl into a C-shape when disturbed. Normally they are found on or just below the soil surface or on lower parts of plants and are commonly active at night. They are smooth skinned and have various markings that blend well with the soil.

Identification of species


Cutworms feed on blossoms and leaves of many ornamental plants and attack most garden crops. They clip off seedling stems near or just below the soil level. A few species chew holes into leaves or bore into heads of lettuce or cole crops. Holes may be chewed in young fruit or vegetables, and fruiting stems wilt and fall. New shoots may be eaten partway through.


Cutworms are pests mainly in the spring. Destroy crop residues; keep garden weed-free in winter. Hand-picking at night with a flashlight is very effective. Clip and dispose of infested foliage and blossoms. In vegetable gardens, protect seedlings with cardboard collars, screen, or protective cloth. Always plant a greater stand than desired to allow for some losses by seedling pests. Some damage can be avoided by planting hardy transplants. Climbing cutworms can be kept out of perennial crops such as berries with sticky collars. Larger garden plants may be protected with Bacillus thuringiensis or spinosad sprays. Pesticides are not very effective and not recommended on ornamentals. Provide proper fertilization and water, protect roots and trunks from damage, and prune trees properly when needed.

Cutworm larva
Cutworm larva

Damage to lettuce leaves
Damage to lettuce leaves

Cutworm damage to rhododendron
Cutworm damage to rhododendron

Statewide IPM Program, Agriculture and Natural Resources, University of California
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