Posted on 30 December 2011 by

The Mystery of the Fallen Tomato Plants

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By Mindy McIntosh-Shetter

My gardening experience started with my great-grandmother.

She would take me out to her garden and tell me the stories associated with each plant.

A certain flower that came in shades of violet was from Virginia.

A certain rosebush was given to her on her 50th birthday and the Johnny Jump-Ups started growing in her yard from her planters on the porch.

Through the history of her garden, she also shared with me some superstitions associated with gardening. As an example, she would only plant green beans by the light of a full moon and would always make newspaper collars for the tomato plants. She believed that these simple collars would keep the garden fairies away.

Now you may be scratching your head and going what? Garden fairies in a garden but my great-grandmother had proof and that proof was tomatoes lying on the ground. These little victims did not have the paper collars and in doing so succumbed to the garden fairies.

For years, I believed this tale and good envision little garden fairies with saws cutting down the tomato plants. I was convinced that the tomato plants probably looked like trees and in doing so that is why they were cut down. It seemed logical to since we always did the paper collars and the tomato plants never fell again.

As youth left me and I learned more about science, the concept of garden fairies became a fairy tale. I quickly learned that the fallen tomato plants were caused not by garden fairies but instead cutworms. I also learned that our simple paper collars were one of the approaches used to prevent cutworm destruction but what else could be done.

The very first approach that many gardeners consider is some type of chemical control but I would warn against this approach. Cutworms are easily controlled by simple organic techniques that leave man and beast intact for future generations verses destroying the planet for a few cutworms.


Collars can be made from newspapers, PVC pipes, cardboard tubes, and small cans. They will need to be three inches in height and when placed over the plant make sure the diameter is big enough to compensate for plant growth. Also, do not forget to bury one inch of the collar in the soil.


Certain plants repel the cutworm and include Shepard’s purse and tansy. Just make sure to plant these repelling plants near tomato plants for the best effect.

Organic Poison

A few, simple kitchen ingredients sprinkled on the garden soil is all that is needed to kill the cutworm. One may wonder what the magic ingredients are and where they can be found. Simply own your kitchen cabinet and pick out cornmeal and bran. Both of these substances are treats for the cutworm. They eat these ingredients instead of your plants and simply die.

Organic Trap

This technique traps the cutworm so that its natural prey can feast. These include black birds, braconid wasps, tachnid flies, lacewings, toads, and firefly larvae.

To create the trap, just mix molasses with a dry mixture of 50 percent sawdust that is not pressure treated and 50 percent bran. Add a little water to thin out the solution a little bit and then drop blobs of the solution around the plants. The thick solution traps the cutworm so that predators can solve the problem.

While I realize now that garden fairies do not take down tomato plants, the stories behind them are timeless and something I will never forget. My great-grandmother never forgot either even though in her later years she developed memory problems. One time when I was in the hospital, she bought a book about a garden fairy named Thumbelina. The notation inside the book was “never forget the magic of the garden.”

Today, I still have that book and would gratefully respond to my great-grandmother that no Granny Franklin “I have not forgotten the magic of the garden.”

So until we blog again, while science can explain many mysteries of life there still is room for the unknown and the fabled even in our modern society. The key to this wonderment is not to destroy it with facts and chemicals but instead treat it with organics and amazement of how Mother Nature works.

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