By Mindy McIntosh-Shetter
Many years ago, I can remember always making “collars” for the tomato plants that my dad and I used to plant together.
These little paper collars prevented the cutworm from destroying our tomato crop.
While I never saw the elusive cutworm, I always knew they were out there because my dad said so.
Years later, I learned the truth about cutworms, their habits and ways of preventing them. But before the truth is revealed on this secretive creature, lets “crawl” like a cutworm.
Cutworms like the nightlife and do all their feeding at night. You know this mysterious animal has been around by the condition of ones tomato plants. Cutworms will literally cut a plant down even with the soil. At this point, the plant is chewed above during the cloak of darkness.
So what this means for a tomato gardener is your garden will be fine today and come tomorrow, your plants will be on the ground. No warning, no signs, nothing at all that will indicate that this is going to happen.
While the enemy does not warn us of their impending plan, there are a few things one can do to prepare for the cutworm season.
Clean the Garden Space
Cutworms like weeds and leftover vegetable plants. To keep them away from the garden space, do not allow weeds to grow around the perimeter of the garden space. Also, make sure to remove all plant material at the end of the season. This will prevent a buildup of cutworm larvae.
Till the Soil
Disturbing the soil is another way of controlling the cutworm. Tilling the soil brings up and mixes the soil, which exposes the cutworm eggs to the environment and in doing so kills them.
If you do not want to till, simply cover the garden space with a dark plastic covering for several weeks prior to planting. The covering will absorb and hold the heat so that the sun sterilizes the soil and kills the cutworm.
Make a Barrier
Another approach is to make individual collars for each tomato plant. This can be very tedious if you have several tomato plants but it is worth the effort if you have a history of cutworm damage.
Tomato collars can be made of several different materials but the key to these collars is that they need to be at least four inches in height. One of the easiest collars to make is with newspaper. Measure a strip of paper that is eight inches in width. Cut the strip out and fold in half lengthwise.
Once that is done cut that strip in half. Now, you are ready to wrap it around the base of your tomato plant, after you have planted it. Make sure to wrap it as close to the stem as possible.
This technique can be used for other materials, such as aluminum foil or even cardboard.
Another type of collar that can be made is one created with a plastic bottle. To start this process, cut the very bottom off a 2-liter bottle and recycle. Then, measure up four inches and mark. Cut along the line. Now, you are ready to place over the tomato plant but do not just sit on top of the ground. Instead, gently push the collar into the soil. This simple move will prevent cutworms from wiggling under the collar and onto your tomato plant.
Tomato cutworms are one of the easiest pests to control in the garden with these straightforward techniques.
So until we blog again, do not let the elusive cutworm destroy your tomato crop without a fight. Just clothe your tomato, with all your might, and the war will be over without a fight.