When a gardener asked me to look at their pepper plant that had died in a day, I had my suspicions on who might be involved.
“It was growing nicely and the following morning was wilted,” he said.
Cutworms. These are the larvae of a variety of different night-flying moths. And while the moths differ the modus operandi is the same.
A healthy robust plant dies overnight. Upon inspection, the stem is severed near the base.
Cutworms feed on a wide variety of plants including peppers, beans, lettuces, carrots, cabbage, corn or tomatoes. If you think your plant has been attacked, move the earth around the base and look for two things:
1 – A cut right through the stem where it was chewed at the base or just below the soil line.
2 – The culprit who did it. Cutworms don’t flee the scene and can often be found at the base of the plant hiding in the soil within a foot of the plant. Sure enough, the inch-and-a-half caterpillar pictured above was curled up in the soil.
If you find them, you can squish them or throw them in soapy water. But don’t leave them. They have pretty big appetites.
To protect your remaining plants from other cutworms, make a 4-inch collar from a toilet paper roll sliced open and place it around the base of the stem. I stick it in the soil about an inch or so and let the rest circle the stem.
Another trick it to sprinkle coffee grounds, crushed egg shells bits or diatomaceous earth around the plants.