Cutworms and Slugs, Slugs and Cutworms

Cutworms and slugs, two terrestrial creatures, have been coming out to play at night. I don’t care for their games and use simple, no-cost, environmentally-friendly control methods for both.

Slugs, those slimy crawlers that love to feed on tender vegetable transplants, are enjoying the rainy spring we’ve had in Connecticut. Slugs thrive in moist conditions and are most active from evening to early morning.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA You will see their damage – a few holes in leaves or leaves completely gone – and will likely notice the shiny slime trails they leave behind on surfaces they have crossed. And, yes … they will slime up the side of a clay pot to reach their goal. I don’t know how they figured out I planted tatsoi in this and many other clay pots but it only took one night for them to find the tender young transplants.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere are many methods for controlling slugs, just Google slug control and you’ll see what I mean. Lots of gardeners swear by a commercial granular control product or copper barriers. I’ve not used either, preferring to spend my money elsewhere, and cannot vouch for their efficacy. If you’ve tried one of these control products, share your results in a comment below.

For years I used the beer control method: sink a shallow saucer or an empty, washed cat food or tuna can near plants showing signs of slug damage, fill the saucer with beer – use the cheap stuff left behind that no one will drink – and come back the next morning to a soupy mess of drowned slugs. There’s a definite ick factor in the next step. To empty the soupy mess you have to ease the saucer/can from its sunken home. Wear gloves. Slug slime is one of the grossest things to get on your hands. It does not easily wash off. While it’s rather satisfying to know some cheap, tasteless beer brought a few slimy plant-chompers to their demise, it’s a pain to have to empty the cans each morning and refill them at night. Besides, how much cheap beer can one keep around  as slug bait?

Some gardeners suggest circling damage-prone plants with crushed egg shells, diatomaceous earth, or some other sharp barrier. Slugs, being soft-bodied, supposedly don’t like to travel over such areas. Again, I’ve not tried this method … too much garden real estate to encircle every slug-prone plant with sharp barriers.

Other trap types of slug control involve finding them during the day when they’ve sheltered under objects – leaves, boards, pots, etc. Place a board on the ground near slug-damaged plants. Peek under it during the day and you’ll likely find resting slugs. Similarly placed orange peels are supposed to work the same way. Once you find sleeping slugs you can shake salt on them – it turns them into writhing globs of slime – did it once, won’t do it again.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Or, you could kill them using my preferred method. I repurpose a washed peanut butter jar filled with a few inches of water and a squirt of liquid dish soap, like Dawn, and a plastic spoon for daily slug control. Each morning I stroll my gardens, coffee in one hand and my slug-killing bath in the other.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe spoon scoops up each slug which gets tapped into the soapy water. I keep my coffee some distance away so I won’t sleepily flick a slug into my coffee mug – a big ick – rather than the soapy bath.

I store the jar and spoon in a convenient but out of obvious view spot so I can grab it quickly if I spot another slug.  When the jar needs emptying, about every two days, I toss the contents over a weedy patch at the edge of the woods, rinse the jar, and refill it with water and dish soap. In really bad slug seasons I double my control efforts by combining the wood board trap and the morning slug patrols. Lots of slugs meet their end without me having to touch them … ever. And, in really bad slug seasons, like two years ago, I’ll grab my trusty tools at dusk and go on Slug-fari.

Other creatures eat slugs. If you have chickens or ducks you’re in luck. I have neither chickens or ducks. Toads eat slugs but some years the slug population is too high for resident toads to control. Garden-type snakes also eat slugs, a fact I try to remember each time one startles me and slithers away. For this reason I’m s-l-o-w-l-y learning to tolerate the garter, brown, and ring-neck snakes in my gardens.

Cutworms, the other unwelcome pest that easily does as much damage, are much easier to control.

If you are greeted with this … a young plant stem cut off at soil level,


you can be pretty sure you have cutworms. To prevent this heartbreaking loss, place a cardboard collar around the stem of each young transplant.


I begin saving toilet paper and paper towel rolls during late winter to have ample material for cutworm barriers. Cut toilet paper rolls in half, paper towel rolls in quarters. Gently guide the cardboard roll over the leaves of each plant after it is secure in the ground. Gently twist the collar back and forth until it sinks into the soil about 1/2 inch to create a below and above ground barrier cutworms cannot cross. The cardboard will eventually disintegrate or get so soggy that it unwinds but, by this point, the plant will be larger and less appealing to cutworms.

Easy, inexpensive control methods for two common garden pests … I hope they work for you.

Garden thoughtfully …

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2012 Joene Hendry

9 comments for “Cutworms and Slugs, Slugs and Cutworms

  1. June 10, 2012 at 1:21 pm


    Ah, you and I are safari sisters! I gave up commercial slug killers and have opted for used cat food cans filled with cheap beer-over 20 right now, as well as a morning and evening safari. Since I’m growing lettuce, spinach, cabbages and potatoes AND it’s been a very wet spring, I am barely keeping up with all these efforts, and in fact, it’s fairly comedic to watch. A week ago, looking out my 2nd story window I spotted a tiny slug , heading up a yellow plastic planter towards my gorgeous newly transplanted coleus in a bed 10 yards away from the house. I practically fell down the stairs hastening to pick off the varmint! Thanks for the great idea about controlling cutworms!

    • June 10, 2012 at 10:40 pm

      Benita, spotting slugs from a second floor window … I am impressed!

  2. June 10, 2012 at 3:25 pm

    I am glad you are careful in the morning. A coffee cup and a jar of slug death . . . my first thought was oh, no, I can guess what will happen, but you put my fears to rest!

    • June 10, 2012 at 10:41 pm

      Laurrie, I’m pretty protective of my morning coffee!

  3. June 13, 2012 at 2:00 pm

    Incredibly creative methods, Joene. You ever sprinkle salt on slugs out of a frustrated need just to see them melt?

    • June 14, 2012 at 6:51 am

      Did that once, Lee, just to see what happens. It’s way too icky for me to want to salt them again.

  4. June 17, 2012 at 8:45 am

    Hmmm. Soapy water does not kill the slugs here. They will simply crawl out of the water to escape.

    • June 17, 2012 at 10:48 pm

      Fern, I’ve only had one slug make it partway up the side of the container in an attempt to escape. The generally drown very quickly. Strange that you have a different experience. Perhaps it’s the container?

  5. June 18, 2012 at 6:19 am

    Yes, it is strange. It was just a galvanized tin watering can.

    I may have been the concentration of dish detergent. I squirted a few squirts of it i, but i used more water, maybe about 3 cups…

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