something is cutting my seedlings.. very confused.

fruitpipJanuary 16, 2014

this happened last time i planted vegetable seeds, too. they always grow to little cute seedling sprouts and then BAM! something.. snips them? It's weird. It's like, one day they're fine, then something strikes in the night and snips them. right now.. most of my arugula and mustard are untouched except a select few, maybe because they're spicy? EVERY new kale that sprouts gets snipped though! so did my sugar snap peas. it's weird, they're not eaten. they just look like the top was cut off. it's always laying on the ground next to the crime scene (i included a picture) though. i asked yahoo answers and was told maybe it's slugs or cutworms.. but wouldn't they eat the tops of the plants, not just snip them?

I thought it was my cat at first because she likes eating plants, but then I made some connections and i don't think she could bite the top off the plants so perfectly, literally looks like someone took scissors to them.. plus she always eats the plants, doesn't just bite them.

i never see animals by the garden. i have no "rural" type animals around me like deer or rabbits, but i do have squirrel, birds and mice. i never see them, or the cat by the garden though?? what could it be? i sprinkled food grade diatamacious earth around all of them so far but not until today.
Thanks for taking the time to read my ramblings, I'm just very saddened by this.

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zzackey(8b GA)

Cutworms. For some reason they love to do that. Just cut a toilet paper or paper holder about 3 or 4 inches high. Put it around the base of the plant and shove it into the soil so it stays. They can't cross it.

    Bookmark   January 16, 2014 at 6:07PM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

Agree that cutworms are the most likely if you don't have rabbits. Mice and rats is another possibility as are birds - they snip off seedlings too. Then there is always snails and slugs.

I use sticks alongside my stems for cutworms - popsickle sticks work well if you have them.

But you will have to go out at night with a flashlight to see what is doing it. Look for signs of slug trails.


    Bookmark   January 16, 2014 at 6:46PM
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Go out there late at night with a flash light and see if you see slugs or cutworms. Check ever 1 to 2 hrs after dark till day light. If you don't see any I would say rats or rabbits.

    Bookmark   January 17, 2014 at 12:35AM
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I agree. Cutworms. Like Dave said, it could be slugs also, but I've noticed with slugs, they just raze the sprouts to the ground. The way you describe is typical cutworms--- Snip at the soil line and come out the next morn to see the seedling just lying there.

I use toothpicks... 2-3 right next to the stalk so they can't wrap around and snip. Haven't lost a single seedling since I started doing this. It's a little extra work but I sleep better.


    Bookmark   January 17, 2014 at 12:37AM
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grandad_2003(9A/sunset 28)

..... or you could use plastic collars made from 2 liter soft-drink bottles. Each bottle will make 2 or 3 collars depending on how tall you want them. A sharp non-serrated knife works the best for cutting the plastic. I re-use the collars. When not in use I stack them on 6 to 7 ft tall poles near the compost pile. (We rarely purchase the bottles. But, they are easy to come by.... e.g. I recently grabbed a few at family holiday celebrations.)

    Bookmark   January 17, 2014 at 1:42PM
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seysonn(8a WA/HZ 1)

3 tooth picks pushed down next to the stem is another option to deal with cutworms.

    Bookmark   January 18, 2014 at 5:18AM
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thanks everyone! I will try that and keep you updated!

    Bookmark   January 18, 2014 at 7:40AM
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By the way, I'd like to add that the last two days i lined around the plants and the beds with my food grade diatamacious earth, and no more cut seedlings! But unfortunately i can't afford to continue buying it since it would take so much to keep putting it on, since it stops working when i get water on it.

    Bookmark   January 18, 2014 at 10:37AM
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seysonn(8a WA/HZ 1)

You have not yet established the cause and have not identified the culprit. Therefore, spending too much money or chemicals is just like shooting in the dark.

    Bookmark   January 19, 2014 at 4:57PM
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I agree that it's cutworms and that going out in the evening after dark with a flashlight will find them munching. I also sift through the first inch or so of soil around a plant with a cut stem and can usually find the culprit during the day. I plant seedlings with collars made of yogurt cups with the bottom cut off, similar to Grandad's soda bottle collars. With row crops, you can use diatomaceous earth, be vigilant about checking daily and removing any cutworms, or cut strips from soda bottles to line along both sides of the row.

Cutworms are easy to ID if you find them. They are small caterpillars, brownish to grayish to greenish in color, and when disturbed they curl up into a C or small spiral. They can do damage when quite small, less than 1/4 inch long, and they grow to about 1 1/4 inches long around here. A couple of rocks to squish them or a small container of soapy water to drop them into will get rid of them easily, but if you have many, the barriers work really well as long as you check that there are no cutworms in the soil right around the plant or seed before setting up the barriers.

    Bookmark   January 19, 2014 at 6:37PM
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daninthedirt(Cent TX; HZ10, Sunset z30, USDA z8a)

Yep, sounds sorta like cutworms.

I sprinkle the ground with Bt just before seedlings emerge. If I'm desperate, I'll throw down some Sevin dust as well. (Bt is, I understand, not highly effective on cutworms.) For small plants that I transplant, like tomatoes and peppers, with well defined stems, I slit a one-inch piece of plastic drinking straw lengthwise, and slip it over each stem, touching the ground. Fast and easy. No problems any more.

Now, your drawing shows the stem being cut off well above the ground. That's not what cutworms do. They cut the stem close to the ground, because the worms are on the ground. So if your drawing is correct, the pest might not be cutworms. Can we assume that your drawing is somewhat abstract?

    Bookmark   January 20, 2014 at 12:33AM
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The drawing is correct! It was just the top part cut off. but today i noticed a chard was cut at the soil line. the remaining kale is untouched though.

    Bookmark   January 21, 2014 at 9:05AM
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daninthedirt(Cent TX; HZ10, Sunset z30, USDA z8a)

Well, my cutworms slice off the plant at the base, but I believe there are some species that actually climb the stalk. Maybe that's what you have. Though I believe that climbing cutworms just climb to eat the leaves, and not to chop off the stem.

    Bookmark   January 21, 2014 at 9:24AM
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zzackey(8b GA)

It's so easy to deter them with a cardboard tube around the base like I suggested earlier.

    Bookmark   January 21, 2014 at 11:53AM
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daninthedirt(Cent TX; HZ10, Sunset z30, USDA z8a)

That's good for transplants, but when you have a seed packet full of peas coming up, that strategy isn't going to be easy. That's a lot of tubes.

Sevin dust, Bt, Diatomaceous earth, or go out at night with a flashlight and hand-pick them. I've heard that cornmeal messes with their digestive system, though I've never tried that myself.

    Bookmark   January 21, 2014 at 12:04PM
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Although birds will sometimes clip off the stem of a young seedling, this typically occurs during the day. If it's at night, this is probably the cutworm, as others have already written.

Alan Chadwick had a technique for dealing with these larva which I have not seen mentioned here so far, so I'll briefly describe it.

In the morning, when you discover the severed plant lying on the ground, look carefully within a circle of about 6' from the stem. Most often you will discover a small hole in the surface of the soil (about 1/16' in diameter). Take a table knife (not sharp) and dig down abut an inch or two to the side of that little hole. Flip the soil up onto the surface and look for the cutworm. They are quite easy to catch that way.

As one or two of them can do a lot of damage, usually there aren't very many of them to worry about. Just be careful not to disturb the soil around the stricken plant, so that you can find the little hole.

Chadwick called these larva by the name used in England where he was trained: Leatherjackets. More information about his masterful gardening techniques can be found at the link below.

Here is a link that might be useful: Alan Chadwick garden techniques

    Bookmark   January 21, 2014 at 1:14PM
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