May 18, 2013

1 - Cutworms, damping off disease, birds, and rodents may cause damage to garden plants.

Yard and Garden May 18, 2013


Strange things are happening in my garden. Some mornings I find plants are missing. Sometimes a plant is pulled up and left on the ground near the place it was planted. Sometimes a piece of a plant is gone. That piece of the plant may be on the ground, or just absolutely gone. What is happening? What can I do?


There are several possible culprits involved in your garden mystery. Cutworms cut the plant at the ground level, eating the base of the plant, but often leave the top of the plant lying next to where it was growing. Damping off disease, caused by a fungus may cause the plant to fall over as the stem is damaged by the fungus right at the ground level. Birds may eat young, tender leaves on newly sprouted plants, or they may pull them out of the ground and leave them lying where they fall. Mice and squirrels are other possible garden vandals.

To treat the problem, it is important to first determine the cause. Cutworms may be treated with chemicals, or with small collars around the base of the plants. The collars may be cardboard tubes such as those at the center of rolls of paper towels or toilet paper. Some gardeners have success with the collars that supposedly prevent the cutworms from anchoring themselves to the soil at the base of the plant. Without anchorage, it is claimed that they cannot cut the plants. Damping off fungi may be managed with fungicides, or by good sanitation in the garden. Well-made compost may provide beneficial organisms to the soil that prevent the pathogenic fungi from damaging the plants.

Birds may be managed in the garden by scare crows, pieces of flashing aluminum foil hung from stakes in the garden, or by hoops of chicken wire that keep the birds away from the plants. Bird netting may also be suspended over the plants or row cover fabrics may be used to cover the young plants to keep the birds away until the plants are large enough to tolerate the birds or become less palatable to the birds. Mice may fit through the mesh of chicken wire, so something with smaller mesh may be needed to keep mice out. Trapping may also be helpful in the case of mice. Squirrels may excluded to some extent by the chicken wire or smaller mesh bird protection formed into hoops over the plants. Row cover fabric may also help hid the plants from squirrels and mice if it is sealed at the base so that the animals cannot go under the edges to the plants.

Marisa Y. Thompson, PhD, is the Extension Horticulture Specialist, in the Department of Extension Plant Sciences at the New Mexico State University Los Lunas Agricultural Science Center, email:, office: 505-865-7340, ext. 113.


For more gardening information, visit the NMSU Extension Horticulture page at Desert Blooms.

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