Agriculture: Cole Crops Pest Management Guidelines


  • Black cutworm: Agrotis ipsilon
  • Glassy cutworm: Apamea (=Crymodes) devastator
  • Granulate cutworm: Feltia subterranea
  • Variegated cutworm: Peridroma saucia
  • Description of the Pest

    Cutworm larvae vary in color, but commonly

    • are dull gray to brown caterpillars with various markings,
    • blend in with the soil, and
    • appear smooth-skinned at a distance.

    Cutworm larvae have four pairs of prolegs (leglike appendages, or fleshy stubs) in the middle of the abdomen, on segments 3 to 6. Full-grown caterpillars are 1 to 2 inches long. Cutworms commonly curl up into a C-shape when disturbed.

    Distinguishing characteristics of different cutworm larvae:

    • Black cutworm is gray to dark brown on top with pale lengthwise stripes. It has an overall greasy appearance and numerous tiny, black, rounded, pebblelike bumps.
    • Glassy cutworm is shiny, pale green to gray, or whitish with a brown head.
    • Granulate cutworm is brownish to dark gray with black blotches or specks.
    • Variegated cutworm is dark gray with a light stripe on the side and small yellow to orange spots on top of the abdomen.

    Adult moths have dark gray or brown front wings with irregular spots or bands and pale hind wings. Females lay hundreds of white eggs, either singly or in clusters (depending on the species). Eggs are laid on leaves or stems close to the ground. After hatching, young larvae chew on the leaf surfaces. Larvae are nocturnal: older larvae drop to the ground and tunnel into the soil during the day and emerge at night to feed.


    Cutworms normally feed close to the soil surface, clipping off seedlings or chewing leaves that touch the ground. Uncommonly, cutworms bore into cabbage heads. Most feeding occurs at night; during the day cutworms are usually found just below the soil surface or under dirt clods.

    Seedlings and young plants are cut off at or just below ground level; often several plants in a row will be wilted or clipped. Losses can be especially severe in fields that were recently thinned or that were precisely direct-seeded to a stand to eliminate the need for thinning. Damage often recurs in the same fields and same parts of fields year after year. Damage is worst when large numbers of cutworms are present before planting.


    Cutworms migrate into crops from surrounding weeds or infested crops. Monitor for cutworms in surrounding weeds. Use cultural controls and apply insecticide bait before seedling emergence or transplanting.

    Biological Control

    Cutworms have numerous natural enemies, including predatory beetles, parasitic wasps, and parasitic tachinid flies. However, natural enemy numbers are usually not high enough to control both cutworms and the other caterpillar pests that occur in the crop simultaneously. Biological control from these natural enemies is typically not sufficient to prevent economic damage.

    Cultural Control

    At least 10 days before planting:

    • Remove weeds from field margins, and
    • Plow fields to destroy egg-laying sites, food sources, larvae, and pupae.

    Organically Acceptable Methods

    Start with cultural control in an organically certified crop. Sprays of Bacillus thuringiensis and the Seduce formulation of spinosad are also available for cutworm control in organically grown cole crops.

    Monitoring and Treatment Decisions

    Before seedling emergence or transplanting, monitor for cutworms on weeds around field edges. Scout specifically along cracks and the crown area of plants, as cutworms typically hide in these places during the day. If many cutworms are present, apply insecticide bait. This controls most species (except the glassy cutworm, which occurs in the southern San Joaquin Valley). Baits are more effective when few plants are present, so apply bait after weed removal and before crop emergence or transplanting.

    After seedling emergence or right after transplanting, check the crop for four or more wilted plants in a row with clipped or partially cut stems. Dig around those stems and sift the soil. If you find cutworms, apply insecticide.

    When plants are small or young, monitor weekly or more often depending on the severity of the infestation. Apply insecticide as soon as several severed plants in the same row are found. A directed spray at the base of plants is most effective, but a broadcast spray can also be effective.

    Spray for cutworms during the late afternoon or evening, so that cutworms will be exposed to insecticide when they emerge in the evening. Certain insecticides degrade when exposed to sunlight; insecticides applied earlier in the day may not be as effective at controlling cutworms as those applied in the late afternoon or evening.

    Common name Amount per acre REI‡ PHI‡
    (Example trade name) (hours) (days)
    Not all registered pesticides are listed. The following are ranked with the pesticides having the greatest IPM value listed first—the most effective and least harmful to natural enemies, honey bees, and the environment are at the top of the table. When choosing a pesticide, consider information relating to air and water quality, resistance management, and the pesticide's properties and application timing. Always read the label of the product being used.
      (Coragen) 3.5–7.5 fl oz 4 3
      COMMENTS: Foliar application; use with an effective adjuvant for best performance. Use higher application rates within this range for heavier infestations, larger or denser crops, or extreme environmental conditions such as rainy weather or high temperatures.
      (Intrepid 2F) See comments 4 1
      COMMENTS: For suppression. Apply 4 to 8 fl oz per acre for early-season applications to young crops. Apply 8 to 10 fl oz per acre for mid- to late-season infestations and heavier infestations.
      (Sevin 5 bait) 40 lb 12 See comments
      COMMENTS: For treatments around the field where cutworms may migrate from weeds or other crops. PHI is 3 days for broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and kohlrabi. PHI is 14 days for Chinese cabbage, collards, kale, and mustard greens.
      (Asana XL) 5.8–9.6 fl oz 12 See comments
      COMMENTS: Registered for use in broccoli, Chinese broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, kohlrabi, mustard greens, and tight-heading varieties of Chinese cabbage (napa cabbage). For collard greens and mustard greens, PHI is 7 days. For other registered cole crops, PHI is 3 days.
      (Avaunt) 2.5–3.5 oz 12 3
      COMMENTS: Add a wetting agent to improve coverage.
      (Lannate LV) 1.5 pt 48 See label
      COMMENTS: Not registered for use in broccoflower, kohlrabi, mizuna, mustard spinach, or rape greens. Add a wetting agent to improve coverage.
      (Seduce)# 20–44 lb 4 1
      COMMENTS: Bait that targets cutworms. Check with organic certifier to determine which products are organically acceptable.
      (Deliver)# 0.25–1.5 lb 4 0
      COMMENTS: Check with organic certifier to determine which products are organically acceptable.
    Restricted entry interval (REI) is the number of hours (unless otherwise noted) from treatment until the treated area can be safely entered without protective clothing. Preharvest interval (PHI) is the number of days from treatment to harvest. In some cases the REI exceeds the PHI. The longer of the two intervals is the minimum time that must elapse before harvest.
    1 Rotate insecticides with a different mode-of-action group number, and do not use products with the same mode-of-action group number more than twice per season to help prevent the development of resistance. For example, the organophosphates have a group number of 1B; insecticides with a 1B group number should be alternated with insecticides that have a group number other than 1B. Mode-of-action group numbers are assigned by IRAC (Insecticide Resistance Action Committee).
    # Acceptable for use on organically grown produce.
    * Permit required from county agricultural commissioner for purchase or use.
    Text Updated: 12/20
    Treatment Table Updated: 12/20