WSU Extension


Pea : Cutworms and armyworms
(revision date: 3/10/2017)

Cutworms and armyworms are the larvae of noctuid moths. These common moths are medium-sized with fairly dull coloration. Several species may feed on peas. The greenish, grayish, or tan caterpillars are hairless, nocturnal, and generally spotted, striped, or otherwise marked. They may be 1/4" to 1" in length and tend to curl up when disturbed. Cutworms often feed by cutting through stems of young plants an inch or less above ground level. Several seedlings may be damaged in one night. They may also climb into the plant and feed on foliage and chew holes in developing pods. While armyworms typically feed during the day, cutworms spend the day just beneath the soil surface or under debris near the host. They usually feed at night, so it is advisable to search for them with a flashlight in the dark. Weeds are their primary food source.
Management Options

Non-Chemical Management
  • Control weeds in and near the garden.
  • Remove debris around plants that provides shelter for cutworms.
  • Hand-pick night-feeding larvae, when practical. Scratch soil at base of damaged plants to find larvae in the daytime.
  • Encourage natural enemies of cutworms including birds and spiders.
  • Plastic or cardboard collars extending 2" into the soil and 2" above the soil can be placed around individual plants or groups of plants. The barrier may help prevent cutworm attack.
Select non-chemical management options as your first choice!

Chemical Management

Consult label instructions. Apply at first sign of cutworm damage. Bacillus thuringiensis will provide some control if caterpillars eat enough of it. Use a spreader-sticker with liquid Bt formulations. Carbaryl is toxic to bees.

Listed below are examples of pesticides that are legal in Washington. Always read and follow all label directions.
  • Bug Buster-O [Organic]
    Active ingredient: pyrethrins  |  EPA reg no: 1021-1771-54705
  • ferti-lome Dipel Dust
    Active ingredient: Bacillus thuringiensis subsp. kurstaki  |  EPA reg no: 7401-290
  • Safer Brand BioNEEM Multi-Purpose Insecticide & Repellent Conc [Organic]
    Active ingredient: azadirachtin  |  EPA reg no: 70051-6-42697
  • Safer Brand Caterpillar Killer/Trees, Shrubs, & Vegetables Conc
    Active ingredient: Bacillus thuringiensis subsp. kurstaki  |  EPA reg no: 42697-23
  • Safer Brand Garden Dust RTU [Organic]
    Active ingredient: Bacillus thuringiensis subsp. kurstaki  |  EPA reg no: 36488-25-42697
  • This list may not include all products registered for this use.
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Caption: Alfalfa looper and damage
Photo by: A.L. Antonelli
Caption: Alfalfa looper
Photo by: A.L. Antonelli
Caption: Bertha armyworm
Photo by: K. Grey
Caption: Cutworm eggs
Photo by: A.L. Antonelli
Caption: Western yellow stripe armyworm adult
Photo by: A.L. Antonelli
Caption: Alfalfa looper adult
Photo by: OSU slide library