The Q&A Archives: Cucumber Transplant Stems Breaking

Question: I added a raised bed to my regular garden this year and planted tomatoes and cukes in it. The tomatoes are doing fine, but the cuke plant stems (all transplants)keep breaking about an inch or two above the soil within a couple of days. At first I thought the problem was due to birds or animals, but my suspicions have now turned to the soil, though someone has suggested it is a type of very small snail causing it. However, I've seen no snails or snail trails. Any suggestions? The soil is a mixture of planting, supermix, and peat.

Answer: I'm puzzled, too. I think, though, that the problem is insect rather than soil related. Soil conditions can cause all sorts of symptoms, from stunted plants to yellowing leaves, but severed stems sound more like cutworm damage. These pests emerge at night, wrap themselves a plant stem, and chew their way through. You can protect your plants with paper collars (cut the cardboard rolls from papertowels into 4" pieces and bury 1" into the soil around each plant), or by inserting a toothpick or small stick into the soil next to the plant stem to keep cutworms from completely encircling the stem. Once your cukes are up and growing, they won't be as attractive to cutworms.

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