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Mystery Lettuce Killer....any thoughts?

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Mystery Lettuce Killer....any thoughts?

Post  staf74 on 3/31/2011, 3:07 pm

Hey everyone !

This has me stumped. This had happened to a few of my lettuce transplants a while back and I put it down to perhaps damping off.

Has anyone had a similar experience and a possible diagnosis please ????

Plant (green Bibb lettuce in middle of pic) looks seemingly healthy, just a little wilted.



But underneath tells a whole other story.



It lifts right off !!!!! The plant has almost been cut right through at the base. It remains alive but dying as it is still in direct contact with the root base and some small water/nutrient exchange with the roots is probably still going on.

Possible causes

1) Some type of cutworm / cricket
2) Exceedingly wet weather lately - root / plant base fungus?
3) I did notice a few very small whitish thread like worms near the base as I moved the mulch back but they looked almost like tiny baby earthworms (a guess)
4) Rabbits are back. My hair/urine only scared them off for a while. I will up the ante. Repellent first, then chicken wire fence if needed. However, I have obvious nibble damage on other leaves, so why would they cut through the base and leave the dinner in place? So logic tells me that's a long shot.
5) Any other thoughts?

Any help would be much appreciated.
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Re: Mystery Lettuce Killer....any thoughts?

Post  dizzygardener on 3/31/2011, 3:30 pm

I'm going to go with cutworms.

Did the worms curl up into a "c" when you disturbed them?
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Re: Mystery Lettuce Killer....any thoughts?

Post  staf74 on 3/31/2011, 3:37 pm

No they did not curl up. I've since looked at pics online and almost...ALMOST convinced that the worms are indeed baby earthworms. I can see the segments in their translucent bodies. They wriggled like worms too.

Cutworms (moreso to me because of its name) seems like that is something it would do but I cant find this type of damage online from preliminary searches and thought they were much bigger.

Thanks Dizzy for your help though. I might bump this a couple of times in the next few days hoping to catch someone who has had the exact same issue.
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Re: Mystery Lettuce Killer....any thoughts?

Post  dizzygardener on 3/31/2011, 4:05 pm

It could still be cutworms. They are only out at night, so you won't necessarily see them.

Cutworms are the only pests I know of that will do that sort of thing to a plant. Google cutworm damage for pictures.
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Re: Mystery Lettuce Killer....any thoughts?

Post  staf74 on 3/31/2011, 4:15 pm

Thanks Dizzy....that's what my intuition was telling me....so I listed it as first culprit but its always great to have others on hand to help.

Do you accept checks for your co-pay?....DrDiz Wink

I wonder If I go out tonight with a flashlight and hunt around the base of nearby plants, if I'll find the culprit.
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Re: Mystery Lettuce Killer....any thoughts?

Post  dizzygardener on 3/31/2011, 5:54 pm

DrDiz? LOL that's funny. Laughing

No checks accepted, but I do accept viable seeds and tomato trellises! Wink

You might be able to see them at night, but they are pretty good at hiding.

Spinosad or BT applied to the stems of your lettuce plants should take care of it.
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Re: Mystery Lettuce Killer....any thoughts?

Post  staf74 on 3/31/2011, 6:48 pm

I dug around a bit but to no avail. I won't be out tonight to find the little pest as I have the hoops on tonight, we have a pretty good chance of frost. Hopefully our last of the season !!

Spinosad - Great advice. Looks like a great product, listed as organic too. I think I will try that.

You really are a proper Doc actually. Diagnosed the problem, wrote a prescription to treat and will prevent future infestation.

Thanks again Doc Wink
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Re: Mystery Lettuce Killer....any thoughts?

Post  Patty from Yorktown on 3/31/2011, 9:57 pm

Hi,
Has the plant been eaten from underneath. If so it could be voles, look for a round hole and tunnels. If you think that cut worms are doing the damage, you can try a few toothpicks near the stem of the plant or a 3 inch plastic collar (cut off the bottom of a cup or yogurt container.) Hope this might help.

Patty in Yorktown
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Re: Mystery Lettuce Killer....any thoughts?

Post  staf74 on 3/31/2011, 10:11 pm

Deffo no voles....and seeing what happened to "Squat", i'm glad. Pesky vermin, hope you get 'em.

But I like the plastic collar idea. Easy to do. Thanks for the tip Very Happy
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Re: Mystery Lettuce Killer....any thoughts?

Post  Odd Duck on 4/1/2011, 5:50 pm

I could be wrong, but I believe cutworms are only a problem for small seedlings. I don't think a plant that size would be vulnerable to them. They are also a fairly substantial worm - short, but as thick as a grown earthworm - about 1/8 - 1/4" across and 1/2 - 1" long. Of course, they start smaller, but the babies, for sure, would not be able to do that to your lettuce. I had cutworms take down a few seedlings last year. I've seen the toothpick trick recommended many times and it seems to work for most folks.

I would be more likely to suspect a larger herbivore of the mammal persuasion. I'm not sure which mammal would be most likely as I haven't seen that kind of damage in person.

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Re: Mystery Lettuce Killer....any thoughts?

Post  dizzygardener on 4/1/2011, 7:04 pm

While cutworms usually target seedlings they are also capable of targeting maturer plants especially if the cutworm population is high and/or well-established. Cutworms can also be responsible for eating through the leaves of more mature plants while leaving the stems in tact.

Of course a herbivore could be the culprit, but it would have had to have been able to eat the base of the plant while leaving the rest of the root system in tact and it would have had to do so while leaving the head of lettuce sitting a top its root system.

The lettuce is just squat enough to be able to remain upright even after the cutworm damage, but I'm sure a mammal of some sort would have knocked it over.

If it were a larger animal my money would be on voles, but the OP said there is no evidence of vole activity. Also, if it were voles I would expect for many more heads of lettuce to be severed. They tend to do a lot of damage in a short period of time.

I'm just talking this thing through. These really are a peculiar set of circumstances... :scratch:

(Got a bit carried away there. Pests and organic pest control is a bit of a passion of mine.)
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Re: Mystery Lettuce Killer....any thoughts?

Post  staf74 on 4/2/2011, 11:24 am

Hey,

No worries AT ALL on the bantering back and forth of ideas / culprits / solutions. Typing out loud ...LOL... is what helps grow all of our knowledge.

I'll plastic collar today now I have some time and going to get rabbit repellent seeing as I saw now 3 of them out this morning at 5am when I went out for a quick check. I guess Rabbits are famous for multiplying though.....
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Re: Mystery Lettuce Killer....any thoughts?

Post  donnainzone5 on 4/2/2011, 1:31 pm

Poke a pencil into the soil next to the base of your plant(s) and draw concentric circles a bit beneath the surface, farther and farther away from the base. If there are cutworms, you'll find them.

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Re: Mystery Lettuce Killer....any thoughts?

Post  camprn on 4/2/2011, 2:03 pm

@staf74 wrote:No they did not curl up. I've since looked at pics online and almost...ALMOST convinced that the worms are indeed baby earthworms. I can see the segments in their translucent bodies. They wriggled like worms too.

Cutworms (moreso to me because of its name) seems like that is something it would do but I cant find this type of damage online from preliminary searches and thought they were much bigger.

Thanks Dizzy for your help though. I might bump this a couple of times in the next few days hoping to catch someone who has had the exact same issue.
Wireworms?
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Re: Mystery Lettuce Killer....any thoughts?

Post  quiltbea on 4/2/2011, 2:48 pm

To deter cutworms, when you plant your seedlings, place a toothpick right up against the seedling on one side, buried halfway into the soil. Do the same on the other side. The cutworms can't curl up around the plant itself so can't kill your plant.

I usually take one toothpick and break it in half t do the job. Half on one side, half on the other side of the stems.
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Re: Mystery Lettuce Killer....any thoughts?

Post  staf74 on 4/2/2011, 8:49 pm

Camprn, thanks for the suggestion. I did google pics of them and phew.....I can take that out of the equation I'm sure.

Quiltbea, thanks for the tip. You actually helped me understand that they feed by wrapping AROUND the stem and I was having a hard time getting my toothpick head around the toothpick idea and how it works.

Much love to all the people and all the suggestions Very Happy
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Re: Mystery Lettuce Killer....any thoughts?

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