Agriculture: Grape Pest Management Guidelines


  • Brassy cutworm: Orthodes rufula
  • Spotted cutworm: Xestia (Amathes) c-nigrum
  • Variegated cutworm: Peridroma saucia
  • Description of the Pest

    Cutworms are inconspicuously marked, dull-colored caterpillars ranging from 0.6 to 2.0 inch (1.5–5 cm) in length. Positive identification is important as behavioral differences affect control actions.

    Mature variegated cutworm larvae are 1.5 to 2.0 inch (3.8–5 cm) long with smooth skin. Body color varies from pale gray to dark mottled brown intermixed with red and yellow dots along the dorsum.

    Mature spotted cutworms are about 1.3 inch (3.5 cm) long and are a dull gray brown. A row of dark or black triangular markings are found on each side of the dorsal body surface.

    Mature brassy cutworms are 1.0 to 1.2 inch (2.5–3 cm) long and are reddish or brassy in appearance. Of the cutworm species that attack grapes, brassy cutworm is the only one with hairs protruding from the compound eye area. A hand lens is needed to detect these hairs.

    Variegated cutworm is the predominant species in the San Joaquin Valley and North Coast, while spotted cutworm is predominant in the Central Coast counties. In the North Coast, the variegated cutworm normally returns to the ground during the day but may also remain under the bark of the vine. In the San Joaquin Valley variegated cutworm larvae do not return to the soil but rather move under the bark. Spotted cutworms routinely remain under grapevine bark in all production areas.


    Feeding on grapevines occurs from bud swell to when shoots are several inches long. Injured buds may fail to develop. Grapevines can compensate for early-season damage to buds or shoots to some extent by the growth of secondary buds. The fruitfulness of secondary buds, however, varies according to variety, and some varieties such as Thompson Seedless and Chardonnay have unfruitful or significantly less fruitful secondary buds respectively. In these varieties, destruction of primary buds can be expected to reduce the number of clusters in proportion to the number of buds destroyed.


    Historical records of cutworm infestations or damage are useful in developing monitoring strategies for individual vineyards because cutworm problems are normally spotty or localized. Many varieties of grapes can tolerate a significant amount of damage without any economic loss. No chemicals are highly effective in controlling cutworms, so frequently treatments may not be economically justified.

    Biological Control

    Natural enemies of cutworms include predaceous or parasitic insects, mammals, parasitic nematodes, pathogens, birds, and reptiles. The hymenopteran (wasp) parasites, including ichneumonids, chalcids, braconids, and sphecids, are the most important group of cutworm natural enemies. Predaceous beetles (often found under bark) and tachinid flies are also factors in biological control.

    Cultural Control

    Cultural practices have not been demonstrated to successfully control cutworms; however, some practices do affect their population abundance. Weed removal in late summer or fall may be beneficial in disrupting cutworm life cycles. Plowing or discing of weeds just before or soon after bud swell is not recommended where cutworms are a problem, because it can cause movement of cutworms to the grapevines. Furrow and flood irrigation can be manipulated to bring cutworm larvae to the soil surface, exposing them to adverse weather and predators.

    Organically Acceptable Methods

    Biological and cultural controls and the Entrust formulation of spinosad are organically acceptable methods.

    Monitoring and Treatment Decisions

    Begin to monitor bud feeding by cutworms during bud swell in early spring. Cutworms can be monitored along with other pests following the procedures discussed in DELAYED-DORMANT AND BUDBREAK MONITORING (wine/raisin grapes or table grapes). Because cutworm infestations are clumped, many vines must be examined to detect an infestation. In spring cutworms leave the soil and climb up the vines. During the day they hid under loose bark towards the base of the vine and come out to feed at night. Randomly select five locations in the vineyard to observe, concentrating on areas known to be chronically infested. Check 4 vines within each location for damaged buds (total 20 vines). On each vine examine 5 buds for damage (total 25 buds per location).

    In cool growing regions with a long period between bud swell and shoot growth, monitoring may be needed over a 2- to 3-week period. Record results on a monitoring form (example form—PDF).

    The number of damaged buds that can be tolerated depends on variety. If secondary buds are highly fruitful, little yield loss will result even when a large proportion of buds are damaged. If less than 4% of the buds are damaged, treatment may be unnecessary. Treating an entire vineyard is seldom necessary because infestations are usually localized; consider spot treatments. Cutworm feeding after shoots are about 6 inches long does not result in significant injury.

    To make sure cutworms are causing the damage, return to damaged vines at night to look for cutworm larvae. Other species of insects (grape bud beetle, click beetles, branch and twig borers, orange tortrix larvae) also cause similar injury.

    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.
    (Delegate WG) 3–5 oz 4 7
    COMMENTS: A stomach poison; most effective when ingested. To protect honey bees, apply only during late evening, night, or early morning when bees are not present.
    (Sevin XLR Plus) 1–2 lb 12 7
    COMMENTS: Disruptive to predators of mites and parasites of leafhoppers; do not use where mites are a chronic problem. Extremely toxic to honey bees. To protect honey bees, apply only during late evening, night, or early morning when bees are not present.
    (Avaunt) 3.5–6.0 oz 12 7
    COMMENTS: To protect honey bees, apply only during late evening, night, or early morning when bees are not present.
    (Entrust)# 1.25–2.5 oz 4 7
    (Success) 4–8 fl oz 4 7
    COMMENTS: Apply when eggs first hatch to target the young larvae. A stomach poison; most effective when ingested. Heavy infestations require a second application in 4 or 5 days. To protect honey bees, apply only during late evening, night, or early morning when bees are not present.
    ** Apply with enough water to provide complete coverage.
    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 two intervals is the minimum time that must elapse before harvest.
    * Permit required from county agricultural commissioner for purchase or use.
    # Acceptable for use on organically grown produce.
    1 Rotate chemicals 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; chemicals with a 1B Group number should be alternated with chemicals that have a Group number other than 1B. Mode-of-action group numbers are assigned by IRAC (Insecticide Resistance Action Committee).

    Important Links

    Text Updated: 07/15
    Treatment Table Updated: 07/15