Take a close look at our island foliage, and you’re bound to see clusters of furry, skinny, orange caterpillars wrapped around branches in what looks like a spiderweb.
It’s been a big year for infestations of tent caterpillars, leaving many gardeners and land owners frustrated. But wondrous mother nature has her own way of taking care of those pesky pests. And in the meantime, it might teach us humans something about patience.
The best way to eradicate the tent caterpillars? Let them be, for now. There are natural enemies – like a highly contagious virus and a parasitic fly who eat the caterpillars from the inside out – that will take care of a large percentage of them.
We’re not saying that you should just stand back and watch these pests devour your foliage, we’re just recommending you don’t go out and buy a blowtorch or pesticides – two methods that could result in doing more harm than good. Remember that the first rule of being a good earth steward is do no damage that you can’t take back.
Be moderate. Pick off the caterpillars by hand, or if that gives you the heebie-jeebies then trim off the most infested branches and dip them in salt water or throw it in the compost or a burn pile.
And if you really want to test your restraint, remove the caterpillar’s gray, bubbly eggs next winter. They are laid in the late summer and easily found in tree foliage during the winter months.
Remember, most trees can handle the defoliation that tent caterpillars cause. They will recover, even if they look wretched right now.
The power of nature is astounding. Not only are there natural enemies that destroy these pests, but most trees are resilient enough to withstand some loss of foliage. It’s hard for us to stand by and watch what appears to be major tree devastation, but in most cases, it’s best to exercise a little, if not a lot, of patience.