Getting Rid of Tent Caterpillars

Caterpillars can be very destructive to your trees and garden. Here are tips to preventing this pest. This is a guide about getting rid of tent caterpillars.

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Tent caterpillars in a tree.
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Question:

My crab apple tree has caterpillars in silk bags in the crotches of limbs. How do I rid the tree of these and prevent further issues?

Note: I sprayed Sevin on the trunk from the base to 2 ft high on 17 March, on 19 Mar I noticed the first silk bags forming. Most of the silk bags are 12-25 ft high.

Hardiness Zone: 7a

Scott from Hollywood, MD

Answer:

Scott,

Eastern Tent caterpillar larvae feed on the leaves of most deciduous trees and shrubs, but especially crab apples, aspens and wild cherry trees. In the past few years, caterpillar numbers have been high in your area. Thankfully, these population explosions are cyclical, and native parasites will eventually bring numbers back under control.

One idea for getting rid of the sacks high up in your tree is to wind them onto a broomstick with nails projecting from it. This is best done in the morning when the caterpillars are inside their tents. Where you can reach, you can also prune and burn the infested branches. Another, (microbial) method of control is spraying Bacillus thuringiensis var.kurstaki, also known as (BTK). This is a bacterial insecticide that caterpillars ingest as they feed. It poisons them over the course of a few days and they drop to the ground. BTK should be applied while caterpillar larvae are still small and easy to control. It is applied in the evening or early morning when the caterpillars are in the nests.

One way to prevent future infestations is by attracting native parasitic flies and wasps. This can be done by growing small, flowering herbs like Queen Anne's lace, catnip, and wildflowers around your garden and near the base of your tree.

Here's a great link for more information specific to your area.

Good luck!

Ellen

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I am in Washington state and there are caterpillars everywhere right now. They are orange and black and about an inch long. You can see their nests all over my trees and when you look closely at the nests there are between 10 to hundreds of caterpillars in each one. These things are going to devour everything. Anyone know how to get rid of them? I believe these are called tent caterpillars.

Joy in WA

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Best Answer

I'm not really sure of a fool proof method, but there are sprays you can get. They are tent caterpillars. They usually affect fruit trees, especially cherry and a few years ago Seattle did some heavy spraying trying to get rid of them. It helped for a couple years, but now they are back in full force. I had them in my apple tree at the beginning of spring, a little spray right on the nest and they died.

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Try diazanon or malathion, fixes that problem.

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We live in southern Ontario, Canada, and tent caterpillars are a big problem. We always had them on our few fruit trees until I read somewhere of a cheap way to discourage them. Just wrap aluminum foil around the tree trunk before it starts to branch out and secure with string. Make sure you do it as soon as possible in the spring. I was skeptical but for two years now, we have been free of the pesky things.

By Marion

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Q: I have a weeping cherry tree, however this year it did not flower as much as last year. I found a large white cotton nest in the tree. I think it's caterpillars. How do I get rid of them?

Hardiness Zone: 6a

Nancy from Margate, NJ

A: Nancy,

The can easily dislodge the caterpillar tent from the tree. Blast it off with a garden hose or use a broom to knock it down. Once the nest falls to the ground how you dispose of it is up to you. The caterpillars will have a hard time returning to the tree and are more likely to succumb to the voracious appetites of nearby birds then make it back to safety. The best time to destroy the tent is right around dawn or dusk. These are the times the caterpillars return to the tents after they finish feeding. If you prefer not to knock it down, you can also use an organic control called Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt). This can be expensive and difficult to apply and is probably only economical for multiple nests in multiple trees.

To further protect your tree from migrating caterpillars, construct a barrier band around the trunk made of duct tape, tin foil or tar paper and coat it generously with a greasy substance like Vaseline. Don't apply the grease directly to the tree bark. The band should be in the shade or you may risk killing the bark and cambium that is underneath. Check the barrier daily and add more grease if necessary. Remove it as soon as the caterpillar cycle appears over (you see individual cocoons being formed in other people's trees).

Good Luck!
Ellen

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It sounds like web worm. Just take a broom or something and pull it out of the tree. The tree should be fine. That is what they taught us at Clemson. Good Luck...

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One way to get rid of these caterpillars is to simply crush them. This method is outlined in this video. He's doing it with gloves on, which would be a little gross.

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Home and Garden Pest Control CaterpillarsAugust 11, 2011
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