Webworms only a threat to small or newly planted trees | The Wilson Times
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WELL PLANTED

Webworms only a threat to small or newly planted trees

Posted on July 21, 2021

OpinionColumns

Cyndi Lauderdale

Cyndi Lauderdale

Lots of times, garden geeks talk about how the common name of plants causes confusion and can be frustrating. Well, the same thing happens with the common names of insects.  Every day, I drive by a large pecan tree with “fall webworm” and it is July. Summer still has a long way to go until the cool breezes of fall, but the caterpillar is still causing havoc regardless of its common name. 

Fall webworms have already hatched and can be seen in many tree species. The web starts at the branch tips and becomes enlarged to encompass fresh, green leaves until the web may become 2-3 feet long. Because fall webworm damage accrues over the summer, the insects usually cause little long-term health damage to the trees they defoliate. Because these insects are more of a cosmetic issue, if you have large, established trees, there is no need to worry about controlling them.

At any one location, the populations of fall webworms go up and down so that they are damaging for a year or two and then the populations seem to thin. Birds and other predators begin to provide an organic control approach and eat the caterpillars so populations decrease over time. 

Webworms feed on more than 600 types of trees, shrubs and other plants. In North Carolina, they are most often reported on pecans, persimmons, sourwoods and willows. Small trees infested with several broods of caterpillars may be entirely enclosed in webs. Small or newly planted trees would benefit from the control measures listed in the next paragraph. After feeding for four or five weeks, the caterpillars crawl down, spin cocoons and pupate in the mulch or soil. 

Fall webworms can best be managed in small trees by pulling down the webs and destroying the caterpillars if the webs are within reach by a pole or broom handle. If the webs are within reach of a sprayer, several insecticides can be sprayed for control. The key here is to spray the foliage adjacent to the web. Insecticides work best when the caterpillars are young, so it is best to treat as soon as the webs are first noticed.

For answers to your gardening questions, call the Wilson County Master Gardener volunteers at 252-237-0113 or email wilsonemgv@hotmail.com. You may even see your question featured here.

Cyndi Lauderdale is an N.C. Cooperative Extension horticulture agent.

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