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How to Prevent Cankerworms From Damaging or Killing Your Trees

A Tree
North Carolina has successfully resisted or slowed the invasion of many tree-damaging invasive pests, but many native ones are just as damaging. Cankerworms are a very common pest in NC, especially in Charlotte, and these frustrating insects can severely damage nearly any type of ornamental or shade tree.

Knowing how to manage cankerworm infestations, including cleaning up after the damage they cause, can help you save your favorite trees. Get the facts on how cankerworms spread and what you can do as a homeowner to discourage them from visiting your trees.

Understand the Threat

You may have never heard of a cankerworm, but you've likely heard them referred to as an inchworm or looper. These small green or brown worms pinch the centers of their bodies high into the air as they move, and they're hungry for the leaves of practically any deciduous tree you'd find growing around Charlotte, NC.

Two different species attack trees either in the spring or fall, and a single tree can develop infestations of both types of cankerworm in the same year for double damage. Both types of cankerworm cause similar defoliation and are controlled with the same methods.

Control the Pest

Instead of trying to restore the health of the tree after cankerworm damage, try to prevent the caterpillars from reaching the leaves in the first place. Adult forms of the larvae, particularly the females, climb deciduous trees to find healthy leaves to lay their eggs on. Catch the adults before they reach the canopy to lay eggs by wrapping sticky black bands around the trunks in the spring and fall.

Once the eggs are hatched and the larvae are eating the leaves, you can still spray your trees to control the pests at this point. Sprays used for this purpose generally containing Bacillus thuringiensis, a bacterium also known as Bt, and is an organic-approved method for killing pests, including the cankerworm.

Homeowners may find that spraying their own trees can be difficult, especially on very tall and mature trees, and they may need help from local municipal pest management services who are spraying entire neighborhoods

Prune the Damage

In years with particularly heavy cankerworm infestation, the caterpillars can strip entire sections of a tree's canopy free of leaves. This kind of defoliation doesn't directly kill limbs or entire trees, but the loss weakens the tree's overall health enough to attract secondary problems. Limbs missing a protective and productive layer of foliage often die, especially after years of routine defoliation.

Pruning a tree in midsummer, even if there is a current cankerworm infestation, is the best way to remove damaged and dying limbs that threaten your home or car. Combine timely pruning and pesticide application to give an infested tree the best chance at surviving the pests with no secondary disease or damage.

Remove the Deadwood

If your trees have gone through too many spring and fall cycles of cankerworm damage and no longer grow new leaves, removing the tree is the best option. Cutting down a dead or dying tree is better than waiting until it falls during a storm and potentially puts a hole in your roof or flattens your car.

Once a mature tree stops producing new leaves in the spring for at least one year, there is little chance of it recovering even after you stop the cankerworm infestation.

Take care of your cankerworm infested trees with a visit from one of our specialists here at Cadieu Tree Experts, Inc. Let us prune your infested trees so that treatments are easier and more effective before your landscaping features take permanent damage.


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