killing caterpillars, and other less than pleasant garden duties

In general, I try to take the ‘live and let live’ approach to insects outside (mosquitoes being the obvious exception). Eastern tent caterpillars really creep me out, though. I don’t like the way they fall from the trees; even if they don’t fall on me, they make a disturbing plopping sound when they hit the ground plants. I especially don’t like the way that, no matter what I do, I invariably end up stepping on them (which is gross) because they are around in such abundance. Unfortunately for me, we have in our yard several cherry trees of the variety they love to eat. Which means, nests busting out all over the place.

This year, I decided to just bite the bullet, alienate my insect-protecting friends, and kill as many of them as I can before they mature. It seems less cruel to smash a nest full of itty bitty little caterpillars than run around stepping on them when they’re full grown. But that’s really just a post-hoc justification: I want as few of them around as possible, and killing them in the nests is the most effective way to make that happen (given that I neglected to try to seek out and remove the eggs during the winter; I’ll try that next year). I hope that if I remove the tents I can reach, my feathered friends will help by eating as many as they possibly can as they mature.

At any rate, we started that last night, pulling down (and in some cases pruning out) the limbs with tents we could reach with a ladder. Although it’s not the recommended approach, we burned the webbing and then pulled the mass out of the trees. I’m torn on whether to just cut back the limbs that are infested; one of the trees (the smallest and youngest) is close to the garage, and there’s a goodly chance it will need to be taken out when we repair the foundation. It’s tempting to just take it out now and be done with the caterpillar issue there, but it’s a nice little tree and I’m fond of it. Besides the creeping me out factor, I hate to see the caterpillars decimate the trees (even though I know intellectually that it doesn’t create long-term harm, as the trees generally refoliate without issue).

The caterpillar killing came at the end of a day of digging up onion grass (another exception to my general ‘live and let live’ approach, as it stings my eyes when I mow the lawn) and pruning deadwood out of the dogwood (I’m a bit concerned that the dogwood might be struggling with a fungus; a smaller one in our yard died off completely last year and will be the next thing we work on taking out). This year’s garden work seems to be clustering up around the theme of ‘remove all the stuff that’s died off or invaded due to years of neglect by the previous owners,’ with a sprinkling of ‘move plants that are in the completely wrong environment to a different part of the yard where they will get the sun (or lack thereof) that they need’ thrown in to keep things interesting.

Which is all to say, check back in a few years for photos of things actually growing: we’re not quite there yet.

killing caterpillars, and other less than pleasant garden duties

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