A friend called recently to ask for our opinion on a backyard situation. A large number of caterpillars were descending from webs in a tree and nibbling on his plants. He called in a tree expert who recommended that the offending tree be cut down and removed. Was this truly the only way to manage the problem?
Happily, we could tell him to do nothing: keep the tree, and not to worry about the plants. The caterpillars are Fall Webworms, whose webs start showing up in late summer.
The parents are pretty little white moths. They are native to the US; highly prolific, they lay their eggs in sunny spots on a large variety of host trees. The eggs hatch into the “worms” which weave the nest (same as silk worms). The nests protect them from predators, but they must come out to eat more leaves.
As it is late in the growing season, the leaves they eat have already done their photosynthetic job and losing some of them to the webworms is no real loss to the parent plant. Many of the caterpillars will in turn become food--for birds and predator insects who need the protein for migrating or overwintering.
So, just let them be.
Sadly, the people who don’t know about all this may be spraying, pruning, or even chopping down a whole tree. Compare that to what a few little caterpillars can do.
Note: Our last tip mentioned that milkweed doesn’t provide resources for anything but Monarch butterflies. This is not true, there are a large number of butterflies, bees and insects that benefit from milkweed, and I was quickly brought to task by some of our well informed readers, many thanks to them. Here’s more https://www.xerces.org/wp-content/uploads/2008/06/Wings_sp11_milkweed.pdf
July 23, 2019
On Beyond Milkweed
Now that everyone LOVES milkweed, what’s next? Milkweed only serves one insect, the Monarch Butterfly. You can do more! How about adding some other historically “weedy” native wildflowers to your garden and expand the pollinator banquet? How about Thistles? They provide pollen, nectar, leaves and seeds for hundreds of insect and bird species. They are beautiful and structural, and seriously deer proof! There are some invasive ones and massive eradication programs have pretty much wiped out the good with the bad, so...
Do your bit for the good ones, get to know your thistle.
If the answer to ALL these questions is NO, you probably have a native, let it be!
Is the thistle spiny along the entire length of the stem?
Are the bracts (the bulbous part below the brushy flower) triangular, firm, and spine-tipped?
Are the bracts thick, and leathery, and jagged?
Are the roots rhizomatous (running underground and popping up all over)?
The thistle in the photo inspired this tip. Found it growing in my yard, Goldfinches love the seed. Somewhat common on LI, endangered in Ct. Keep an eye out for some of your own and welcome it to your expanding world of pollinator plants.
Thanks to Lindsay Karr https://weedwise.conservationdistrict.org
Weeds are defined as unwanteds plant. So why are people telling me their lawns are full of weeds; and they love them? What’s not to love about a lawn full of little flowers?
Not only lovely, but good for pollinators, biodiversity, soil, and you: they tell the world that no nasty chemicals have been applied.
Known as Freedom Lawns, Eco Lawns, English Lawns, Flowering Lawns…Whatever…please don't call them weedy lawns.
Irrigation running all spring!!….Your lawn needs deep roots; down where it is cool and damp when the heat of summer comes. Best way to get them down there is to let them go looking for it now. Watering early in the season makes roots lazy. They stay on top, where they will be susceptible to insects and sun later on. Watering now can cause fungus and disease problems later. Watering now encourages weed seed germination. Watering now breeds mosquitoes and ticks, so...
WAIT TO IRRIGATE!
Don’t run your system until the weather is hot and dry. Lawn grass will need watering when it wilts. How will you know? Wilted grass shows your footprint. Generally, late June.
Contrary to conventional wisdom, letting your lawn dry out is actually good for it. Periods of dryness allow the grass to develop deeper, stronger roots that are better able to resist pests, weeds, and drought conditions over time. Too much water promotes fungal growth and nutrient run off, and creates ideal conditions for mosquitoes and other water-loving pests to flourish. Plus, why waste water that your grass doesn’t need anyway?
Rule of thumb for well-established lawns: Wet the soil 6" down, then allow to dry 4-6" down before watering again. How to tell? Dig a hole or use a soil moisture meter.
Are you mowing your meadow in the fall? Not so fast please, don’t mow, let it go till the spring!
Why? For one thing, it looks much more beautiful than stubble.
Also, there are lots of ecosystem benefits:
Seed heads have time to develop and disperse
Habitat and food is provided for wildlife: think crickets, bumblebees, turkeys, American goldfinches, hawks and owls.
Mow in the spring, just before new growth begins, 8-12” high (habitat retained for solitary bees) and, best if you can rake off the cuttings.