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9 Natural Ways to Get Rid of Cankerworms

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9 Natural Ways to Get Rid of Cankerworms

You’ve probably seen them before. Those pesky little caterpillars that leave small holes in the new leaves of certain trees may be cankerworms.

Cankerworms are the caterpillars of a moth that lays its eggs on trees. They’re particularly fond of deciduous trees and can cause a lot of damage when the population is high.

Luckily, there are some natural ways to get rid of the problem. Ways that don’t involve using harsh chemicals. So read on and learn all about the selected home remedies and natural methods to do away with these pests.


How can you tell if you have cankerworms on your trees? It’s actually not that difficult.

Adult female spring and fall cankerworm moths are grayish-brown and wingless. The males, on the other hand, are grayish-brown but have wings [1].

The larvae are very distinctive-looking. They’re about an inch long and vary in color. They can be either light green, brownish-green, yellow-green, dark-green, or even black with pale stripes running down the side of the body [2].

Trees that they mostly go after or cause damage to include apple, birch, maple, oak, cherry, beech, and ash. If you see shot holes in leaves and droppings on sidewalks, chances are you have a cankerworm infestation.

If you’re not sure if you’re seeing cankerworms or some other type of caterpillar, you can contact your local Department of Agriculture. They can help you identify the critters.

How to Get Rid of Cankerworms Naturally

Once you’ve identified the problem, it’s time to take action. Below, we’ll explore a few of the most popular home remedies and natural methods for eliminating cankerworms.

However, keep in mind that not all of these methods will work for everyone, so you may need to try a few until you find one that works best for you.

1. Tree Banding

You’ve probably seen those sticky bands wrapped around trees in the spring or fall. Well, those are called tree bands, and they’re an effective way to control cankerworms.

Here’s how it works: the bands work as a barrier wrapped around the trunk to stop the cankerworm moth. They’re made of a non-toxic material that won’t harm the tree, and they’ll stay in place for up to two years.

You’ll band the trees to prevent the female moths from climbing up. You can find these tree wraps at your local garden center, or you can order them online.

2. Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt)

Bt is a bacterium that’s deadly to cankerworms but safe for pets and plants. So how do you use it?

You can buy Bt at most garden stores or online to treat cankerworms organically. Use it as soon as you suspect there might be an infestation. Use it when the larvae have started feeding.

3. Spinosad

Spinosad insecticide is also deadly to cankerworms. You can find it in spray form, and all you have to do is apply it when the critters are present. Apply to all parts of the plant.

4. Horticultural Oils

Horticultural oils work by smothering the cankerworms. This one is made with almost 100% canola oil, so it’s a great choice if you want to avoid using synthetic pesticides.

Thoroughly soak the tree trunk with the oil. It will prevent them from laying eggs as they will be unable to crawl up the tree. It will also kill already-present canker worm eggs.

This cankerworm treatment is also effective against scale insects, powdery mildew, aphids, and mites.

5. Neem Oil

Neem oil works because it disrupts the life cycle of some insects. When you spray it on your plants, it will kill canker worms on the spot.

Not only that, but this home remedy also repels certain pests, so they stay away from your plants in the first place.

6. Natural Predators

Another organic way to keep these critters under control is to encourage natural predators, like birds and some parasitic wasps, to take care of the problem for you.

7. Garlic Spray

You can also whip up a DIY garlic spray to deter cankerworms.

Just blend about 5 garlic cloves in 2 cups of water and a little liquid soap. Next, strain the mixture to get out particles that may clog your sprayer.

You’ll want to use this homemade cankerworm spray every few days, especially if it’s rainy in your area. It will lose its effectiveness after a while.

8. Monterey Take Down Garden Spray

You can also use Monterey Take Down Spray as a cankerworm pesticide. It’s an organic product that’s safe for plants, people, and pets. This product also works great against the winter moth and other pests.

9. Bug Buster-O

Another safe pesticide to use is called Bug Buster-O. It’s a non-toxic, all-natural formula that contains pyrethrins. And it works to kill cankerworms and other pests on contact.

Bug Buster-O comes in a liquid concentrate that you mix with water. You can use it as a spray against many pests, but it’s not for indoor use.

Moreover, it’s safe for use on fruits, vegetables, and flowers in your garden. However, it is highly toxic to bees, so do not use it on blooming crops.


If cankerworms have invaded trees around your house, there are some natural ways to eliminate the problem before they do serious damage. There are also certain measures you can take to prevent them from making headway in the first place.

With this list above, go over it carefully and choose the best method that works for you.

Picture via extension.umd.edu

Sasha Brown

Sasha Brown is a blogger and lover of all things natural.

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