Among the invasive pests of forests is the gypsy moth (Lymantria dispar), now called the “spongy moth”. During an outbreak, their caterpillars can completely defoliate trees and shrubs .
Additionally, gypsy moth caterpillars can wreak havoc on the trees and plants in your yard. But there are many natural and eco-friendly remedies to deal with the problem.
Here’s how to get rid of gypsy moths naturally:
1. Yard Clean Up
Begin with a good yard clean-up, disposing of any dead branches. Also, clear away twigs and cut back tree stumps.
Adult female moths lay their eggs in this kind of debris, so keeping a clean yard will help prevent an infestation.
The eggs are laid in masses and can contain hundreds of eggs . You may spot these during the clean-up process.
This commercial spray works on the nervous systems of certain insects. It causes paralysis, killing them in 1 to 2 days.
Spinosad is safe to use in the organic garden, but it is toxic to bees. Therefore, follow the package instructions on how to properly apply.
3. Soap and Water
A little soap and water is a great home remedy for many pest problems.
The caterpillars are covered in hair. Additionally, they are dark-colored with blue and red spots on the back.
Once you’ve spotted them, make up a bucket of dish soap and water. Next, put on some gardening gloves and collect the caterpillars and egg masses that you see on trees.
Throw them (eggs and all) into the soapy water. The solution will suffocate and kill them.
You can also make a DIY gypsy moth caterpillar spray by combining 5 tablespoons of dish soap with a gallon of water.
Spray this homemade soapy water solution on the critters and on vulnerable trees like oak, birch, pine, willows, elm trees, and maples.
4. Bacillus thuringiensis (B.t.)
This is a bacterium found in the soil, and you can buy it from various gardening suppliers. It will kill caterpillars when ingested.
The product is concentrated and should be applied according to the label instructions. Although Bt is non-toxic to pets and children, it is advisable to keep them clear while applying.
Additionally, you’ll likely achieve the best results by spraying when caterpillars are young. Spray in the cool of the evening to avoid direct sunlight, as Bt degrades in the sun. Apply once you spot the caterpillars.
It may require repeat applications, but expect to see results after a couple of weeks. BT is slow-acting but effective.
5. Scrape Off Egg Masses
Gypsy moth egg masses are tan in color and covered in hair. Therefore, wear gloves to scrape them off the fuzzy eggs, as the hairs can be irritating.
Also, avoid scraping egg masses onto the ground, where they may survive. Instead, put them into a container of soapy water to soak for about two days. Dispose of them after.
A paint scraper or knife is best for scraping them off to protect the tree from damage.
6. Horticultural Oil
You can also use horticultural oil for gypsy moth eggs, especially if the egg masses are hard to reach.
Purchase this as a ready-to-use spray and apply it according to the instructions that come with the product.
Horticultural oil is a multi-use product for dealing with a host of pest problems. Use a bottle sprayer to apply it to the infested area.
However, ensure that you spray properly, even in crevices. The spray needs to make direct contact with the moth eggs to be effective.
7. Scentry Gypsy Moth Trap & Lures
Adult moths are not the cause of the defoliation of trees. But these traps can help limit the breeding stage and reduce egg production.
The traps are baited with pheromone lures and should be used with them. Both have been produced especially to help control the gypsy moth population.
Follow the instructions that come with your purchase on how to assemble. Hang the trees when the pests are active.
This product is an effective knockdown spray. It contains 3% azadirachtin, a compound derived from the seed of the neem tree.
You can use it as a foliar spray or for drenching the soil around potted plants and trees. Moreover, it will not leave a residue on flowers or leaves.
Molt-X is also suitable for indoor, greenhouse, or outdoor use.
9. Bug Buster-O
Another effective knockdown spray, this natural pesticide contains pyrethrins.
Therefore, Bug Buster-O is safe to use on almost any plant—vegetables, fruit trees, herbs, flowers, and ornamentals.
Follow the instructions that come with your purchase on how to use it.
10. Trichogramma Wasps
Using beneficial insects as part of an organic pest control system is an increasingly popular way of dealing with pest problems.
Trichogramma wasps are small wasps that parasitize moth eggs. They lay inside the eggs of these pests. When the Trichogramma egg hatches, the larva feeds on the host egg, killing it.
You can purchase Trichogramma minutum from various suppliers and release according to package instructions.
Moreover, these parasitic wasps control other pests, including cutworms, borers, and armyworms.
This is another natural gypsy moth control method—and an attractive one.
Birds will eat any larvae found while feasting on seeds. So, planting attractive plants like sunflowers can help bring birds to the garden.
Additionally, set up a bird feeder on the lawn. This will bring orioles, black-billed cuckoos, blue jays, and chickadees to enjoy a feast of unwanted moth larvae.
A water fountain will also help bring the birds to the feast.
12. Cover Woodpiles
In the summer and fall, woodpiles that are normally used as firewood in the winter are attractive places for female spongy moths to lay egg masses.
Therefore, covering woodpiles with tarpaulin will help keep away these pests.
Vinegar can be used to control many pests and insects that threaten plants. They will die within hours of coming into contact with it.
Make a spray by adding 1 part vinegar to 3 parts water and a few drops of dish soap. This spray works well on caterpillars as well as other pests.
14. Neem Oil
Another remedy worth considering is neem oil. You can use it to kill all kinds of pests, even eggs. It can be purchased as a concentrate and used to coat plants, pests, and their eggs.
Gypsy moths were accidentally released in North America in 1869 . Since then, they have spread and infested many areas of the US.
Healthy trees can withstand a season of damage. However, take precautions and apply the natural treatments above to prevent a gypsy moth infestation.