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12 Natural Ways to Get Rid of Tent Caterpillars

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12 Natural Ways to Get Rid of Tent Caterpillars

Ever notice those creepy silvery-gray tent-like webs in the branch crotches of trees around your yard? No, it’s not spiders—it’s most likely tent caterpillars.

These little critters can do a great deal of damage to trees and shrubs if you let them get out of control. The good news is that you don’t need to douse your yard with chemicals to get rid of tent caterpillars.

There are a number of natural methods you can try to eliminate these pests and their unsightly tents. In this article, we’ll explore some easy, natural solutions to tent caterpillar infestations.

Identification

Tent caterpillars are those fuzzy little critters that build silken nests (some build silken mats) in the branches of trees.

As larvae of moths, tent caterpillars feed on trees like cherry, apple, oak, and plum [1]. If you see webbing in your trees and the leaves disappearing, you likely have an infestation.

There are a few common types of tent caterpillars you may encounter. The most well-known are the Eastern tent caterpillar, the Forest tent caterpillar, and the Western tent caterpillar.

How to Get Rid of Tent Caterpillars Naturally

Below are some home remedies and natural methods to control these hairy caterpillars.

1. Diatomaceous Earth

This is a natural powder that will dehydrate and kill tent caterpillars. When tent caterpillars come into contact with it, it scratches their bodies and dehydrates them.

To use, apply the powder directly to the caterpillars and the areas where they travel. As an alternative, you can make a spray with diatomaceous earth and water to apply to their colony and the critters themselves.

2. Homemade Pepper Spray

Another great home remedy is pepper spray. It can be an effective natural pesticide against tent caterpillars.

Make a spray by blending 10 fresh hot peppers, like jalapeños or cayenne peppers, and adding them to a gallon of water. Next, heat up the peppery water to release the oils in the peppers. Afterward, let it cool.

Finally, strain out the solids and add a few drops of dish soap to help the spray stick to the caterpillars. Spray the solution directly onto the critters.

3. Spinosad

Spinosad is a natural insecticide that works by disrupting the nervous system of chewing insects like tent worms, causing paralysis and death.

Purchase spinosad concentrate and mix according to the directions on the product label. Brands include Monterey Garden Insect Spray and Bonide Captain Jack’s Deadbug Brew.

Thoroughly spray the critters, their nests (or mats), and the surrounding foliage.

4. Vinegar

One effective homemade tent caterpillar treatment you can try is vinegar spray. The acid in vinegar naturally deters the caterpillars and can kill them on contact.

Therefore, mix two tablespoons of white vinegar with one gallon of water. Spray this home remedy directly on the caterpillars.

5. Neem Oil

Neem oil is an organic pesticide that you can use against caterpillars in your garden and other areas outside your house.

To make a DIY tent caterpillar spray with neem oil, combine two ounces of pure neem oil, one tablespoon of dish soap, and a gallon of water. Shake it up and spray the affected areas.

6. Pruning

Pruning infested branches and leaves is an easy way to manually remove tent caterpillars from trees.

Go out and look for worm nests in trees, especially in spring and early summer. Look for the nests in the branches of susceptible trees like crabapples, cherries, and apple trees.

Once you spot an active nest, prune the branch it’s attached to. After pruning, dispose of the branches, leaves, and nests.

7. Pick Them Off

As the caterpillars hatch, check tree branches for nests or mats and destroy them. Also, search for and manually remove their egg cases.

Use a pole or pruning shears to cut the branch holding the tent or mat so it falls to the ground. Once on the ground, destroy it or dispose of it in a bag.

The adult moths lay on tree trunks and branches. The egg cases, also known as egg masses, are shiny and black and encircle twigs or small branches.

Scrape them off with a putty knife or something, study enough, and drop them in a bucket of soapy water to suffocate the eggs inside.

8. Natural Predators

Many natural predators prey on tent worms and can help control populations.

A lot of birds will snack on the caterpillars, especially when they leave the tent to feed. Attracting birds is also a good idea if the caterpillar nests are in tall trees.

Some bats will also eat the caterpillars. Moreover, tiny wasps, such as the braconid wasp, lay their eggs inside caterpillars. The wasp larvae hatch and eat the caterpillar from the inside out.

Other natural enemies include ground beetles, ladybugs, and lacewings.

9. Bacillus thuringiensis

Bacillus thuringiensis, or Bt, can also help control tent caterpillars. When the tent worms ingest Bt, it releases toxins that specifically target them.

You can find Bt in the form of sprays and drenches to apply to plants. The Bt kurstaki strain is most effective for tent caterpillars.

10. Soapy Water

One of the simplest methods to kill tent caterpillars and web worms is by thoroughly spraying them with soapy water. Mix 2 tablespoons of liquid soap (dawn dish soap is okay) into a spray bottle filled with a quart of water.

The soap will suffocate the caterpillars by coating them in film and clogging their breathing holes. However, be sure to spray enough directly onto the caterpillars so it thoroughly soaks them.

You can also drop the critters in a container with soap and water to drown them.

11. Horticultural Oil

Use a horticultural spray oil like Bonide ® All Seasons to suffocate tent caterpillar eggs and moth larvae. This treatment is a very effective organic control method.

Apply the spray oil according to the directions as soon as you spot the caterpillars or their webbing tents.

12. Stiky™ Tree Wrap

These tree wraps are an easy, natural option for controlling these hairy caterpillars. The wraps create a physical barrier around the trunk that prevents caterpillars from climbing upward.

Follow the instructions that come with your purchase on how to apply it to the trees.

Takeaway

You’re now armed with some simple and natural ways to eliminate and control those pesky tent caterpillars in your yard.

Whether you go the DIY route with traps and repellents or bring in natural predators like birds to do the work for you, you can win this battle without reaching for harsh chemicals.

Image via Flickr

Sasha Brown

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

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