I have joked often in here about the sort of Old Testament saga I encounter in my garden, but right now there is a natural disaster taking place on my landscape. I first noticed it last June when I went for a walk on the island’s north shore and noticed leaves missing from the oak trees. When I inquired, my friend Annie told me that it was caterpillar damage. I filed that away and went on about my year.
Then in mid May of this year, I noticed that my apple trees had stopped growing. When I inspected further I discovered green caterpillars munching away on the leaves. After putting out an SOS on Gardenweb decided to use Bull’s Eye on them. It worked. Then gradually over the next ten days I began to realize that these caterpillars were “ballooning” off my oak trees onto the apple trees and the roses. The lovely little red oak leaves that I photographed in late May were all being eaten.
It turns out they are the caterpillar of the Winter Moth ( Operophetera brumata ) and they have moved into southeastern Massachusetts for a long, uninvited stay.
There are lots of things I could write about here. I could tell you about how disgusting it is to come in from mowing under the trees and to have 25 caterpillars crawling around under your shirt. Or I could tell you about how when you stand still in the woods you can hear their frass dropping like little rain drops on the dried leaves of the forest floor. But let me write about the reaction of people in the neighborhood. I ran into Matt, the nurseryman who planted my apple trees last year and he is taking a very philosophical view. “Let’s let mother nature run her course.” Sure if you want to protect apple trees or rose bushes, that makes sense, but there is no reason to spray our way out of this. Friends visiting their summer home here from California are saying “Maybe we’ll sell.” People on the eastern end of the island are saying “What caterpillars?”
In the meantime, I will monitor my roses and my apple trees and make sure that they are well mulched and well fed as they try to recover. And I will learn as much as I can so I can do a better preventative job in the spring.