That would be us.
And I thought it was going to be a relaxing Saturday.
I went out to get the mail this morning, and took a stroll to the other side of the yard (about 120 feet across). I had been working in the other garden beds so far and hadn’t attempted to weed/feed/re-mulch this one yet. I guess I should have looked a little sooner. I was shocked to come up to my beautiful pine tree and see that almost all of it had been exfoliated. What the?! What exfoliates a pine tree?
My stomach literally churned. I drew back in sheer horror. The devilish little creatures sensed my movement and wriggled in unison as a response. Oh. my. God. Help! The tree was loaded with them. Thousands. Upon thousands.
I ran into the house to holler for the kids. They are very well-trained now. When we’ve had severe flooding in our yard and especially in our basement (up to three feet, on a regular basis), I would holler like that. In less than ten seconds, they would stampede down the stairs– ready for action. I told them to get their shoes on, girls tie back their long hair (shudder), and grab a bucket. Meet me by the hose.
Without asking any questions, they were there. What great kids. I broke the news to them. Yeah. They were as repulsed as I was. Since I had no pesticides on hand, and since these larvae were really too mature for pesticides to stop them, we would have to pick them off by hand.
The YUK Factor.
I filled the buckets with dish soap and water.
And away we went. My youngest, a bug person, actually enjoyed it after a while. I remained repulsed.
We found a sparrow’s nest in the pine, too. It had one little egg (had hatched) and was filled with about a dozen caterpillers.
I was very angry at the birds. I felt they had shirked their duty. Here was a literal feast and they had passed it up. My daughter had been putting out bird seed in another part of the yard; perhaps the birds were filling up too much on the seed and not on the insects. Well, no more seed for them! These birds have jobs to do!
We plucked for about three hours. We found more larvae in the other pine, too. Then we raked up all the mulch and leaves and burned it all. Muahahahhaahhahaha.
I did some research, because I had never seen such larvae that ate evergreen needles before. We have a huge pest problem with tent caterpillers in Upstate New York (I’ve already killed four web nests in my apple tree this year), but I’ve never seen anything like this. Apparently, this larvae is the European sawfly. It came, obviously, from Europe, and favors Scotch and Mugo pines trees. It exfoliates the old growth on the tree. The larvae develop into the sawfly, that then lays its eggs at the base of the tree for next year’s attack. The best defense is to hand-pick the little devils. Pesticides are ineffective when the larvae is too mature (mid- to late-May).
I think we got them all, but we are going to have to keep close watch the next few weeks. I smeared a thick layer of petroleum jelly at the base of all the pine trunks, and slathered the trunk of my neighboring Maple, as added protection. This way, if those little devils start crawling up the trunk, they’ll get stuck in the jelly. Muahahahahhahaha again.
But there’s always SOMETHING around here to beat back! Sheesh!