by Allan Goddard

I was in a neighbour’s garden woods today, and we came upon a small Scot’s Pine, perhaps 6 feet tall. It is completely stripped of needles with the exception of this year’s growth candles, and upon further investigation, we saw the culprits–caterpillars–very many–on the twigs, open needle stumps, everywhere, all motionless and, smooth green. Maybe a centimeter and a bit, long. They recoiled vertically upon vibrations and threat. Gypsy moth? No. This was an infestation of pine sawflies, a very destructive insect to many pines. I suspect many gardeners will see these caterpillars on their Mugo Pines also.

And every few years, my Black Locusts will show signs of complete early defoliation, with even the immature beautifully scented flowers being eaten. This is a result of an insect known as a species of leafhopper, which also can be destructive. And yet, the trees recover by late June, to try and flower the following year. Usually do.

Then, throughout our Canadian forests, a caterpillar known as spruce budworm, attacks and defoliates may spruce trees, damaging much of our forest canopy and harvest supporting the forest industry. They still spray Bt for the pest, via aerial spraying.

As for Japanese beetles, many a gardener is aware or has felt the destructive force behind this insect.

And now, not for the first time by any means, an insect called the Gypsy moth is once again eating much in its path. THIS insect is not so selective as the others mentioned, and eats so much more. Trees, shrubs, annuals, perennials… and is very unpredictable. One area may have plenty, another area almost none. But when present, we notice –because it is everywhere., and the results are evident. This is not a pandemic, or epidemic, or plague from the Bible. It is simply one species at its peak in its cycles of life, and as we have presented it with a multitude of dishes in the salad bar, the results SEEM catastrophic. Not to forget to mention, of course, the seemingly daily reports of devastation by the various media outlets, which seem to feed off any situation which can cause grief to society, by stirring the pot daily, and finding as many affected witnesses as possible, who feed us their fish stories of grief.

What we are going through will pass. Next season, or so, when the population subsides for whatever reason Mother Nature has in store for it, we will have forgotten about gypsy moth, and will still be aghast in fervour and frenzy of the Leafs having won the cup, after 54 years of dormancy. That’s a pretty long cycle.

The fact is, things happen in a world of changing life, and so much is unpredictable and possible. But here in Canada, we do not suffer from clouds of locusts destroying our crops in one fell swoop, we do not have disease-bearing blood-sucking insects biting and stinging us daily, we have (overall )safe drinking water, and our food arrives in generally pristine condition at our tables. And the gypsy moth keeps munching.

I have been asked numerous times to date as to the best way to get rid of GM, or otherwise,”what can I do?” Is there a best way to get rid of them?

One can think of many ways. One way is to wrap strips of sticky tape, sticky facing outward, around the trunk of a tree to trap some of the caterpillars as they move into seclusion for the night. Some will become attached. But the stickiness sometimes wears off, so this is not a foolproof method. Another way to battle them is to spray with the now-famous Bt organic insecticide, which is a solution of living bacteria, which when ingested by the insects, attacks their system quite quickly. This material is NOT dangerous to humans (although I wouldn’t use it in a milkshake) nor to wildlife. But as it it is a registered insecticide, it must be used by a licenced professional in public places, and as is so often the case these days, there is always some complaint or action taken against anything.

So WHO wants to do it? It CAN be used by the homeowner, and is readily purchased for such. But as it is a living substance, it has a shelf life and can be accidentally destroyed in hot sun, or heat. And all foliage must be contacted with the spray as well. Ok, so you have a 50′ Silver Maple–now what.? But the best way is to not worry about them, and realize it is short term in the long run, and accept the damage that has been done, while at the same time, understand that most plants will recover from the destruction with relative ease. I have seen forests near Perth totally stripped of vegetation by the end of May, only to visit the very spots two months later to see the forest canopy closed in once more, at an even better state than prior to insect attack. You see, OUR problem is we want a PERFECT garden or landscape at ALL times.

This being the case, the battle becomes constant. For the past 7,8 years or so, my rugosa rose has been invaded by bud borers, leaving me with one, two, maybe three flowers to steal a whiff of fragrance from each day while in bloom. But the saving grace, is my Wisteria, in full flower now, which saves the day with its perfume to the wind. So it’s all a battle of balance, and adversity, and success and pride, in the gardens we keep, knowing there will be times of major disappointment and /or loss, versus the overall peace and enjoyment we achieve in having such a pastime in our lives.

So DON’T sweat the small stuff or gypsy moths. These too shall pass! As do my annual dreams of a Leafs cup.

Allan G, Almonte