SPRING IS A SEASON OF REBIRTH — when perennials push their way up through the soil, when the bare branches of deciduous trees regain their greenery, when blossoms burst forth with wild abandon. Unfortunately, spring also brings the birth of a new generation of gypsy moth caterpillars, the most destructive of all tree insect pests in Maryland.
"State and county aerial spraying programs have helped control gypsy moth populations throughout much of the state," says Mary Kay Malinoski, an entomology specialistat the Home and Garden Information Center of the Cooperative Extension Service, Maryland Institute for Agriculture and Natural Resources."But these programs are being cut back this year, victims of Maryland's ongoing budget crisis."
Homeowners who wish to protect their trees from the voracious intruders will have to take matters into their own hands -- literally.
The first line of defense involves wrapping susceptible trees with sticky barrier bands. These bands prevent gypsy moth caterpillars from crawling up tree trunks and into the tree tops where they feed on the foliage.
Sticky barrier bands, composed of tape at least 2 inches wide with a sticking agent applied to the outside, should be put on trees in early April when the caterpillars start to hatch.
The bands must be pushed into the grooves of the bark to prevent the caterpillars from crawling underneath on their way up the trunk. Debris should be cleaned from the bands daily and additional sticking agent applied as needed.
Burlap bands provide an additional defense against gypsy moth caterpillars.
These bands, made of 12-inch wide pieces of burlap or similar material, should be wrapped around tree trunksat least 6 inches higher than the sticky barrier bands. String fastened around the middle of the bands allows them to be folded in half, forming a double flap 6 inches wide.
"Burlap bands provide shelterfor the larger caterpillars that crawl down from the foliage during the day to rest," says Malinoski. "Homeowners should check the burlapbands at least once a day, destroying any caterpillars found in their folds."
A third control option is spraying.
The Cooperative Extension Service has several resources available for homeowners who want to learn the details of how to protect their trees from gypsy moth caterpillars.
"The Gypsy Moth and the Homeowner"(Fact Sheet 242)provides information on how to identify gypsy moths at all stages oftheir life cycle -- from egg mass to adult moth. It also contains general information on control tactics.
"Controlling Gypsy Moth Caterpillars with Barrier Bands" (Fact Sheet 476) explains the specifics of how to make, apply and maintain sticky barrier bands and burlap bands.
Both publications, which are free to Maryland residents on a single-copy basis, are available from the Home and Garden InformationCenter, 1-800-342-2507, or the Cooperative Extension Service offices.
A 10-minute VHS video tape, "Homeowner's Guide to Gypsy Moth Control," includes general information on gypsy moths.
The video tape, which costs $11.95, is available from the Extension's Video Resource Center at College Park, 301-405-4594.