worms on ferns - help!

SarahC's picture

I have evil little green caterpillars eating my ferns.  This hasn't happened before (in the last 6 years).  Besides picking them off and squashing them, is there any magic cure?  I'm pretty sure ferns are sensitive to various murdering sprays, so I am afraid to try anything -- even soap.  Any fern experts out there?  Thank you!

 

zone 6 gardening in the woods with 30,000 deer

NC Ellen's picture

(post #8325, reply #1 of 6)

Well, SarahC, my regular disclaimer - I'm no expert - but ......... I know there are 'evil' bugs, but to me caterpillers are - usually - just butterflies in the making.  


 As a new gardener, a few years ago I was horrified to look out my window and see all these 'worms' munching on my parsley & fennel.  I just let them be (don't like squashing things) and later learned they were very typical (I can't remember the species) butterfly larvae - and once I learned that, every butterfly in my garden became very special!   Now I plant fennel and parsley just for these critters and totally enjoy every butterfly I see, hoping I had a small part in its existance!  Btw, I call them 'butterpillers'. 


Last winter I brought a plant inside and w/in a couple of days three of these butterpillers emerged - stowaways!  Two succmbed, but one spun its cocccoon (or whatever).  I watched it and cared for it all winter long and was rewarded w/a butterfly birth right in my sunroom - too exciting!


So, unless you're in an area with a truly evil caterpiller history and population, I say just watch and be ready to see the amazing transformation - and then enjoy all your butterfly babies !

Karen's picture

(post #8325, reply #2 of 6)

My Encyclopedia of Ferns says that most caterpillars that feed on ferns are moth larvae, and cites leaf rollers (light translucent green or pinkish), painted apple moth (1 inch long and hairy, usually solitary), loopers (green or brown, voracious feeders), etc, etc, etc. Most can be controlled with Bacillus thuringiensis or pyrethrum sprays.

North Carolina - zone 7

North Carolina - zone 7

NC Ellen's picture

(post #8325, reply #3 of 6)

Great info, Karen !  I neglected to mention that worms on ferns might well be very different from my experiences and I don't know where, geographically, the OP is located, and that makes a big difference.   Btw, moths aren't bad, are they?  In my midget mind, everything except JB's, poison ivy / oak and mosquitoes serve some purpose!  (okay, yeah, they all have a reason, but I don't like 'em anyway!)


And, I didn't mean to imply that all worms are good - not the case, indeed.   I grew up on a dairy farm in New England and remember graphically an infestatin of what we called 'army worms'.   They were a cyclic scourge and did horrific damage to crops - not to mention being really yucckkyy !


The OP's location will hold a clue to helping w/her worm on fern problem.

SarahC's picture

(post #8325, reply #4 of 6)

The caterpillars on parsley are black swallowtail babies.  They get really big-- as big as my pinky finger, before they turn into chrysalises and then emerge.  As a kid I used to collect them off my grammy's parsley.  I had 32 successful butterfly pets-- all named Gloria.  Some come out the same year and some would winter on our back porch and emerge in the spring.  Gorgeous!  But I have never been able to eat parsley since (or appreciate it as a garnish) because, honest-to-goodness, it smells just like caterpillars! 


The guys eating my ferns are leaf-rollers (I didn't know that was a real name) because they roll up the ends of the leaves!  and there are loopers, too (that's a real name ?) because they "inch-worm" like a loop? The loopers are the worst at this point.  These guys are tiny, not like the swallowtails I used to raise, but I have it in for them.  They are after the black-eyed susans and roses as well, but the ferns have had it munched completely and in just a week.  Arrrrr.

 

zone 6 gardening in the woods with 30,000 deer

NC Ellen's picture

(post #8325, reply #5 of 6)

Thanks, SarahC - yep, swallowtails -  I couldn't remember.  I have hanging ferns here and so far, the only interloper is a finch nest w/3 eggs, no insect damage. 


Meanwhile, my planted to please fennel and parsley in the side yard is, so far, free of butterpillers.  Maybe next week ...........  btw, where are you?    This is the first year I've had hanging ferns, so I'll appreciate any insight as to what I might need to expect. 

SarahC's picture

(post #8325, reply #6 of 6)

Hi  Ellen!  I am in Connecticut.  My ferns are in the ground.  They are planted along the foundation of a screen porch which was built on piers and hovers about 1.5' off the ground.  Without them, the porch looks like it is about to take off into the upper atmosphere.  I don't know the names of all the ferns since I just moved them from the woodsy part of my yard (most of my yard is woods).  There are at least 5 different kinds in the mix.  The hardest hit are the ones that look like tall feathery vases --about 3' tall and very graceful.  I've never had the caterpillar problem before, besides one or two leaf rollers, but at this point they are eaten horribly, and I am in the mood to squish them all. 


I'm jealous of your finches.  How lovely!


 


zone 6 gardening in the woods with 30,000 deer

 

zone 6 gardening in the woods with 30,000 deer