What happened to my geraniums! Caterpillar infestation, that is what occurred, but have no fear there’s a caterpillar bailout. First, you will need to understand the facts. Some caterpillars target particular flowers.
The tobacco (geranium) bud worm dines on blossoms like geranium, petunia and nicotiana, & the damage can be severe that in certain areas of the country people have ceased using geraniums and petunia. Two, caterpillars are resistant to commercial garden pesticides. It’s accurate, so DON’T waste your money. Three, many caterpillars survive winter as pupa in the soil when many overwintering insects are killed, so that they could ADAPT. So, how can you maintain your garden from becoming a salad bar. Before you remove the caterpillars, first you must know there are caterpillars in your garden (rather than just your roommate.)
Here are hints that you might have new tenants. Note that sometimes the amount of damage progresses through the growing season, becoming most evident in late summer. Overwintering in the soil as pupae, the insects usually emerge in late April or May as night-flying moths or butterflies to lay eggs on the undersides of leaves. Caterpillars soon hatch and migrate into leaves and buds, where they feed. This cycle may recur five times in a growing season.
- Chewed buds & flowers
- holes in buds & flowers
- buds that fail to open
- flowering fails/(loss of color)
- dark droppings near the pockets
Use your hands
Still arguably the best way in tiny plants, the most practical control is hand choosing the caterpillars. Tobacco bud worm creatures are most active during dusk and finest found at the moment. During daylight hours, they frequently hide around the base of the plant. Open one of the buds, & you will likely find a young caterpillar feeding. Mature caterpillars feed on open blossoms and leaves, & they may be tricky to spot. They can camouflage their own bodies to have the colour of what they have recently eaten out of the crimson of geranium blossoms to the greens of distinct foliage. Be careful, some caterpillars have hazardous spikes, so wear gloves.
Picking ten caterpillars is fine, but what if you’ve got a hundred? Neem oil is a substance with organic insecticidal properties & is a natural alternative to conventional chemical treatments. It comes from a shrub native to eastern India & Burma & is both nontoxic & biodegradable. Warning: Neem does have any systemic effect in crops. Spray regions of the plant where caterpillars tend to cluster.
Nana’s bug juice
Most methods of insecticidal spraying will impact the blossoms & foliage in addition to the caterpillars. Nana’s Bug Juice or The Garlic & Pepper Spray Treatment is less harsh.
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 2 tbsp cayenne pepper
- 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
Mix all of the ingredients into a blender. Mix thoroughly and strain through a cheesecloth to have a crystal clear liquid. Pour this into a spray bottle. (You may add water but the potency of the juice will be decreased. Set the spray bottle on”mist” & mist the plants that are affected. Use a 16 oz (.53 litre) spray bottle. Make sure you get the undersides of the leaves. Note: The juice is chemical free & secure for edible & non-edible plants. More info can be located in Sal Gilbertie’s publication””Herb Gardening At Its Best”.
Prevention is the best!
If you are able to prevent moths & butterflies from laying their eggs in the first place then you’re way ahead. First, you can cover the plant with a mosquito net, which will keep all the bugs out, but you might need to hand pollinate and that is more tedious than picking off the bugs. Second, maintain the great quality of the soil by adding mulch, well rotted animal manure, organic mulch, or worm castings (or worm compost). Ensure your plants have a fantastic source of potassium (potash) from the soil. This helps build cell walls and toughens the leaves which makes them unpalatable to insects. If potted geraniums or other tender perennial host plants are stored between seasons, then remove the soil to get rid of pupae and repot the plants prior to overwintering. Third, moths are attracted to lights. When moths are plentiful, turn off exterior lights. This may reduce the amount of egg masses laid on nearby foliage. That’s it, but bear in mind when it is time to throw in the towel. If your potted geranium is much more caterpillar than geranium, it is time to have another one.