It's mid June and they're here again - yes folks, run out and check your Solomon's Seal (Polygonatum spp), because the caterpillars are in town!
Most years, we are just starting to enjoy these lovely plants:
And underneath each frond...
...we find the flowers, dangling neatly in a row.
But alas, most years, we barely get time to enjoy them before the caterpillars move in, and strip them down to skeletons.
This - left - is what happens: one day the leaves are all lush and perfect:- the next day, you come out to find them in this state.
The critter responsible for this mass destruction is a small, light grey caterpillar, which is the larvae of the Sawfly.
They appear in huge numbers, and can strip a clump of Solomon's Seal in a day or two, which is quite distressing for the garden owner.
The problem with this pest is that you don't know you've got it, until you see the damage.
So it's worth keeping a close eye on your plants: check them every day, and look for the first tell-tale damage, which is usually long "slots" appearing in the leaves:
Here's some I found yesterday.
What a nice, neat, oval hole!
I wonder what did that, you might think.
Turn the leaf over, and you will find something like this:
This represents the very beginning of the infestation - just a couple of dear little caterpillars, aaaah, how harmful can they be?
But if you leave them, your plant's leaves will be stripped to ribbons.
The good news is that sawfly caterpillars don't kill the plant: they ruin the leaves, and it looks horrible, but the plant will be back next year.: however, it can't be nice for the plant, to have all the photosynthesising material ruined before time, so put on your gloves, and squish them!
This is a revolting job, but essential: there's no point just shaking them off the plant, as they can climb back up.
Squish them into sawfly caterpillar paste, then wash your gloves - it makes a terrible mess!
Turn over every frond, one by one, lifting it up by the tip of one leaf: gently, so as not to shake them off. Then squish them.
Repeat this process a couple of times a day for the next few days, to catch them as they appear.
I have tried jet-blasting them with the hose, which gets rid of the problem for a while, but doesn't really solve it: although there was one time when I came back from putting away the hose, to find a pair of blue tits gleefully scrabbling about, filling their beaks with wet caterpillars and flying off with them, presumably to a nest.
If there are too many for hand control, then you will have to resort to chemicals: you can get insectidal soap, which you mix up with water and squirt all over the plant - this suffocates the caterpillars, although I'm not sure how the blue tits would feel about it (mental picture of blue tits picking up the soapy caterpillars, then spitting them out and making yuk noises).
If you try this, remember that you have to soak the undersides of the leaves, not the tops, so it's a fun job, during which you WILL get soapy water up your sleeve. *laughs*
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