Army worms reach epidemic levels; wacky weather spurs other damage

armyworms hiding in turfgrass from University of Nebraska
Armyworms hiding in turfgrass. Photo from Department of Entomology, University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Wheat and hay crops in Western New York are being damaged by an epidemic of armyworms, but unless your yard backs up to a wheat field, your lawn probably won’t be affected.

That’s according to John Farfaglia, extension educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension in Niagara County.

Cooperative Extension is also fielding calls from gardeners concerning problems with aphids brought on by mild weather as well as continuing problems with plants that were damaged by frost this spring.

Armyworms damage feed crops

armyworm graphic U Nebraska-Lincoln
Graphic from Department of Entomology, University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

An armyworm isn’t a worm; it’s a caterpillar or larva of a moth. The moth is similar in appearance to a cutworm moth.

Armyworms attack mostly grasses, Farfaglia said. They’re showing up in large numbers and are very damaging to feed crops.

For farmers, it means they’ll have to buy hay for their animals to replace the lost feed crops. For consumers, it could mean higher food prices down the road, he said.

There was an outbreak of armyworms about four years ago, Farfaglia said, but it wasn’t as bad as this.

If farmers have questions, they can call their Cornell Cooperative Extension field crop specialists or Mike Stanyard, who covers all of Western New York, at (315) 331-8415.

If you are a gardener and are affected, be careful when choosing how you treat the problem, Farfaglia advises. Make sure you choose sprays that are appropriate for the situation, for example, for a lawn or garden.

On the mild end, treatment options include Bt, a bacterium called Bacillus thuringiensis that kills caterpillars and larval pests. It’s not hard on animals other than those that are targeted, he said.

armyworm moth from U of Nebraska
Armyworm moth. Department of Entomology, University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Pyrethrin-based products could also be used, he said.

Armyworms are more common in the south, and wind currents can bring them up to New York State, Farfaglia explained. The early warm weather we had could have helped them multiply this year. They don’t have a lot of natural predators here.

Mild weather brings out aphids

Gardeners are seeing a lot of aphid activity on all kinds of plants, Farfaglia said. Aphids are small sap-sucking insects.

There are many ways to deal with aphids:

  • Spraying them with a hose will get them off your plant temporarily.
  • You can use insecticidal soap.
  • You can trim off the newest growth where aphids are concentrated.
  • There are also chemicals you can try.

When deciding what action to take, try to determine whether the aphids are doing significant damage or just cosmetic damage to the plant, he advised. The plant might not look great, but aphids probably won’t kill the plant.

Gardeners struggle with frost-damaged plants

That summer-like spell in March caused plants to leaf out and bud early, only to be nipped by frost many times. Apple and cherry trees were affected, and consumers will see a small harvest this year, he said.

In the garden, a high percentage of hydrangea bushes were affected.

However, most of the damage isn’t permanent. Most trees, shrubs and perennials will come back because their root systems are intact, Farfaglia predicted. If your plant died, it was probably iffy anyway.

You can encourage your plants with water and fertilizer, when needed.

Farfaglia suggests one last thing when dealing with frost damage: patience.

3 Comments on “Army worms reach epidemic levels; wacky weather spurs other damage

  1. Connie
    Since so many of our birds, butterflies and critters share our gardens, I try to find safe alternatives whenever possible that won’t harm any of these beneficial creatures. So many alien pests have been introduced into our environment by the non native plants from Europe or Asia that are sold at local garden centers. In many cases when we stick with plants native to the Americas we are protecting our own natural ecosystem because our own predator insects can keep things under control.

  2. For anyone who may be experiencing aphids on their butterfly or hummingbird plants please don’t use an insecticide as you may as you may harm or even kill the butterflies and or hummingbirds that use those plants. It is safer to use a hose and spray the plant full force. If it is in bloom, you may lose some blooms but it should bounce right back. Another trick is to spray the plant with a liquid made from citrus skins and crushed garlic. Boil the citrus rinds(orange, or grapefruit work well) and when cool strain into a spray bottle add some crushed garlic cloves or even garlic powder. Shake well and then spray the plants. This also works for plants affected by japnese beetles but does have to be reapplied. Try not to spray blooms.

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