Did caterpillars eat leaves on your tree? What you can do now

Do you have trees in your yard that were defoliated during the gypsy moth caterpillar outbreak this year? Here’s what you need to know.

caterpillar of gypsy moth
The caterpillar of the gypsy moth has damaged many trees in Western New York. Photo courtesy Jon Yuschock, Bugwood.org

Outlook for your tree

Most healthy trees can withstand a couple years of leaf loss from caterpillar damage, according to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). Long-term damage depends on the type of tree as well as how much defoliation took place.

Hardwoods 

A healthy leaf-bearing tree should have grown new leaves by now, though leaves may be smaller than usual. If your tree lost all its leaves and does not grow any new ones by summer’s end, watch it in the spring. If it still does not leaf out next spring, it has died.

Conifers 

If your needle-bearing trees lost more than 50 percent of their needles, there’s a good chance they won’t recover. Keep an eye on them in the coming seasons, and if you have concerns or think the tree could endanger a house if it were to fall, contact an arborist.

How to care for recovering trees

Losing lots of leaves in summer stresses trees and can weaken them, making them vulnerable to pests, diseases, or even competition from invasive plants that swoop in to steal the now-sunny understory space. If trees in your yard show signs of recovery, keep a close eye on them in upcoming months and watch for potential issues.

Give them a little extra care when appropriate:

  • water in dry conditions
  • weed around the trunk
  • mulch properly – just 1-2 inches deep (if you plan to mulch)
  • scrape off invasive egg masses in fall/winter (if applicable)

If you have concerns, arborists are here to help.

See more about gypsy moths here.

Woodland owners

If you’re a woodland owner who saw major forest defoliation, watch for new leaves this summer. If this is not the first year of the outbreak in your area and you have concerns for next year, contact a forester for a consultation.

4 Comments on “Did caterpillars eat leaves on your tree? What you can do now

  1. Here in Holland, we had gypsy moth damage mostly to our large oak trees, but they seem to be recovering well. I couldn’t believe the mess they made – chewed leaf parts all over the place.

  2. Gypsy moths weren’t too awful here in E.Aurora but now the fall web worms are more noticeable than ever before. Especially in my neighbor’s huge black cherries. The webs may be ugly but the birds sure are 😊.

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