If your garden includes zonal geraniums, petunias, roses or other flowers, now’s the time to keep an eye out for destructive budworms (Helicoverpa virescens). These green pests effectively camouflage themselves against geranium buds and foliage so effectively that you might not see that you have a problem until it’s too late.
Watch for budworms—you guessed it—on the buds. If you see buds with tiny holes chewed in them, you know the pests are present. If you noticed leaves with holes, the culprit might be budworms. Or if your zonal geranium looks otherwise healthy, but does not flower, the budworms might be munching the blooms before they have a chance to make it out of the bud stage.
Watch for holes, ragged leaves, or caterpillar poo.
Also, monitor your plants for tell tale caterpillar poo from the budworms. You might not see the budworms, but you’ll see small, blackish feces that resembles tiny seeds or coffee grounds.
Budworms burrow inside buds and eat the tender, forming flower.
Make your own budworm repellant.
You can purchase commercial budworm dust, but Colorado State University reports that budworms resist garden insecticides.
I’ve found another way to eradicate these evil ones. Here’s an easy, inexpensive and organic way to fight back against budworms: Do you know a smoker? Ask for their butts. Cigars work especially well. They seem to be as offensive to budworms as they are to many people.
Find an old container, a large pickle jar or an old spray bottle. The container will get nasty, so chose something you don’t mind ruining with the odor of spent tobacco. Put the butts in the container. Add water. Allow to steep. Then water affected plants with the solution. Put the solution in a spray bottle and mist your affected plants with the solution, as well. Curiously geranium budworms are also known as tobacco budworms, but they seem to hate the presence of tobacco.
You might also try misting plants with a weak solution of water with plain dishwashing soap added. Some gardeners swear by Lemon Joy and others say the citrus burns the leaves, so I stick with plain soap without extra fragrances or other bells and whistles like antibacterial properties.
Budworms also attack petunias, roses, and other flowers. If you spot them, remove them. Kill them. And do not add affected plant material to your compost: It may contain budworm eggs that will remain in the soil in the pupae stage over winter and then in spring will hatch into moths that lay more eggs, continuing the cycle of destruction.
Budworms devastate crops, too.
CSU reports, “In Colorado, problems are most common in the Denver Metro area and Grand Junction. Nationwide, this insect is one of the most devastating insect pests of agriculture, particularly in cotton and tobacco. In the United States, millions of dollars are spent annually to control this insect on these crops. It is closely related to the corn earworm (Heliothis zea), a common pest of corn and tomatoes in Colorado.”
To avoid hosting budworms, empty containers of soil before winter.
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