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I'm running the best restaurant in town!

Everything in my new garden is being attacked with leaf rolling caterpillars - and I do mean everything. I've just found both caterpillars and the adults in my Crassula ovata or Jade plant. It is quite young, about 30cm high and was a new plant last year. The adults are small insects and jump when you try to catch them. I am amazed that the caterpillars can sew together the tough leaves of the Crassula. I have spent hours unrolling leaves to remove caterpillars and have removed many of the growing tips of plants where I see the evidence of their presence. Has anyone any suggestions as to what I can do to save my plants? One suggestion has been to remove the top few inches of soil to prevent them from over wintering as pupae but that will be the last resort since I have so much ground cover. If there is one, would a systemic insecticide work? I loathe the idea of chemicals but am getting desperate. I've already reduced the flowering potential for both now and next year. The second flush of roses is ruined, which is heartbreaking. I've never had them before and suspect that they arrived in the pots of plants last autumn. 
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  • BobFlannigonBobFlannigon Posts: 619
    It's tricky, Joy.  I think all depends on what you want from your garden.  My personal opinion is that we're sharing the space with nature so I like having butterflies, moths and all creatures in the garden and these kinds of things attract other creatures (birds etc.) as part of the food chain.  Furthermore, I think the battle is futile and really not worthwhile, I'd usually opt for growing something else rather than resorting to chemical control.  

    I'd highly doubt that removing top soil would solve your problem.  It also sounds more like weevils than caterpillars?

    Is there anywhere you can move some of the plant to, perhaps a pot indoors, so at least you have a healthy stock to avoid losing it all?  Isn't Crassula very tender anyway, how does it survive winter where you are?
  • pansyfacepansyface PEAK DISTRICT DerbyshirePosts: 20,157
    It’s all just part of life’s rich tapestry. 

    For every caterpillar there is a caterpillar eater somewhere out there. 

    Give it time and things will settle down.
    Apophthegm -  a big word for a small thought.
  • Joy*Joy* Posts: 571
    I'm all for wildlife and do everything I can to help. My Crassula is in a pot, goes outside in the summer and moves back indoors in the autumn. They do too well and get very large so every so often when a branch drops off I regenerate them as it's nice to watch them develop. I've had ones with trunks several inches in diameter and when they get too big I give them away.
    The leaves contain green caterpillars which I try to remove when small, only about 5mm long but they soon get to be 2cm long. I've seen the imagos before,  this year, but only caught one this morning. They look like small flies crossed with a moth . They are in no way like the butterflies and moths I am keen to preserve,  hence my reluctance to use chemicals.  The garden is small and cost over £2500 to plant so I am reluctant to see so much money go to waste. It is intended to be a scented oasis and the plants when in flower are perfumed in the main. Large, more mature plants were purchased to have an impact quite quickly. They're all growing well because I look after them. I can't bear to see them being destroyed. New growth is being eaten and older leaves are full of holes. It's a mess. I'm almost ready to give up and pave the whole garden. 
  • Joy*Joy* Posts: 571
    I've been to my local nursery where I have been told that due to the withdrawal of several chemicals, previously controlled pests are much more prevalent and lots of people are having problems. Rather than give up and let the pests take over, I've gone against my principles and bought a sprayer and some insecticide. When the conditions are right I'm going to spray everything.  I'll keep you posted as to the results. I'll be trying my best not to destroy the friendly wildlife as I am a big believer in the balance of nature but sometimes desperate situations require desperate measures. 
  • micearguersmicearguers CambridgePosts: 594
    It's obviously tough and you have my greatest sympathy, but spray everything is not the path I'd ever take. It's poison to everything.
  • Joy*Joy* Posts: 571
    My biggest problem is that because I didn't spray when I first saw it, everything apart from my Senecio Angels Wings has become infested.  The Crassula was the last straw. I tried mechanical removal and have sprayed with weak washing up liquid water, but the problem is escalating big time. I appreciate your comments micearguers particularly since you offer sympathy. I don't want to spray so if you can think of a better way to deal with the problem I would willingly follow an alternative path.
  • pansyfacepansyface PEAK DISTRICT DerbyshirePosts: 20,157
    As I suggested, be patient and let nature take its course. 

    The world is not overrun by caterpillars, so something somewhere eats them. 

    Ever used a fly spray in the house and found half dead spiders crawling around in the room afterwards?  There’s no such thing as a little bit of poison or a well aimed squoosh of pesticide. 🙁
    Apophthegm -  a big word for a small thought.
  • HelixHelix 704m altitude...Posts: 631
    What you need is more birds!  Especially things like blue tits.  Sounds as if you’ve installed a lush self service restaurant before you’ve hired the security guards!

    Failing that ladybird larvae might help?
  • Joy*Joy* Posts: 571
    Our house is on a development built on what was a piece of formerly agricultural land. We moved in when the second phase was built. We are beginning to see a few birds, having moved in four and a half years ago. When first here there were none apart from a few seagulls (it's 20 miles to the coast). We now have 3 sparrows, a pair of blackbirds, a robin during the winter, a wren and several magpies, we call them penguins! Several bird boxes and bat boxes have been installed by the builders to comply with the rules and we get swifts nesting in a house opposite. The boxes  are built into the roof space. We have bought a bird box but haven't managed to find a site for it which is secure - we are pestered by many cats. They're probably part of the reason why we lack birds. The birds don't feel safe. We feed and water regularly with an aim to encourage more birds, but it is a slow process. Hence my unwillingness to use insecticide. Our ladybirds have moved on since they cleared the aphids and I don't think that they can solve our leaf roller problem.  From an earlier discussion, someone suggested that the only other solution is to remove a thick layer of topsoil during the winter in order to remove the overwintering pupae. This is not really possible without removing the plants.
    You are right about needing birds but I fear that by the time they arrive, there won't be much of the garden left. I've never seen anything reproduce and spread so quickly or effectively. They are like locusts. We need something reminiscent of a flock of seagulls. 

    Anyone got a magic wand! 
  • cornellycornelly Posts: 962
    Put up some bird feeders, and see what the birds can do for you, they do a good job in our garden, don't take all the pests but quite a few especially at breeding times, when feeding the young.
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