MATTHEWS — Town leaders are urging residents to be proactive this fall in helping stop a potential town-wide infestation of cankerworms.
The pests are native to North America and have been a problem for years in Charlotte, last year finally extending their unwelcomed reach to Matthews. But town leaders are urging residents to take action now, before the much-adored town tree canopy takes a hit this spring.
“Matthews has been a tree city for over a decade,” Annette Privette Keller, town spokesperson, said, adding town officials and residents have spent thousands of dollars in trees and landscaping. “People love the quality of life (the trees) bring to an area, but they are also such a vital part of our community – we do not want to lose one tree, much less hundreds of them.”
The cankerworm cycle starts in the fall when female moths crawl up trees to lay their eggs at the top. As leaves return to the trees in the spring, the eggs hatch, leaving small green caterpillars to feed on the leaves, defoliating a tree’s canopy. While one season of defoliation does not kill a tree, its effects weaken a tree to be more susceptible for other stresses.
The spread of the worms start after the eggs hatch every spring, when the wind can carry the insects to other nearby trees – a reason why town officials think the insects are now in Matthews. Privette Keller said the pests also have spread to nearby Mint Hill. The tallest trees such as elms, oaks, willows and maples are the most susceptible to the pesky creatures, but Privette Keller said all trees are under threat.
That’s why the town is starting a fall campaign to encourage all residents to “band their trees” by Thanksgiving, just in time for the first frost of the season and to allow time before the wingless moths lay their eggs around the start of December. Tree banding is when a sticky barrier is placed around a tree trunk to trap the wingless moths as they climb a tree. Town leaders recommend banding trees the last week of November and after all leaves have fallen.
Matthews Public Works will band 70 of their own trees, at a cost of about $3,000, which will come from town maintenance funds. Tree banding kits can be found at local hardware stores in addition to other resources that can be used, such as roofing felt, installation or glue, etc. It can cost around $10 to $13 for supplies to band a tree.
“You just want to keep the worms from crawling up the tree,” Ralph Messera, public works director, said. “Cankerworms can actually defoliate an entire tree in about three days. The tree can take it once or twice, but then they’ll eventually start dying.”
In the town, public works will band trees on town-owned property such as public parks, the greenway and facilities such as the police and fire departments. In coming weeks, town officials will send out more information to residents on how to band their own trees and where to find the materials. In order to stop future infestations, Privette Keller said the town is relying on the cooperation from residents spread across Matthews’ 17 square miles to ensure the insects don’t get out of control.
“This is new for us. Charlotte has had these infestations and has worked hard on them. We do not want to waste any time,” she said. “I just think it’s going to be a new tradition for us and something that will take a lot of education.”
Charlotte has been forced in the past to take drastic measures against the insects – not only banding thousands of trees across the city but also having planes spray a substance that would eventually help kill the worms once they hatched.