Ozarks bagworm infestation taking down evergreens at rapid pace

Published: Jul. 11, 2018 at 2:50 PM CDT
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If your plants are dying despite how much you water them, you might be the victim of an infestation. Bagworms are out by the tens of thousands this summer all across the Ozarks. They are destructive and can take down your prized bushes and trees in a matter of days.

"I noticed these little bags hanging off of it that looked like some kind of bugs or pods or something. Wasn't sure exactly what was going on," said Paul Betzold, a homeowner in Greene County.

The first warning signs of a bagworm infestation have fooled thousands of us this summer: brown spots on your pine, arborvitae, cedars, and junipers. That was the case for Betzold who cranked up his watering, but the problem would not go away.

"I started seeing just hundreds of them hanging, hanging, hanging, and every time I pulled back a little flap, there would be ten more," Betzold said.

The pesky plant-eating creatures known as bagworms are multiplying. One tiny bag found on a plant in your yard can contain 500 to 1000 eggs.

"They form little bags to protect themselves in, and often people will confuse that for a natural structure on a plant, so they don't realize they have an infestation until it's too late, and the plant starts to die out," said Horticulturist Kelly McGowan who works at the University of Missouri Extension office in Springfield.

McGowan advises carefully checking your plants now and once a week going forward..

"For bag worm control handpicking is by far one of the best things you can do. Go out and handpick the bags. Make sure to not just drop them on the ground, because they can crawl right back up on the plant," she said.

"Three years of growth. This thing (arborvitae) is darn near six-feet tall. It would be expensive, time consuming, and a lot of work to try to salvage it especially in July," Betzold said of his suffering tree.

Despite a major haul of bag worms clipped off just one tree, Betzold is still battling the bugs.

You might wonder what role these destructive creatures serve in the ecosystem. McGowan said they do not serve much purpose outside destroying beautiful plants and trees.