Army worms, how to fight them?

After more than a year of wreaking havoc across western and southern Africa, armyworms have now been reported in  East Africa  which include Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Ethiopia and Burundi.

This destructive garden pest gets its name because it travels in small insect armies and consumes just about everything in its path. Here’s the natural, organic way to get rid of armyworms.

Timothy Mbaya is a 25-year-old farmer from western Kenya. He says 75 percent of his maize crop was destroyed by a fall armyworm infestation in April.



“There’s nothing we could do, because the worms were eating indiscriminately in patches, in groups, so I had to do away with the crops and seek alternative crops to plant. So I chose some cassavas to make good use of this rainy season so I don’t come out empty-handed.”

How to fight these Army worms

  • Avoid using harmful pesticides or practices that would inadvertently destroy beneficial insects, your first line of natural defense.
  • Use pheromone traps to monitor the arrival of moths. When you first notice them — look for the distinctive white dot on their forewings — it’s time to start closer inspection of your plants.
  • Look for larvae and signs of damage beginning in early spring. Caterpillars will often be found feeding on the undersides of leaves and on new growth. Handpick the worms you discover and don’t be tempted to crush them between your thumbs. Instead drop them in a bucket of soapy water.
  • Release trichogramma wasps to parasitize any newly laid eggs. These tiny beneficial insects — 1mm or less — insert their eggs inside of pest eggs, killing them before they enter the plant-eating larval stage.
  • Other beneficial insects, such as lacewing, ladybugs and minute pirate bugs feed on armyworm eggs as well as the young larval stage. Remember: beneficial insects help control other harmful pests, including aphids, earworms, cutworms, cabbage loopers, a variety of mite and insect eggs.
  • Plant to attract birds and beneficial insects. Birds are especially fond of the moths and will pull larvae from lawns and plants. In the fall, uncover and turn your soil before putting it to bed, giving birds a chance to pick off the exposed pupae.
  • If you’ve had an infestation or are otherwise worried that conditions, including a cool, wet spring, will encourage the worms, release beneficial nematodes into your soil. These microscopic soil creatures feed on the eggs, pupae, and larvae of some 200 pests. They will not harm vertebrates, whether human or amphibians, will not harm plants, honey bees or earthworms and won’t threaten beneficial insects who, like the trichogramma wasp, lay eggs in something, not just anywhere in the dirt. Yet beneficial nematodes are murder on army worm eggs and pupae found in the soil.
  • Applications of Garden Dust (Bt-kurstaki) or OMRI-listed Monterey Garden Insect Spray (spinosad) will kill caterpillars.
  • After the season has advanced, natural horticultural oil sprays can be used on plants showing signs of worm infestations. Multi-purpose neem oil spray is effective on various stages of the larvae as well as mites. It also prevents fungus growth. Complete coverage, including undersides of leaves and junctions with stems, is critical.
  • Use fast-acting organic insecticides if pest levels become intolerable.

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