If your strawberry plants are home to small caterpillars come spring, there's a good chance you're dealing with leafrollers. But don't panic—in many instances, these garden pests are annoying but not necessarily harmful. However, there are a number of strategies to prevent and get rid of leafrollers if they get out of hand.
How to get rid of leafrollers on strawberries
What are leafrollers?
Leafroller caterpillars are common pests in the United States. They're actually moth larvae. Adult moths lay eggs on the undersides of strawberry leaves in the spring, which then hatch and feed on the plants. As they munch, leafrollers then roll themselves up—hence the name—in silk webbing on strawberry leaves. They grow to about a half-inch long and change from green to grayish brown as they grow.
Are leafrollers on strawberries a problem?
While they may be unsightly and alarming, a few leafrollers aren't necessarily a problem. It takes a lot of leafrollers to truly damage a plant, so most gardeners just live with them. However, if roughly 20 percent or more of the leaves become infested, strawberry fruits may become deformed. Infested leaves can turn brown and die so that the entire bed takes on a brownish cast and produces fewer runners.
How do I prevent leafrollers on strawberries?
Leafroller prevention begins at the end of the season. Leafrollers spend the winter as pupae in rolled leaves or as larvae on the ground under old mulch or leaf litter, so be sure to clean up the garden each fall. Remove old mulch under plants and clear out as many rolled leaves as possible.
What should I do if I have leafrollers on strawberries?
First of all, don't panic! It takes a lot of leafrollers to cause serious damage. If you see only a handful, the easiest thing to do is just leave them alone.
However, if they start to damage 20 percent of the plant or more, or come back yearly, you can spray the leaves in the spring with an insecticide, such as Ortho® Insect, Mite & Disease 3-in-1 Ready to Use, according to label directions. The spray will work best if you apply it before the caterpillars get inside the roll and make sure to cover the undersides of the leaves where the young pests begin feeding.
Need more info and local pesticide recommendations? Contact your regional Extension agent. You can find the nearest Extension office through the Cooperative Extension System map.
While finding leafrollers is never fun, it doesn't automatically mean your strawberry plants are doomed. Whether you let them be or decide to spray, there's still a solid chance you'll be able to enjoy tasty homegrown strawberries this year.