Armyworms and any old gourd will do

Published 12:00 am Sunday, August 24, 2014

It was a good week because I received two different suggestions for today’s topic. The two don’t match up, but what the heck. So it’s both armyworms and a gourd festival today.
A real entomologist told me he has spotted a lot of armyworm moths flying around. He said folks need to be aware of a potential worm infestation soon. You see, we amateur “insectists” don’t notice moths much. Most are not pretty like butterflies. It’s only if and when moth larva, i.e. caterpillars, start chomping on something of ours that we want to know what to call it and how to get rid of it. But entomology pros recognize various species of dull-looking moths and even know their Latin names.
The moth species in question is the adult of the fall armyworm. This is a common species that comes and goes over the years. We have had some heavy armyworm years followed by years of few or none. It’s about this time of year or a tad earlier that armyworm moths fly in from further south and lay eggs, usually on some type of grass. The grasses are their choice of food, though they can be a nuisance in some vegetables and cotton. Our grass areas that armyworms sometimes damage are pastures and hayfields, turf grass such as athletic fields and golf courses, and home lawns. And the better the grass is cared for, the more likely the worms are to appear. Fertilized and watered lush grass is their top choice. They do show up in large numbers, like an army. Each caterpillar eats its way to about one and half inches long before pupating. The body color is some shade of brown or green or bordering on black with narrow yellow stripes running the length of the critter. The real telltale sign of a fall armyworm is a marking on its face. There is a whitish inverted “Y” right smack between the eyes.
With armyworms infestations in lawns, the decision is to whether to leave them be or treat the lawn. Birds are a nice asset for armyworm control. But extensive grass-feeding by the caterpillars can seriously hurt or even kill lawn grass. So when worms keep eating grass nearly down to the ground, an insecticide treatment could be needed. There are quite a few newer insecticide products for armyworm control as well as the old standby Sevin and the organic Bt.
Switching to the gourds, a reader is passing on information about the 5th annual Mississippi Gourd Festival. I didn’t know there was such a thing, but there is September 21 and 22 down at the Raleigh, Mississippi Ag Complex. The brochure indicates the impetus of the festival is on the art side of gourds more than growing gourds. There are classes scheduled on painting and making stuff with gourds. Check it out at
I grow some gourds each year. They are easy to grow, with hardly any bugs or fungi, and the deer fence makes a perfect trellis.

Terry Rector writes for the Warren County Soil and Water Conservation District, 601-636-7679 ext. 3.

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