Worms on the rise in Cabarrus

For the second year in row, hundreds of cankerworms have raided the home and trees of Cabarrus County natives Louise and Horace Weaver.

The critters have defoliated their maple and dogwood trees - some are almost completely bare - and they estimate at least a dozen other yards have been affected in the approximate 250-home Beverly Hills neighborhood near Church Street in Concord.

Cankerworms have defoliated trees in Harrisburg since 2009, but last year was the first year defoliation was seen in Concord and Kannapolis, said David Goforth, an agriculture extension agent with N.C. Cooperative Extension's Cabarrus County Center since 1986. He said he has received calls from about 50 people this season about the worms.

"We have to spread awareness to work together to band trees this November so we can decrease the number of eggs laid in the trees," said Louise Weaver. "They could spread all around Concord, and they're going to get in our parks."

Cankerworms, the caterpillars of a small native moth, prefer deciduous hardwoods, which they can strip bare. Healthy trees usually refoliate. Though rare, trees weakened by disease, drought or repeated attacks can die, said Goforth.

A large explosion of the worms hit areas of Charlotte in 2006 and 2007, and the city spent $1.1 million on an aerial spraying of Bacillus thuringiensis to fight the bugs in April 2008. The effort helped prevent widespread defoliation that year and since then.

Charlotte residents also continue to band trees with sticky material in the fall to prevent the cankerworms from crawling up the trees.

In Concord, tree banding hasn't previously been part of fall chores. That could change.

"This is the first year we felt it will be necessary to (recommend) banding," said Goforth.

"It looks bad when the trees don't have any leaves on them, but there's not going to be any death associated with healthy trees."

Three affected areas have been identified throughout Cabarrus, said Goforth. In Harrisburg, cankerworms have been found from I-85, along Pitts School Road, to south of Harrisburg near Robinson Church Road.

While the Lantern Green subdivision in Kannapolis has had a few reports, the worms are more prevalent along Irish Buffalo Creek and across U.S. 601 into south Concord. Cankerworms also are an issue from south Concord, along Three Mile Creek, and throughout the Beverly Hills subdivision, said Goforth.

Banding trees this fall will help homeowners protect trees from defoliation, Goforth said. Healthy trees are unlikely to be affected long-term, but defoliation can weaken trees that battle other challenges like drought.

"From a municipal and government standpoint, it's something we're still monitoring at this point," said Goforth.