Tree banding takes aim at pesky cankerworms

Driving through Autumnwood, you can't help notice the trees are wearing mini-skirts. That's the work of Bob Carter and an intrepid band of neighbors he has organized.

You might have seen them at work over the past couple of weeks, wrapping oaks and maples with white foam covered by a silvery band of plastic.

No, it isn't some strange art project a la Christo, an homage to Twiggy and the 1960s.

Carter is banding trees to protect them from the plague of cankerworms that hits Charlotte in the early spring.

Although outbreaks may be worse in south Charlotte and Myers Park, University City has also been hard hit in past, particularly forested areas such as Autumnwood.

In actuality, the "skirts" are a product named "Bug Barrier" with a sticky inner lining that traps cankerworm adult females, preventing them from climbing trees to lay eggs.

Carter obtained $3,000 to fund the project through the City of Charlotte's Tree Banding Neighborhood Matching Grant Program.

A veteran with 22 years of service in the Army and Navy, followed by a long career as a systems analyst, Carter had no experience working with trees.

However, after getting sick of picking webs and worms out of their hair, he and his wife Maria decided to take action in their own tree covered Autumnwood yard.

"I used something called Tanglefoot," said Carter. "It worked, but was a little difficult, especially taking the bands down was pretty messy. And you had to add more during the season."

In 2006, he learned about the city program and applied for the community's first grant. He researched his options, and decided to try Bug Barrier.

"It is very easy to put up and take down," Carter says.

He also developed an informal program to train and engage neighbors. He now has a reliable group that comes back year after year to volunteer to band their street as well as their own and neighboring yards.

In addition, any Autumnwood resident can request Bug Barrier for their trees from Carter, who cuts the amount needed and gives a demonstration on how to use it properly. When his supplies run out, he recommends local sources, and takes down the person's name for the following year.

"Trees look much nicer now than they did a few years ago, when cankerworms and drought really stressed our trees," said Carter. "It's really nice not to have to walk through the webs and pick the worms and webs out of your hair."

This year, Carter is hopeful.

"We expect a normal year this year, with some moth damage but not as bad as the worst years of five years ago. We got our banding done a little bit late this year, but we haven't yet seen the females crawling up the trunks in great numbers."

"Early January is not too late to get the bands in place," he adds. "There may be some moths that have already climbed, but you'll still catch a lot of them before they lay their eggs."

Sometimes people who are new to Charlotte ask what Carter is doing, but he has gotten no complaints.

"I get more thank yous for getting rid of the pest problems, especially once people know how messy it can be."

Carter also serves as vice president of the Autumnwood Neighborhood Association, Adjutant for American Legion Post 353 in Paw Creek, and a member of the Park and Recreation Greenway Advisory Committee.