Description: Adult female is a creamy white moth; male brownish moth. Larvae are black hairy caterpillars with five pairs of blue spots and six pairs of red spots on back. Egg masses are buff-colored
Where: Throughout Northeastern U.S.; isolated elsewhere. Egg cases are laid everywhere. Larvae feed on the foliage of shade trees
Damage: They defoliate trees by chewing leaves; oaks are a favorite
Controls: Handpick and destroy egg masses; spray B.t. when larvae are young
A number of different "organic" and "natural" pesticides are available. But keep in mind that organic products aren't always the least toxic. For instance, nicotine sulfate (Nico soap), a tobacco-derived insecticide, is five times more toxic than carbaryl (Sevin), a common chemical pesticide. In IPM, applying any kind of pesticide is the last resort.
Pesticides made from plants.
The most common is azadiractin (neem, BioNeem). Most are only moderately toxic and break down relatively quickly, though they can cause unwanted damage. For example, neem is useful because it kills a wide range of insect pests, including aphids, whiteflies, mites and fungi, but it also kills beneficial insects, such as bees. Don't apply it to blooming plants while bees are active. In addition to killing them, neem repels bugs, preventing reinfestation.
Insecticidal soap. Common examples are M-Pede and Safer Insecticidal Soap. The soap kills a number of soft-bodied insects, such as aphids and mites. Because the soap works on contact, it must be sprayed directly onto the pest. You can buy insecticidal soap in a ready-to-spray form or as a concentrate; hard water reduces the effectiveness of the soap. Don't substitute household liquid soaps for insecticidal soap because they can damage plants.
Horticultural oils. These oils have long been used to control pests on dormant woody plants. Now, you can get the desired smothering effect of oil during summer growing season by using highly refined summer oils (Sunspray Ultra-Fine Oil) or non-petroleum-based insecticidal oils (Natur'l Oil, Oil-Away). These oils control aphids, beetles, mites, scales, lace bugs and mealybugs.
Also consider these additional products:
Garlic Barrier repels insects but doesn't kill them. It must be applied frequently, before bugs arrive in your garden.
Sulfur is useful to control fungal diseases and suppress mites. It's sold in a concentrated liquid or powder form.
A new mineral product, iron phosphate (Escar-Go, Sluggo) is made into a bait for snails and slugs. The pests stop eating several days after taking the bait, and soon die. The product is safe for use around pets and wildlife.
Remember, the presence of pests in your yard doesn't mean they'll destroy your plants. The key is to keep pest numbers down. Start with healthy plants and good gardening practices and you'll have success without waging chemical warfare.