How to Get Rid of Oak Tree Caterpillars

How to Get Rid of Oak Tree Caterpillars

Did you know oak is the national tree for more than 10 countries?

Unfortunately, some pests are quite fond of oak trees, too. In spring and summer, hungry caterpillars can’t get enough of oak tree leaves.

The good news is oak trees are notably resilient, but they do need a little help to fight infestations. Read on to identify which type of caterpillar is eating your oak tree and how to control them.

What to Do If Caterpillar Pests Are Eating Oak Tree Leaves

Look at the caterpillars on your oak tree and observe the leaves as well. Then, try to determine which one is eating your tree–and learn how to stop them!

Oakworm caterpillar

  • How it looks: When young, an oakworm caterpillar is a hairless critter with a big head and a small, yellow-green body. As the pest matures, it turns black.
  • What it does: In spring, oakworms feed on newly sprouted leaves. Groups of these insects devour leaves down to their veins. Sometimes, they completely consume foliage by summertime.
  • When and how to treat: Stop oakworms early on to guarantee a healthy summer canopy. Apply a product that contains Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), a bio-pesticide, on a sunny spring day when caterpillars are active.

Yellownecked caterpillar

  • How it looks: True to its name, this caterpillar is yellow with black stripes.
  • What it does: Between late summer and early fall, clusters of yellowneck caterpillars skeletonize leaves. They chomp away one section at a time, so you’ll notice full branches lacking greenery.
  • When and how to treat: You can easily eliminate the pest on small trees by shaking them off. For larger trees, or a more serious infestation, use a product that contains Bt.

Tent caterpillar

  • How it looks: It’s a hairy pest with a reddish-brown body and small head.
  • What it does: Tent caterpillars start chewing up foliage early in spring. They also weave a silky, spider-like web that makes for an unsightly appearance.
  • When and how to treat: Wait until winter to clip and destroy the silky webs, or stop the caterpillars by adding a tree band in early spring.


  • How it looks: This is a small caterpillar with a dark head and green or brown body.
  • What it does: Like tent caterpillars, these pests spin silk webs, but they use the webs to tie leaves into a safe feeding area. Over time, leafrollers can defoliate an entire tree.
  • When and how to treat: For small infestations, cut leaves that have leafroller webs. Check back in a week or so to see if new webs have formed, and if so, try treating with Bt.

Want an expert to rid your oak tree of worms or caterpillars? Click here to set up a free consultation.

  • The Tree Doctor September 4, 2018 > Hi Norman, A healthy deciduous tree can usually bounce back from a major defoliation without serious harm. Weak trees may show some partial dieback the following year. It’s all a matter of stored reserves. You may see some new foliage form this year depending on the severity of the defoliation and the resources available to the tree. Otherwise, you will have to wait till next spring to see how the tree responds. A mild fertilization may be beneficial this fall, as well as watering if necessary. I would have a certified arborist come out and take a look to be on the safe side. Unfortunately, Dave Tree does not service your area based on the zip code provided. Here is a resource that can help you with hiring a certified arborist, if you decide to go that route: Best of luck to you, Norman.
  • norman macartney September 1, 2018 >My oak is perhaps a black (not water, willow, red, white) and a species of caterpillar has about defoliated it. The defoliation began in mid-summer. Will this defoliation kill the tree? It's established and about 12 feet tall. I live on the coast of North Carolina. Thank you.
  • The Tree Doctor August 28, 2018 >Hi Diane, I would recommend having a certified arborist come out and take look at that tree. They may be able to devise a plan that will stop the caterpillar damage. You can request a free consultation by calling your local Davey Tree office directly at (919) 747-3266 or fill out a consultation request form on their local webpage here: Best of luck to you, Diane.
  • Diane vonGerichten August 24, 2018 >caterpillars are stripping my large oak tree. It is too big for me to spray
  • The Tree Doctor June 14, 2018 >Hi Lindsay, It sounds like you possibly have a gypsy moth caterpillar issue. The size of your tree will likely require professional help. I recommend you contact a certified arborist in your area. He or she can look at your tree and provide an accurate diagnosis and management options. I can forward your information and issue you described to your local office if you want me to. You can also contact your local office directly at (781) 489-3210. Your local office is our sister company Hartney Greymont. You can also fill out a quick form for a free consultation on their local webpage here: Best of luck to you. Here if you have any more questions, Lindsay.
  • Lindsay Albert June 14, 2018 >What if my Oak tree is very large? Too tall for me to clip or spray the leaves? There are so many caterpillars eating my oak, their droppings sounds like it’s raining - over my new car in the driveway - help! Fuzzy brown haired caterpillars, but I don’t see any “silk”
  • The Tree Doctor May 30, 2018 >Hi Inaam, I recommend that you contact a certified arborist and have them come out and take a look at your vine. They will be able to inspect it in person and give you an accurate diagnosis. Unfortunately, Davey Tree does not service your area. Here is a resource that should help you with hiring a certified arborist or reputable tree service company: Best of luck to you! Here if you have any more questions, Inaam.
  • Inaam Bejjani May 29, 2018 >I have a grape vine in my front yard. The leaves are eaten, amd i s lol see a lot of broken branches on the ground.
  • The Tree Doctor May 2, 2018 >Hi Tom, This pest typically has two generations in northern California. Evergreen oaks are more susceptible to first-generation damage because the caterpillars overwinter as young larvae on the lower leaf surface. First generation damage on live oaks occurs around mid-May to early June. Treat in early May when caterpillars are first observed to minimize injury. Second generation caterpillars cause injury in late July through September depending on location and temperature fluctuations. More information can be found by visiting your local state extension service website. Hopefully, this helps! Here if you have any more questions, Tom.
  • Tom Hlasny May 1, 2018 >when I best time to Get Rid of Oak Tree Caterpillars
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