What Pest Is Killing My Trees? | Killingsworth Environmental
  1. What Pest Is Killing My Trees?

FEBRUARY 01 2022 /

What Pest Is Killing My Trees?

Identify What Pests Are Killing Your Trees

Most of the insects and animals that inhabit your trees are harmless, and in some cases, they’re even helpful. However, there are a few pests that you need to watch out for because they can weaken and harm your trees if left unchecked. The key to saving your trees is to identify and eliminate these unwelcome tree-dwellers before they cause any real damage. Whether they’re just contributing to aesthetic damage, or they’re actually harming the trees, you’re going to want to get rid of these pests. But before you can deal with the issue, you need to figure out which ones you’re dealing with. Continue reading to learn more about common types of tree pests in the Carolinas. 


Borers are tree pests that lay their eggs between the bark of trees and their larvae eventually eat their way out, gnawing away at the wood of the trunk and branches. They often attack trees that are already under some sort of stress from factors like disease, drought, or flooding, but they speed up the demise of your tree because their presence disrupts the flow of water and nutrients. These insects are dangerous because their damage is done inside the tree, making it hard for you to know they’re even there until it’s too late. 

Common borers:

1. Ambrosia beetles
These insects are very small and dark in color. They lay eggs inside the wood of branches after burrowing their way inside and bring with them a type of fungus called ambrosia for the grubs to feed on. 
2. Southern pine beetles 
Southern pine beetles are reddish-brown insects about the size of a grain of rice. Not only do these bugs burrow their way inside your trees, but they also release chemicals called pheromones to signal to their fellow insects that this is a good place to lay eggs. 
3. Emerald ash borers
These small, green insects bore their way into trees and lay eggs that don’t hatch for one or two years, meaning they’ll call your yard home for a while. If you have ash trees then you need to look out for these, as they’re particularly harmful to those! 
4. Weevil grubs 
Weevils are small, brown insects with protruding snouts and heads with mandibles on top. Their eggs are laid inside trees and the grubs eat their way out, causing branches to wilt into the shape of a shepherd’s crook.


Defoliators eat the leaves and needles on your trees, removing tissues that contain chlorophyll — the pigment responsible for photosynthesis. Without chlorophyll, trees are unable to convert sunlight into energy, and will eventually die due to malnutrition. 

Common defoliators:

1. Fall armyworm
These are actually caterpillars, not worms, that gnaw away at leaves in both their caterpillar and moth forms. They’re about four centimeters long and brownish-yellow in color. 
2. Gypsy moths
Gypsy moths are white or cream-colored and are about one inch long. Females can’t fly, so if you see moths crawling on your trees it’s most likely one of these. They’re especially dangerous to your trees because they will completely defoliate them until there are no leaves left, making it very hard for the trees to recover. 
3. Cankerworms
Charlotte is known for its cankerworm problem — you may have seen larger trees covered with black bands around the trunk, meant to trap and kill these pests. These worms are very small, lime green in color, and can often be seen suspended from trees by their silk threads.  To learn more about tree banding, read our blog “Tree Banding: What It Is and Why You Need It”.
4. Bean leaf beetles
Bean leaf beetles look like yellow ladybugs. They prefer to munch on young plant tissue, destroying your trees before they even get a chance to grow. The best time of day to check for these insects is 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. when they are the most active. 

How to Prevent Tree-Killing Pests

Continue reading to learn about steps you can take to protect your yard from tree pests:

1. Keep your trees healthy

While these pests can significantly harm your trees, they usually have better luck attacking trees that are already sick. Borers find it easier to burrow into rotting wood, so maintaining your trees is essential to preventing unwanted invaders.  Make sure your trees are getting enough water and nutrients. Don’t be afraid to do it yourself with a hose and some organic fertilizer if it’s not raining enough or if the soil pH isn’t optimal for your trees. In addition to that, clip any dead branches off that could attract pests looking for rotting wood. 

2. Encourage beneficial insects to stay

Some bugs can take care of the pests for you by feeding on them: ladybugs, spiders, and dragonflies are notorious for eating small tree-killing insects. Try planting a few flowers or pollinated plants in your garden to attract these pest-fighting friends. 

3. Use essential oils to deter pests

Essential oils are a great alternative to pesticides for controlling pests! Using a spray bottle filled with 12 ounces of water and 15 drops of oil, you can spray the leaves on your trees to get rid of the pests invading them. There are a few different oils that should do the trick: lemongrass, peppermint, eucalyptus, tea tree, or lavender. Pick your favorite oil, mix the solution, and go to town! You can saturate the leaves and branches with this concoction until they’re dripping, so don’t skimp on the spraying.  If you’d like to learn more about using essential oils for pest control, check out our blog “How to Deter Pests Using Essential Oils”.

4. Enlist professional help

If you’re not feeling up to tackling your tree-killing pests alone, contact Killingsworth Environmental for help. We implement a comprehensive, preventative pest control plan that’s personalized just for you, environmentally friendly, and affordable. We understand that it can be overwhelming to solve these problems by yourself, so schedule an appointment with us today and let us get to the bottom of it! SCHEDULE YOUR SERVICE