Garden Q&A: Name this green caterpillar

For The Baltimore Sun

A friend took this picture in a parking lot. The caterpillar is about three inches long and grabbed hold of the pavement tightly when my friend tried to move it. Can you identify it?

If you wondered whether fall was unusually mild, this caterpillar is exhibit A. It waited until well after Thanksgiving to get around to preparing for winter. Now it is zeroed in on finding a sheltered place to spin its cocoon and pupate ahead of winter cold. This huge green caterpillar—sometimes shockingly fluorescent—will metamorphosize into a polyphemus moth, also huge. The 4-6” brown wings are marked with two big eye spots ringed in black. It feeds on many shrubs and trees, though is not a pest. Cocoons are spun in leaf litter or on a food plant where they may fall off or overwinter in place. If you listened closely, you might have heard it make a snapping sound with its mandibles, though why it does so is still a mystery.

My fig tree has now been frostbitten. All the leaves are drooping. May I prune it? I will not be here in March to prune it before it buds.

Usually figs are pruned in April to remove winter-injured wood, but they can be pruned when they go dormant after the first fall freeze. Just don’t prune before dormancy, which can stimulate new, tender growth vulnerable to winter kill. Dead fig leaves may hang on for months, even though the fig is entirely dormant. Our new HGIC blog ‘Maryland Grows’ has a recent blogpost which is helpful for pruning figs.

University of Maryland Extension’s Home and Garden Information Center offers free gardening and pest information at extension.umd.edu/hgic. Click “Ask Maryland’s Gardening Experts” to send questions and photos.

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