Caterpillars are covering my backyard in January. They are about 1 1/2 inches long and 3/8 inch in diameter with a brown back, yellowish belly and yellow side stripe with black dashes. Next door are two vacant fields that get mown twice a year. The caterpillars were active in late fall and during some warm weather in December, too. What are they?
Your caterpillars are probably cutworms, larvae of the large, yellow underwing moth, Noctua pronuba. The adjoining grassy fields are their habitat. These cutworms are commonly active during thaws in winter and can even be seen moving side by side in snow, inching into garages or along sidewalks. They are a truly unusual sight, but they're not a problem.
How can I get my pansies to bloom? The plants look healthy otherwise.
If they are in deep shade, move them to more light. Make sure they have adequate moisture. If they are setting buds but the buds are disappearing, rabbits may be the culprits. Try planting your pansies in containers next year to discourage nibbling by rabbits.
Cover statuary, fountains and other concrete or plastic pond or yard features with plastic to prevent snow and ice damage. Bring pond pumps and filters indoors.
Provide protective cover for birds by spreading evergreen boughs and other holiday greenery in garden beds. The dead top growth of perennials and ornamental grasses also serves as hiding places for birds through the winter.
Ellen Nibali, horticulture consultant, works at Maryland Cooperative Extension's Home and Garden Information Center, and David Clement is the regional specialist. The center offers Maryland residents free gardening information. Call the center's "hotline" at 800-342-2507 or e-mail plant and pest questions through the Send a Question feature at hgic.umd.edu.