New caterpillars in Northamptonshire by Nick Turrell 

 I t was just a matter of time before the box tree moth caterpillar found its way from the SouthEast to the Midlands. I saw my fi rst one a few weeks ago. If only it was just one… I picked at least 20 caterpillars from one small plant.

This is a problem for anyone who grows box plants in their garden. These caterpillars can completely decimate the plants; Ham House in South-West London lost some of its well-loved ancient box hedges, and because it’s a new insect to this country, the native wildlife doesn’t know what to do with it yet. While I was picking them off, I placed a few on a piece of stone to see if any birds came along to eat them. First up was my friendly robin, who at least killed it by trying it out, but it obviously didn’t like the taste because it didn’t carry it off to its nest. Anecdotal evidence, however, suggests that jackdaws, blue tits, spiders and ants will eat them.

The RHS advises picking them off by hand, but they are so numerous this isn’t always possible. There are a few chemical sprays available, but these should be seen as a last resort. You could also try pheromone traps to prevent the adult moths laying eggs next year.

While the native wildlife works out what to do with them it might be worth growing box plant alternatives like Ilex crenata ‘Dark Green’ or Lonicera nitida.

If you’d like a friendly garden doctor to help you make informed decisions email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Nick has worked as the TV garden presenter with Jane Asher on BBC 1 and with Steve Wright in the Afternoon on BBC Radio 2. He is an award-winning gardening journalist and BBC Radio broadcaster. His work appears in The Sunday Times, The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph and The RHS magazine. You can hear him live on-air on BBC Radio Leicester every weekend.