Sawfly Control: How to Identify, Prevent and Get Rid of Sawflies

Sawflies can be confusing. They look like caterpillars, but truth is, they belong to the family of ants, wasps, and bees. It is most destructive during their larval stage. There are different species of this pest and they cause different damages depending on their host. The problems can range from minor to severe. Knowing how to get rid of sawflies will let you control the infestation before it becomes more serious.

When they are adults, sawflies appear like wasps. It is during their larval stage that many people assume that they are caterpillars. They have varying physical characteristics depending on the family where they belong. One of the most popular is conifer sawfly, which has a medium size. Argid sawflies, meanwhile, have a stout body. On the other hand, cimbicid sawfly has a large body with club-shaped antennae. Regardless of which family they belong, they look like caterpillars and they have false legs. The color is usually gray with white stripes or yellow spots.

Sawfly Larva

A Sawfly Larva Chew is Eating a Leaf

Sawfly’s Habitat

You can find sawflies in the garden or in the wild. Because there are many species, they thrive almost anywhere and affects a wide array of plants. In the garden, they are often feeding on the pollens of flowers. In the forest, they feed on different trees, such as pine and elm. During their egg stage, they often hide in the barks of the tree. The eggs hatch in the spring, which is why it is important to act before the season to prevent the pest from causing further damage.

Identifying Sawfly’s Damage

Plants Affected

Different species of sawflies feed on different plants. Conifer sawflies, for instance, are found in coniferous trees, such as pine and spruce. Those that belong to the Argidae family are common in birch, oak, elm, and rose bushes. On the other hand, those from the Pergidae family are pests in oak, eucalyptus, and hickory. Cimbicidae family of sawflies, meanwhile, spread damages on poplar, willow, and elm. Lastly, those belonging to the Tenthredinidae live in plum, cherry, and pear.


The following are some of the most common symptoms that should give you a hint of the presence of sawflies:

  • Like most of the pests that wreak havoc in their larval stage, one of the symptoms is the presence of holes in the leaves of the host plant. In worse cases, the larvae skeletonize the leaves, leaving only the veins.
  • Leaf gall is another common symptom you need to watch out for. There will be bumps on the surface of the leaf. Unlike other symptoms, this is less of a concern for most people. It does not pose a serious threat to the plant. Most of the damages are aesthetic.

Results of Infestation

The infestation of sawflies will depend on the concentration of the population, the specific type of the pest, and the plant where it lives, among other factors. In severe cases, the tree will suffer from defoliation. Leaves will fall and the tree will die. If the plant is resistant to the damages caused by pests, it may not instantly die, but it will suffer from delays in development.

Sawflies Damage

Defoliation by Sawflies

How to Get Rid of Sawflies

Natural and Organic Solutions

The control and elimination of sawflies are possible through natural solutions that do not pose harm beyond its target. Below are some of the solutions that work best:

  • One of the most common ways to get rid of them is through mechanical control. Handpicking is good if you have a small garden or if their population is small. For large-scale infestations, this will not work as it will be exhausting. You can also use a water spray to dislodge them from the host plant. Be sure to throw the larvae in a bucket of soapy water and not just anywhere on the ground. The soap will kill these sawflies.
  • Encouraging parasitic wasps in the garden is also a good idea. These natural predators will feed on the larvae to prevent spreading serious damage. They will lay their eggs on the larvae, and in turn, this kills the sawfly. The best way to ensure the presence of these parasites in the garden is through planting plants that produce pollen. There are also insect breeders who sell these wasps, which is an easier solution.
  • Birds are also natural predators that will help to keep the population of sawflies in check, such as hummingbirds. They will eat the larvae and will prevent infestation. However, birds are only good if there is a small population. If there is already considerable concentration, resort to other more effective solutions. The best way to attract these natural predators is to place a bird feeder near the host plants.
  • Cultivation of the soil is also an excellent solution, which works for both prevention and elimination. This is especially effective in the pupal stage. Through cultivating the ground, you are exposing the pests to natural predators. Also, the temperature can also contribute to killing the sawfly.
  • Another natural solution that yields successful outcomes is the use of diatomaceous earth. The fossils that make up the latter will paralyze the pest and will kill it. This is an excellent alternative to common pesticides because it does not contain toxic ingredients. Therefore, it harms only the target pest.

Chemical Solutions

This is a solution that works best for large-scale infestation, which is common in commercial plantations. For home gardeners, this is not a good choice, especially because it can bring more harm than good. The ingredients in these chemicals are toxic to the environment, and even for humans. They kill even the beneficial pests, and not just sawflies. Proper administration of the chemical is necessary for the highest level of success.

Among others, one of the most common active ingredients in chemical sprays is acephate. When insects consume it or when it gets in contact with their body, it turns into methamidophos, an insecticide that is stronger, and leads to their death.

How to Prevent Sawflies

If there is one preventive measure that works best, it is improving the health of the plant, especially in the garden. Watering at the right frequency and fertilizing will help to improve the defense of the plant against the damages from sawflies. When they are healthy, they are not as susceptible to damages.

Proper site selection is also effective in the prevention of their presence. Choose a strategic position of the plant, making sure that it will not be prone to sawflies. To add, you should also pay attention to the proper selection of plants. Choose species or cultivars that are resistant to this pest.

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