By Spy Uganda
Cabbage worms are one of the most common pests in the garden. Every gardener I know struggles with them! They can be sneaky, frustrating, and cause a lot of damage to plants. But I have good news: there are many easy ways to stop cabbage worms from destroying your garden, and still reap a beautiful, bountiful harvest!
Read along to learn 8 ways to get rid of cabbage worms and cabbage moths. No matter what you choose, rest assured that all 8 of these cabbage moth control options are organic.
8 Organic Ways To Prevent & Control Cabbage Worms
Here are several ways to control cabbage worms in your garden – organically!
1) Manual Removal of Cabbage Worms
Are you comfortable handling insects? I used to be a bit more squeamish, but the fact of the matter is: manually squishing or removing certain pests right when you see them is sometimes the most quick, easy and effective way to stop them in their tracks. Especially if you are only trying to manage a handful of plants! I do it all the time. This includes hand-picking cabbage worms and caterpillars from brassicas and leafy greens (which the chickens greatly appreciate, wink wink…) or squishing colonies of aphids. I also know some gardener friends that nab cabbage moths with butterfly nets and tennis rackets!
2) Row Covers
One of the best ways to keep cabbage worms from eating your plants is to prevent cabbage moths from accessing the plants at all! Mission “stop the butt-bumping”, if you will.
Individual plants, raised beds, or sections thereof can be protected with row covers, traditionally supported on hoop structures. Also called “floating row covers”, they block out pests or other undesirable elements. Some row covers are used to stop insects, while others may be used for frost protection or providing shade. We use them in our garden to prevent cabbage worm damage as well as protect tender young seedlings from wild birds.
3) Plant Purple & Red Varieties
Did you know that pests are less attracted to red and purple vegetables? They sure are! Year after year, the purple cabbage and red kale in our garden is significantly less damaged by cabbage worms and aphids than their green counterparts. One reasonable theory is that green or pale-colored pests can’t blend in and hide as easily on brightly-colored vegetables as they can on green ones. That would make them an easy target for predators.
4) Polyculture & Companion Planting to Deter Cabbage Moths
Growing a wide variety of plants creates biodiversity in your garden. This is a way to maintain balance, and also attract more beneficial insects. Additionally, variety and polyculture – the term for mixing many types of plants in one space – reduces the chances of widespread devastation by pests that are all attracted to the same crop. Meaning, it may not be the best idea to plant an entire garden bed full of just broccoli.
I also highly suggest interplanting some companion plants with your pest-prone crops. For example, brassica companion plants like thyme, dill, oregano, lavender, onions, garlic, and marigolds are said to deter cabbage moths.
5) Use Decoy Cabbage Moths
This tip is a quick one. Apparently, cabbage moths are territorial and will stay away if there are other cabbage whites around! Thus, some gardeners have success in deterring them by placing decoy or dummy white butterflies around their garden beds. The most common way to do this is to make your own. There are printable templates available online to help.
6) Beneficial Insects: Parasitic Wasps
Parasitic wasps lay their eggs inside or on top of other arthropods, including caterpillars and their pupae. Therefore, these beneficial insects can be a great tool against cabbage worms and other pest caterpillars like tomato horn worms. There are dozens of species and types, so they won’t all look like the one shown below. Once their eggs hatch, the wasp larvae feed on the host caterpillar, killing it.
7) Bacillus Thuringiensis – “Bt”
Bacillus thuringiensis, also known as Bt, is a naturally-occurring, soil-dwelling bacteria. It is a common active ingredient in organic biological pesticides. Namely, it kills caterpillars. Bt is ONLY toxic against the larvae of butterflies or moths. It makes them stop eating. Therefore, Bt is commonly used to control cabbage worms and cabbage loopers on the brassica plant family.
“Bt is a bacterium that is not toxic to humans or other mammals, but is toxic to certain insects when ingested. It works as an insecticide by producing a crystal-shaped protein (Cry toxin) that specifically kills certain insects. Bt is naturally found on leaves and in soil worldwide, and has been used commercially both in organic and conventional agriculture for over fifty years. Over two decades of review, the EPA and numerous scientific bodies have consistently found that Bt and Bt-crops are not harmful to humans.”
8) Neem Oil
Neem oil is a pant-based oil, extracted from the seeds of the India-native neem tree. Concentrated neem oil is diluted and mixed, and then sprayed onto plants for organic pest control. Neem oil is particularly effective at controlling small soft-bodied insects, like aphids, thrips, spider mites, mealybugs, scale, and white flies. When applied directly, the oil can coat their bodies and kill them – or otherwise interfere with reproduction and feeding.
Neem oil can also help repel cabbage moths, mosquitoes, and flies. Therefore, routinely spraying your garden with a neem oil solution may make your plants less attractive to pests. However, if your plant is already infested, neem oil will not typically kill cabbage worms.
That said, neem oil is last on this list of cabbage worm control options for a reason. Used in conjunction with other control methods, neem oil can help the problem – but will not likely prevent or eliminate the presence of cabbage moths entirely.
In closing, I hope you learned some new helpful tips to control cabbage worms! Again, perfection is not the goal here. Please don’t get discouraged (or feel tempted to reach for chemical pesticides) if your plants have a few blemishes. In contrast, be proud of your efforts to grow food in an organic manner!