Natural Ways To Control Cabbage Worms

The cabbage worm

The Cabbage Destroyer-AKA, Cabbage Worm

Harvesting and enjoying the fruit of one’s labor is such a rewarding and satisfying feeling every gardener growing their own food should experience. We browse through colorful seed catalogues all winter long, strategically planning what to plant, and where to plant it all.  We can’t wait to start eating fresh salad’s every night picked right from the garden.  There’s nothing like taking a nice stroll through the garden, picking a little of this and a little of that, preparing a delicious, healthy and very affordable meal for you and your family to enjoy. 

There is no greater frustration and feeling of defeat when with those expectations arriving to your little oasis of food, to find that someone has already helped them self to a meal.  Many of us will put up fences and scarecrows to guard our precious crops from deer, rabbits, birds, and other animals alike, however there are even much smaller intruders that can do just as much damage, and they are those little critters we call bugs, worms, insects, Garden Destroyers!  Well not all of them are bad; some are actually very handy to have around to get rid of the bad ones.  One particular bad one that is known for destroying many crops of cabbage, kale, and broccoli, is the cabbage worm.

Cabbage Worms are known to attack these plants hard!

· Brussels sprout

· Broccoli

· Collards

· Kale

· Kohlrabi

· Cauliflower

· Turnips

· Radishes

· Mustard Greens

· Rutabaga

Where did the cabbage worm come from?

The cabbage worm came from Europe and is believed to have arrived in Massachusetts about 1869, which then quickly spread throughout the rest of the United States. Members of the cabbage or mustard family are its main targets; however cabbage worms are also known to feed on nasturtium, sweet alyssum and lettuce. The cabbage worm is the larval form of the cabbage white butterfly, which its appearance is white with specs of three to four black spots on each wing. These pretty white butterflies lay little yellow eggs on the underside of leaves. Within a week’s time these eggs hatch little green caterpillars that immediately start munching away on your precious kale, cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower, leaving ragged holes in the leaves. They will continue feeding for 2-3 weeks, and then pupate, having between three to six generations in one season. If you haven’t noticed any damage to your plants, but see these little white butterflies flying around, start taking action! Make sure to check the underside of the leaves. This is where they like to lay those eggs, and even when they become worms they are so hard to see, they blend in so perfectly.

Controlling Cabbage Worms

Natural ways to control cabbage worms

You might be asking well how do I get rid of these cabbage worms, in a way that is safe and effective. If you are growing food you most likely do not want to be dumping chemicals on your food to get rid of the bugs right, we want to keep it as organic as possible. Well there are several methods you can do to control cabbage worms safely.

1. Plant tomatoes, onions, garlic and sage, and rosemary near your cabbage, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, and lettuce. These plants are known to deter cabbage worms, plus cabbage worms have other enemies beside you and me, there are plenty of other insects you can attract to the garden that attack these worms such as various spiders, ground beetles, yellow jackets and wasp. The braconid wasp will prey on these worms all day long, and is drawn to strawberries. So perhaps planting some strawberries would be a nice plant to have nearby as well.

2. Incorporate crop rotation of brassica plants will help lower future populations. Also be sure to remove old and dead plants from the garden. The worm will over-winter in the pupa stage attached to host plant debris such as this. Tilling the soil several times between planting will help destroy the eggs and pupa as well.

3. Hand picking them off will slow them down, but if you have infestations of them like I did on my kale last season you will never win.

4. You could cover your plants with light weight nylon so that the butterflies cannot lay their eggs on the plants leaves.

5. There are many sprays available on the market, but you should avoid using many of these insecticides for several reasons one the cabbage worm is known to build resistance to these chemicals and two, do you really want insecticides sprayed on your food? There are some natural and organic applications. I read that sprinkling cornmeal, rye flower or a mixture or 1 part salt to 2 part flour on damp leaves will kill the worms. After they eat they will bloat and die.

6. An organic spray that is very popular amongst many growers is BT, (Bacillus thuringiensis). BT is a natural bacterium in the genus Bacillus, and has been used as an insecticide for over 50 years which has been proven to be very safe for the environment and humans.

Remember to check underneath the leaves!

Remember to always check and spray underneath the plants leaves. There were so many occasions when I thought I had all of them removed, until turning a few leaves over. They blend in so well! If you see the white butterfly flying over your crops, take immediate actions, and start inspecting your plants and try to prevent any future infestations.

Chances are if you're reading this article you most likely are a gardener, and have experienced a few run-ins with these guys. I am curious to know of some more natural ways to get rid and prevent these worms. I lost nearly my entire crop of kale last year to these cabbage worms and want to avoid that as much as possible this year. Please share with me if you have any experience in dealing with the cabbage worms by leaving a comment below. Thanks, and may we all have a great growing season!

Comments 44 comments

Darlene Sabella profile image

Darlene Sabella 5 years ago from Hello, my name is Toast and Jam, I live in the forest with my dog named Sam ...

Wow, I never even knew about this gross worms, and I love cabbage, I think I will boil a few more minutes. This is such a wise hub, full of fact for great research. Love this hub and I rate you up up love & peace darski

cheapsk8chick profile image

cheapsk8chick 5 years ago

These worms are so disgusting! I had no idea what they were and they infested my broccoli three years ago. I would wash and wash, and still some would be in there when I cooked my broccoli! The only way I found to get rid of them was by spraying the plants with a mixture of water and Murphy's Oil Soap. I still had a few plants that the spray did not help at all, but it did keep the butterflies from laying eggs and the worms from coming over to the other plants. Great hub, I never did know what those things were called! (We called them "those disgusting dang green worms!)

rpalulis profile image

rpalulis 5 years ago from NY Author

Darlene, yeah these worms are gross, nothing like breaking off a piece of broccoli or Kale for a quick snack to notice these green cabbage worms munching away.

Cheapsk8chick, yep disgusting is right! I like what you call them better,"those disgusting dang green worms!) I had forgot about the Murphy's oil soap spray, I did try that as well last year too and it did seem to help a little, but my kale was so infested. This year is going to be an all out WAR! Thanks for sharing

Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 5 years ago from United States

Those worms do look gross. I haven't grown any cabbage but anything I try to grow in FL seems to get some time of insect. Our citrus trees are our one true organic crop. Thanks for an interesting hub.

rpalulis profile image

rpalulis 5 years ago from NY Author

Thanks Pamela, yes gardening can have it's many challenges insects being one of them. Hopefully you will never have to encounter these cabbage worms. I sometime wish I had your growing season though would love to have citrus trees growing.

prasetio30 profile image

prasetio30 5 years ago from malang-indonesia

Good information, my friend. I know the worm always annoying the plant and made the farmer frustrated. But this is naturally happen to vegetables. Tanks for share this tips. Very useful and informative. I'll show this to my father. He love gardening too. He is planting a mustard and lettuce. Vote up.

Love and peace,

rpalulis profile image

rpalulis 5 years ago from NY Author

Thanks prasetio30 your right things like cabbage worms do naturally feast on vegetables, it just really stinks when they take out your entire crop. Thanks for the vote!

MartieCoetser profile image

MartieCoetser 5 years ago from South Africa

Yuk, what an ugly, grisly worm! Do you know what is worse than finding a worm in a fruit you are eating? = Finding half a worm.

So it is cabbage worms munching my alyssum?

I kill worms and crickets ‘manually’ after I’ve drawn them out of their hiding places (mostly in the lawn) with soap water. I use liquid soap for dishes or even powder soap for laundry – not too much. When I have a plague I use the draining water of the washing machine... not too much and only once a week. Some plants don’t like this.

I’ve killed (accidentally in ignorance) my Gardenia thunbergia – a South African shrub bearing large, fragrant, white flowers – with (used) coffee grounds. Well, at least now I know I can use coffee as a weed killer. Gardenia wants peat, and used tea bags, so I guess the coffee was poison.

Thanks for this hub. Now I am really in the mood for gardening.

rpalulis profile image

rpalulis 5 years ago from NY Author

Martie! Thanks so much for sharing your tips on eliminating these unwanted guest. And yes finding a half a worm is definitely worse than finding a whole one in your fruit. I would love to see the Gardenia thunbergia in full bloom, sounds like a beautiful shrub.

I too am so ready for the gardening season, I have already started all my seeds and am contemplating whether or not I want to put up another greenhouse this year.

So glad you enjoyed this hub on the cabbage worm, I always look forward to your comments.

Take care Martie hope your having a blessed day!

katiem2 profile image

katiem2 5 years ago from I'm outta here

Thank you so much for the helpful and best of all naturals ways to control cabbage worms. I'm getting all set to garden. Appreciate your gardening and natural pest control tips! :) Katie

rpalulis profile image

rpalulis 5 years ago from NY Author

Thanks Katie! I hope that I do not have a cabbage worm problem like I did last year, I literally picked off hundreds of these things off my Kale.

I too cannot wait to garden, I sowed some more seeds today, Rosemary and started the tomatoes already! My parsley, celery, basil, and peppers are already doing very well, so excited can't wait!

Granny's House profile image

Granny's House 5 years ago from Older and Hopefully Wiser Time

I have never got worms, but this will be helpful if I do. Thank you for sharing

rpalulis profile image

rpalulis 5 years ago from NY Author

Granny's House, so glad you have found this hub to be helpful, I hope that you never have to encounter an infestation of cabbage worm.

Darlene Sabella profile image

Darlene Sabella 5 years ago from Hello, my name is Toast and Jam, I live in the forest with my dog named Sam ...

I had to come back to see this hub on Natural Ways To Control Cabbage Worms, this is so fascinating to me, really great job...rate up love & peace darski

rpalulis profile image

rpalulis 5 years ago from NY Author

Thanks Darlene Hopefully you only see these cabbage worms here on this hub and not on your food- gross!

kipronor profile image

kipronor 5 years ago from Nairobi

This one is amazing hub, if i plant other species of plants around my Cabbage the deter off the worms, Tomato plant particularly have very strong smell.

I will see this and try to practice some of these tricks.

Sally 4 years ago

I am particularly wanting to grow brocolli and as many othersm found the leaves almost skeletonised by the green caterpillar and consequently seen the white butterfly hovering around. I put together a concoction of cayeene pepper, normal white or black pepper, garlic I think too and laundry washing powder. There could be other ingredients and I will try to get it again but I've noticed that the white butterfly hovered but didn't land on the brocolli after I'd used it. Of course you need to keep this up front and back of the leaves and after rain too. I'll endeavour to get the proper recipe and post it.

rpalulis profile image

rpalulis 4 years ago from NY Author

Thanks Sally keep us posted

I also found that though not the most attractive approach but using netting or very light duty row cover like the agribon that Johnny's Select seed sell works very well keeping the white butterflies off and works great for protected your arugula from those nasty flea beetles.

rbm profile image

rbm 4 years ago

Good information, thanks! My husband and I have become big fans of floating row covers as well, and found it keeps the slugs and snails off our new vegetable starts. If it also helps to keep the cabbage white butterfly from laying its eggs, then there's one more reason to use it! :)

sadie423 profile image

sadie423 4 years ago from North Carolina

We've had trouble over the years with these caterpillars, usually I just plant as early as possible and get my main crop of broccoli picked before they really come out to destroy the plants. One year we just gave up on them and just started bring them in to watch their lifecycle instead- my kids loved that. I read once that you can sprinkle cornmeal on the plants in the morning and they ingest it and swell and die. I never tried it...

Denise 4 years ago

I am trying green palmolive dish soap, the worms seem to move faster so you can see them. habe been trying to kill everyone, squish, slat, yuk! Thanks for the hub!

KB 4 years ago

I've found these guys eating my basil like chain-saws through the forest. They are eating basil plants that grew up from seedlings in a pot from last year. The fresh plant in the pot next to them is completely clean. Must have had one of those white butterflies pay a visit at the end of last season

I brought two of them inside to see what they morph into (now I know) and they plow through basil leaves in nothing flat.

rpalulis profile image

rpalulis 4 years ago from NY Author

Sadie423- Sorry to hear of your defeat but at least your kids got a cool science experiment out of it, lol!

Denise- wishing you the very best with the palm olive dish soap, keep on squishing those nasty cabbage worms.

KB- So the cabbage worms got your basil- That just ain't right! I tell ya these bugs have no respect.

My basil usually gets attacked by aphids, but this year I ordered lady bugs, like 4000 lady bugs and released them in my greenhouse, high tunnel and problem spots out in the field. I hope they eat every last one of them.

Thanks everyone for contributing to this hub on cabbage worms by commenting. May you all have a great growing season this year!


Krista 4 years ago

My organic veggie man told me to put the worms in the blender, and then spray it back on the plants, as they apparently won't eat it. the other thing was water, molasses and soap. I have not tried either but it's worth researching.

rpalulis profile image

rpalulis 4 years ago from NY Author


Wow putting the worms in the blender sounds wonderful, and would be worth researching. Let us know if you do try what the results are. Thanks for sharing.


Yvonne 4 years ago

I planted strawberries, onions, tomatoes, and garlic near my broccoli, and brussel sprouts but, still have a large infestation of the cabbage worms. I did try a mixture of grinding up hot peppers and water mix but it didn't seem to help. I soaked my crop in salt water for 1/2 hour but still found small pin size worms. I boiled the heads in bath but still the worms clung to my beautiful crop. Frustrated and ready to try anything...

rpalulis profile image

rpalulis 4 years ago from NY Author


I still recommend covering your crop with floating row covers. This has seemed to work best for me. It keeps the little white moths from landing on your crop and laying their eggs which is where the little green worms come from.

The fabric is not the prettiest things to look at in the garden but it does keep pest and insects off precious crops.

mark 4 years ago

im trying white vinegar in windex..... smells great

GirlMeetsBug 4 years ago

Annoying as they are, they are probably edible, and likely very tasty fried up with the remains of the greens!

rpalulis profile image

rpalulis 4 years ago from NY Author

Yes, if they leave any greens left for you.

Miles 4 years ago

I use eucalyptus soap and water solution, and it works well. (Tea tree soap works too).

4 years ago

yeah lets good

bje117 profile image

bje117 2 years ago

Onions and garlic and rosemary and chives do not stop them. I have them planted less than six inches away and they still get them. Will have to try the dishwater soap trick as Murphy's oil on older leaves would probably make them taste awful!!! Might work on the young plants though. I also have aphids appearing after multiple rains. Will also try to mulch the ground better and see if that helps, it did help with the tomato blight and wonder if putting sand on the top layer would help? It is frustrating to come out one day and see your plants stripped bare or full of holes! Interesting article. Thanks!

Snow babe 2 years ago

These worms are the worst, I have them on one of my flower buckets, they have severely set the plant back. I used spray and washed them with spray novel, got about 40 of them ewwwwww! I waited about 10 days and found a dozen more and eggs. Grrrr. They worst part... I put them in a mason jar to check em out - they ate them selves

rpalulis profile image

rpalulis 2 years ago from NY Author

That is gross that they ate themselves!

william 2 years ago

I go down to the garden early in the morning with a sifter full of organic flour and gently dust each plant and leaves with the flour. It chokes the oxygen from eggs so they do not develop into worms. I do this as soon as I see the butterflies drifting around the garden and yard. Also a mixture of organic soap and water - 1 tablespoon soap to a gallon of water - in my sprayer and I gently spray the undersides of the plants. you can spray the tops but do not do this in the heat of the day. The nice thing about both of these practices is they are cheap, have no residue and do wash off in a rain. If it rains you just start over! Hope this helps.

jackie v. 2 years ago

I'm a novice gardener. It's a fun project for my husband and me. However, we hate seeing our young plants being eaten by an insect. Our collards have tiny holes in the leaves, and our broccoli leaves are just about gone. What can I put on them to save my garden so that I can look forward to getting better and better at this.

2 years ago

Hello.. I mixed palmolive dishwashing soap and water to spray my Kale, and it worked. I had to spray every other day in the afternoon. this year I found Fit organic vegetable soap and tried it. Its keeping worms out of my kale and lettuce. Thanks guys for the info...

kay kotsifas 12 months ago

they have devoured my kale. also ate all the leaves on my tomato plants and now have eaten into my green tomatoes and have made holes in all the other tomatoes! will they come back from the soil next year or does the white butterfly have to lay eggs on leaves. larvae live in soil during winter?

Ted 3 months ago

I have an infestation in my gooseberry bush. They return every year and I have tried everything. I refuse to cut the bush and they have now become my " mission"

Jim 2 months ago

I have garlic plants but rarely harvest them. This year I dug up several cloves and dried them. I wasn't sure that I dug them at the right time and dried them the proper way for eating. I decided to slice some of them and toss around the garden. I use to kill every one I saw but two or three would come to the funeral. I would kill two or three every day. However, since I started slicing the garlic and spreading it around the garden, I rarely ever see one. I didn't give it much thought until I read some of these comments. My daughter texted me this morning with her kale problems and I began to search for a solution. Thanks for this site.

Greg 2 months ago

The recommendation to sprinkle 1 part salt with 2 parts flour will kill your plants.

Sad that my plants are gone 2 months ago

I also used the 1 part salt and 2 parts flour mix yesterday, and it killed half of my crop. The worms seemed to love it though and ate a lot of leaves, but I only found 2 dead worms. Definitely not worth it.

SReally 8 weeks ago

I plant several rows of radishes 2 to 3 weeks apart. I harvest some and let some bloom. The white butterflies love to land on the flowers, the fly swatter is a great weapon. Never thought of a net but will try that. One day, I got over 20 in less than an hour. Really put a dent in the population!

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