How to Recognize, Manage, and Eradicate Cabbage Worms From Your Garden

Updated on September 11, 2018
Cabbage worms hand-picked from our kale.
Cabbage worms hand-picked from our kale. | Source

Walking up to your garden and finding that your kale and other greens have hundreds of holes in them is one of the worst feelings! You might not see anything at first and assume that it was a bug that has come and gone. But, if you look closer, you will most likely find a little, velvety, green worm. Do not be fooled by its cuteness! It is actually wreaking havoc on your garden. And chances are, if you see one, there are many more throughout. These little guys are known as cabbage worms.

Cabbage worms are very common garden pests and are usually found munching on cabbage, kale, broccoli, and several other vegetables within the cabbage family. They do a great job of blending right in to whatever vegetable they admire most in your garden, so they are actually very hard to notice at first. It is not too concerning to see a hole or two in your leaves, but if left untouched, they can completely consume entire plants in no time, leaving just a stem behind.

White cabbage moth.
White cabbage moth. | Source

Where Do Cabbage Worms Come From?

The white butterfly above may look harmless and innocent when really it is the parent of your destructive cabbage worms! When the female white caterpillar butterfly is ready to lay her eggs, she will try to find any cruciferous plants that are available (i.e. cabbage, broccoli, kale, etc.). She will then deposit her eggs on the underside of the leaves where they will eventually hatch into little baby cabbage worms two to three weeks later.

These butterflies are extremely common in the United States, and you are able to easily identify them by their white wings. We have seen so many of these white cabbage butterflies all around our garden this year. Little did we know, they were most likely laying eggs on any cruciferous vegetable it could find. We just recently found these worms on our kale, but have yet to see them on any of our cabbage or mustard!

A cabbage worm enjoying some kale.
A cabbage worm enjoying some kale. | Source

Natural Ways to Control Cabbage Worms

While there are many pesticides that could easily control cabbage worms, your best bet is to use an organic method for the safety of yourself and your plants.

  • Use a floating row cover before you even have a cabbage worm issue. Save yourself the hassle of trying to get rid of them in the first place.
  • Check your plants daily and hand-pick off any worms that you find. Make sure you destroy them so that they do not find their way back to your greens!
  • Buy some bacillus thuringiensis (BT) or diatomaceous earth. They might sound scary, but they basically paralyze and stab the insect so that it can no longer eat and will eventually die.
  • Make your own insect repellent concoction out of garlic, cayenne pepper, horseradish, onion, peppercorn, and water. They do not like this at all!

In our scenario, we did have a floating row cover, but it was not completely secure. So white cabbage moths were able to get underneath and lay eggs on the underside of our kale leaves. If you do try the floating row cover, take extra caution and make sure that there is no way any cabbage moths are able to get in near your vegetables. Unfortunately, we learned this the hard way!

The next step we are choosing to take to control our infestation is to use diatomaceous earth, simply because we have this on hand already.

Here you will see the damage caused by the cabbage worms. They will eat the entire leaf leaving the stem still intact, and then move on to the next closest leaf.
Here you will see the damage caused by the cabbage worms. They will eat the entire leaf leaving the stem still intact, and then move on to the next closest leaf. | Source

Will You Remember This Next Year?

One of the most important things we could recommend to any gardener (whether you are just beginner or a seasoned veteran) would be to keep a garden journal. We just started our garden journal this year, and we can honestly say it is going to be great to be able to look back at all of our notes when this time comes next year. This journal will give us reminders for every important technique we have used, as well as the techniques that we will never use again!

For example, it will remind us to put on our floating row cover so that we will not have an issue with cabbage worms and to also make sure that same row cover is secure enough so as to not let any cabbage moths enter to lay eggs. Trust us, it is worth it to have a little reminder so that you are able to enjoy your cruciferous greens and other delicious vegetables all season long.

The above photo illustrates the different growth stages of cabbage worms.
The above photo illustrates the different growth stages of cabbage worms. | Source

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