Cabbage worms are garden pests infamous for the damage they cause. They eat up different plant parts, including the stems, leaves, and flower buds of their favourite plants. Usually, they attack the entire cabbage family. If you grow any members of this family in your garden, you must know how best to protect them.
This article contains all you should know about cabbage worms, including how to control them using organic methods. Read till the end so you’re equipped with the necessary information.
The Cabbage worm
This small creature is commonly called imported cabbage worm. It is a native European pest, but you’ll also find it in North America. Adult butterflies are usually seen in most gardens. They are white having wings 1.0 – 1.5 inches wide. The female butterflies have a black spot on each of their forewings and the males have just one.
Cabbage worm larvae are caterpillars. They aren’t easy to spot as they usually stay underneath leaves and this cover shields them from being found out. As the caterpillars mature, they develop a yellow stipe in their mid-back area. This stripe will help you differentiate cabbage worms from other caterpillars.
Potential host plants of cabbage worms
Female cabbage worms prefer to lay their eggs on plants that belong to the cabbage or mustard family and these include cabbage, kale, cauliflower, Brussels sprout, and broccoli. If you have any of these plants in your garden, you’ll most likely have to deal with imported cabbage worms.
Few signs point to an attack by cabbage worms. You’ll notice holes in your plant flowers or leaves; sometimes they’ll leave just the leaf skeleton. Also, their dark pellet-shaped excrement known as frass is an indicator that they’ve been active in your garden.
While the havoc caused by cabbage worms might seem similar to what a slug would do. The presence of their caterpillars and frass should help you identify the real culprit.
Let’s discuss organic ways to control this pest.
Biological methods to control cabbage worms
Don’t be in a haste to obliterate these little creatures. I know they haven’t been so nice to your plants. However, they are a natural food source for other wildlife, including useful insects and birds. It’s all the circle of life. Chickadees for instance are natural predators of cabbage worms.
If these birds visit your garden regularly, cabbage worm infestation wouldn’t be a problem.
Make your garden an attractive sight to beneficial insects and birds and they’ll surely help you with some of your pest problems. Instead of opting for harsh chemicals that will harm other beneficial wildlife in your garden, allow nature to take its course by introducing these helpful creatures into your garden.
The Robberfly is another example of a predator that feasts on cabbage worms.
Different beneficial insects found in the garden will feed on caterpillars of cabbage worms. Robberflies will also feast on adult butterflies. Other insects such as paper wasps and bugs will get cabbage worms off your plants. Paper wasps take cabbage worm caterpillar to their nests on treetops to feed their larvae.
The presence of these beneficial insects in your garden is a natural solution to cabbage worms. They’ll also feast on caterpillars of other pests.
We can’t talk about pest predators without mentioning the spider.
This insect also has a thing for cabbage worms. Different species of spiders usually roam through gardens when it’s dark in search of food. If you’re curious enough to come out at night, you’ll probably witness a spider in action. They find on different plant pests, including cabbage worms, larvae of asparagus beetle, and Colorado potato beetle.
How paper wasps control pest
You’ll find thousands of caterpillars in a paper wasp’s nest. These caterpillars serve as a meal for their larvae. The paper wasp will take caterpillars off garden plants like cabbage and transport them to its nest where they’ll be eaten by developing wasps.
What can you do to attract useful insects?
You’re now aware that some insects are predators of cabbage worms, but how do you lure them into your garden? If you want to take advantage of these natural pest predators, you need to plant some flowering herbs among your vegetables in your garden.
Flowering plants, including cilantro, thyme, oregano, dill, sweet, alyssum, fennel, and others are beneficial. They’ll attract useful insects to your garden. Also, they can mask potential host plants from mature cabbage worms. This will reduce the laying of eggs on your plants and invariably, their population.
Physical control method
There are a few physical methods you can implement to protect your plants from cabbage worms. Cover young plants with floating row covers to protect them from adults in search of where to lay their eggs. The row covers should be used right after planting is over. Leave enough room for the plants to grow comfortably. Members of the cabbage family don’t need to go through pollination so you can leave the row covers until the crops are ready to be harvested.
Good old handpicking remains an effective way to control pests in the garden. This will require you to inspect plants regularly for any eggs or caterpillars on their leaves. If you find some, get them off the plant, you can leave them on the floor.
Other wildlife such as birds, spiders, and beetles will quickly eat them up. Handpicking is especially effective for those who grow few plants. It’ll be easier for you to inspect the plants regularly.
This should be the last resort for you after trying out biological and physical control methods. There are useful products you can get to help you combat caterpillars of cabbage worms. If you have a lot of plants in your garden, handpicking often might seem a bit herculean so this may this the better option for you.
Spinosad-based organic products like Monterey and Entrust Insect Spray will be effective against cabbage worms. However, ensure you don’t use these products when pollinators are performing their duties. Spinosad will take care of leaf-chewing pests. It does not help control sap-drinking insects like squash bugs and aphids.
Bacilius Thuringiensis also helps to control cabbage worms. They are made with bacteria that destroy the caterpillar gut when it gets into their system. If used the right way, it won’t disturb other insects in your garden. Also, avoid using them on non-host plants of cabbage worms.
In controlling cabbage worms, the first step is correctly identifying the pest.
Afterwards, try biological control methods by introducing flowering herbs into your garden. Then, go on to physical methods if you have to. This should be enough especially if you have a small garden. However, if you’re still unsatisfied, you can use the products recommended above and they’ll rid your garden of cabbage worms. Ensure you follow the product instructions when using it.
Once you’re able to control cabbage worms, there’s nothing in your way of growing healthy cabbage, broccoli, kale, and other members of the group. Tend to your crops properly by creating the perfect environment for them to thrive and harvest time will leave you grinning from ear to ear.