Natural, organic control of Cabbageworms is not easy and not always successful, but thankfully there are some things you can do to minimize the damage and still get a crop!
For our first couple of years of gardening, we had very little experience with harmful insects sabotaging our efforts to raise our own produce. Of course, my first experience with garden pests had to be a real troublemaker. After noticing the growing number of leafless broccoli plants, I discovered we were dealing with cabbageworms.
These little fellows are well-camouflaged and until a great deal of damage is already done, very tiny.
The adult of the cabbageworm is a dusty white moth with black fringes and spots. They are fairly common so I’m sure you’ve seen them before. They lay super tiny yellow eggs on broccoli, cabbage, brussels sprouts, and any other member of the brassica family that they can find. The eggs aren’t laid in clusters, but one here and there as they flit around the garden, barely lighting on the plants. The smooth worm looks soft and matches it’s host plant perfectly. It is of varying size depending on when it hatched. They can be quite small and hard to spot. The more they eat, the fatter they get.
How to Naturally Control Cabbageworms
I’ve learned that every time the cabbage butterfly lands, it lays a transparent tiny egg. The best management would be with a light row cover of insect netting. The sides must be thoroughly secured and any tears must be repaired or replaced quickly. The moth seems to find the slightest breach of security to make her way into the host plant.
Hand Picking Cabbageworms
Most gardeners have small patches so taking ten minutes a day to check the tops and undersides of leaves, squishing those cabbageworms that are discovered (with a gloved hand) isn’t too big of a deal. Personally, I’m not satisfied until I see their insides ooze out since they’re very lethargic larvae and may seem dead by not moving. If you try insect netting and discover a security breach, you’ll need to add this layer or protection to your pest management strategy.
There are 3 different types of natural crop dusting that you could try to kill the cabbage worms.
• Cornmeal- Sprinkle the affected plants with cornmeal while they are wet and the caterpillars will ingest it, bloat, and die.
• Diatomaceous Earth
• Basalt Dust
The last two dusting agents should be applied when the plants are dry and work the same way. They attack the insect from the outside in, causing them to dry out and die. They must be dry in order to work.
Diatomaceous Earth will be easier for you to find but the benefit of Basalt Dust is that it is a natural soil amendment because it is high in minerals. And since it is theorized that insect infestations are a sign of weak plants growing in soil that needs extra nutrition, a little help is always welcome.
Much like with Tomato Hornworms, there is a parasitic wasp that the imported cabbageworm hosts and they very effectively control the invaders. Plant annual flowering plants into your garden that will attract both pollinators and beneficial insects. There are many to choose from, but the most effective I have ever grown so far is dill. Which is nice because that makes it a dual purpose plant.
Grow Red Brassica Varieties
I have definitely observed that the infestations of cabbageworms are minimized on red varieties of brassicas. I imagine the butterfly instinctively seeks out a host that will best camouflage her children. When I have grown a row of red cabbages alongside green cabbages, the red ones are definitely the least affected.
Brassicas love cool weather. There’s no need to wait till frost has passed to get them growing in the soil. Planting them early gives them a chance to grow and perhaps even produce before they are attacked by cabbageworms.
Along the same lines as growing earlier varieties, growing brassicas from transplants allow them to grow bigger before transplanting. This way they will have a fighting chance when the cabbageworms start skeloton-izing them. Once they have been completely stripped of their baby leaves, there’s no chance of recovery.
Natural Pest Sprays
Improve Your Soil
This is a long-term strategy, but pests and disease are most attracted to weak plants. Ensuring your plants are strong and healthy through nutrient-dense soil should reduce a lot of the common garden problems.
Have you ever dealt with garden pests? How did you manage them?