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How to Stop Caterpillar Damage in Your Garden

A first step in managing a caterpillar infestation in your garden can be identifying the moths also hanging around the crime scene.

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Photo: Debbie Wolfe

Napa Cabbage With Insect Damage

When you learn to identify these pests in their adult stage, it makes controlling caterpillar damage a bit easier. Organic treatments for caterpillars, such as Bt, are most helpful when the target species is actively present. By watching out for the breeding-stage adult you won’t waste time or money spraying ineffectively at the wrong time. Another strategy to deal with many caterpillars is to grow plants with small clusters of flowers that are attractive to the predatory wasps whose larva will destroy caterpillars.

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Photo: Getty Images/Norm Thomas

Cabbage Looper Caterpillar (Trichoplusia ni)

The cabbage looper caterpillar is not only a pest of the cabbage family. This garden generalist may also be found on tomatoes, spinach, lettuce or other garden crops. It moves like an inchworm, walking up with its rear legs until its midsection forms a "loop" before raising its front end and reaching to move forward. Often, cabbage loopers feed on the undersides of leaves, or bore into heads or crowns.

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Photo: Getty Images/Visuals Unlimited, Inc.

Cabbage Looper Moth (Trichoplusia ni)

Cabbage looper is one of the top pests of the brassica family. Watch for the brown moth at dusk, or even at night, from spring through fall. Keep the garden free of cabbage plant debris to reduce the cabbage looper caterpillars’ abundance of hiding places.

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Photo: Getty Images/UniversalImagesGroup

Cabbage White Caterpillars (Pieris rapae)

The caterpillar of the cabbage white butterfly, also known as the imported cabbage worm, is a specialist of the brassica family. It especially loves cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower foliage. Look for chewed leaf margins with dark colored "frass" (excrement) deposits nearby.

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