Cabbage Worms

The winter garden season is the season of the cabbage worm. Despite their name, these little nasties don’t only chow down on cabbage–they’ll cause damage to the whole family, including kale, cauliflower and broccoli. Here’s how to keep cabbage worms at bay.



The winter garden season is the season of the cabbage worm. Despite their name, these little nasties don’t only chow down on cabbage–they’ll cause damage to the whole family, including kale, cauliflower and broccoli. Here’s how to keep cabbage worms at bay.

Cabbage worms do their damage in the fall, particularly on members of the cabbage family. The “worm” is actually a caterpillar, and it looks like the familiar green inchworm. When developed, it turns into the cabbage butterfly, a pretty white creature with brown dots on its wings. The eggs are yellow and oval-shaped and can be found on the backs of leaves.

The larvae (caterpillars) build their cocoons in the fall and hatch as a butterfly in spring. Naturally, metamorphosis takes some energy, and that’s why the worms eat your garden plants before preparing for their big change. Damage from cabbage worms is easy to spot. Look for holes chewed from the centers of leaves in kale and cabbage, as well as holes chewed to the interior of heads of cabbage. The worms themselves are harder to find because their green color blends well with the green leaves. Look for them on the undersides of leaves.

When you find cabbage worms and/or their damage, the first control measure is removal. Just pick them off the plants and destroy them. Serious infestations can be controlled with Bt (Bacillus thuriengensis), a natural bacteria that’s poisonous to moth and butterfly larvae. Covering cabbage heads and young plants with nylon stockings can also keep the worms from breaking through.

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