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Pests & Disease

8 Organic Ways to Get Rid of Cabbage Worms & Cabbage Moths

Cabbage worms are one of the most common pests in the garden. Every gardener I know struggles with them! They can be sneaky, frustrating, and cause a lot of damage to plants. But I have good news: there are many easy ways to stop cabbage worms from destroying your garden, and still reap a beautiful, bountiful harvest!

Read along to learn 8 ways to get rid of cabbage worms and cabbage moths. Some options are preventative in nature, such as covering your plants with floating row covers – or even tricking the cabbage moths with color! Other methods involve directly killing the caterpillars. No matter what you choose, rest assured that all 8 of these cabbage moth control options are organic.

Before we dive into the ways to control cabbage moth damage in the garden, let’s briefly familiarize ourselves with these pesky little jerks. Also, please keep in mind that an organic garden is not a perfect one. A few cabbage worms or nibbles holes is not the end of the world.

What are Cabbage Moths and Cabbage Worms?

“Cabbage worms” is a relatively generic term that refers to a handful of species of small green pest caterpillars. As their names suggest, they are most attracted to the cabbage and mustard plant family. Also known as the brassica family, this includes veggies like broccoli, kale, collard greens, brussels sprouts, mustard greens, turnip greens, and of course, cabbage. However, that isn’t all! We have found cabbage worms on a wide variety of other plants in our garden, including flowers. 

Some cabbage worms are the larvae of small white butterflies, seen flitting around gardens during the day. The white butterflies are often referred to as “cabbage whites” or “cabbage moths” – even though they aren’t really moths at all. However, there is a similar caterpillar, the cabbage looper, that does indeed come from a brown nocturnal moth. Cabbage loopers closely resemble butterfly cabbage worms, except cabbage loopers are usually skinnier and move like inchworms… you know, humping along. 

Both cabbage worms and cabbage loopers are controlled in the same manner.

A cabbage white butterfly is feeding on a purple flower in the sunlight. The background is blurry green while the flower and butterfly are in focus.
Cabbage white butterfly. Image courtesy of the Telegraph UK

Cabbage Worm Life Cycle & Damage Caused 

Cabbage moths or butterflies don’t directly damage plants themselves. That fun job is left up to the their larvae – the “worms”! If you notice white butterflies dancing around your garden, they’re probably laying eggs, and thus creating future destructive cabbage worms. As they land on plants, cabbage moths often bump their butts on leaves to deposit eggs.

Cabbage moth eggs look like white or  yellow oblong dots. They are almost always attached to the underside of leaves. If you find and recognize these eggs, squishing them is a great early control method! However, please note that ladybug eggs are also oblong and yellow, but are found in clusters. Cabbage worm eggs are usually sporadic and solo.

As the larvae of cabbage moths and butterflies emerge from their eggs, the cabbage worms begin to immediately feed on the surrounding plant matter. This creates little holes in the leaves, expanding to larger holes – or to completely demolished leaves and plants as the caterpillars grow in size and population.

Some cabbage worm damage is only cosmetic, but can otherwise be devastating to small tender seedlings. The caterpillars will continue to eat and grow for several weeks, until they’re old enough to form a chrysalis and transform into a cabbage white butterfly (or moth). 

A hand is holding a partially eaten cabbage leaf with about ten cabbage white caterpillars on it. They have been manually removed from multiple plants throughout the garden.


Now that you know more about their lifecycle, here are several ways to control cabbage worms in your garden – organically! Let’s discuss each of them below.

  1. Manual Removal 
  2. Floating Row Covers
  3. Plant Purple & Red Varieties
  4. Use Polyculture & Companion Planting
  5. Beneficial Insects
  6. Decoy Moths
  7. Bacillus Thuringiensis (Bt) Spray
  8. Neem Oil Spray

1) Manual Removal of Cabbage Worms 

Are you comfortable handling insects? I used to be a bit more squeamish, but the fact of the matter is: manually squishing or removing certain pests right when you see them is sometimes the most quick, easy and effective way to stop them in their tracks. Especially if you are only trying to manage a handful of plants! I do it all the time. This includes hand-picking cabbage worms and caterpillars from brassicas and leafy greens (which the chickens greatly appreciate, wink wink…) or squishing colonies of aphids. I also know some gardener friends that nab cabbage moths with butterfly nets and tennis rackets! 

To reduce damage from cabbage worms by hand, you’ll need to inspect your plants frequently. Make it a routine to check over your plants once or twice per week. When you’re out on the hunt, keep in mind that cabbage worms are most often found on the underside of leaves, or tucked in the new growth at the plant’s center. Sneaky cabbage worms will also lay along the center vein of a kale leaf, blending in and perfectly disguised. In addition to holey leaves, the “frass” or poop that they leave behind is a key indicator that a cabbage caterpillar is nearby! Look for poop.

It can be effective to squish or collect cabbage worms by hand, but you can also go after cabbage moth eggs. Examine the underside of leaves for the little oblong white to yellow dots, and simply wipe them away. Then they’re gone before they can do any damage at all.

A three way image collage, the first image shows a kale leaf with two cabbage white butterfly eggs on it. They are slightly more yellowish orange, and indication that it will soon hatch. Each egg has been circled purple using a paint app. during editing to highlight the egg. The second image shows the inside of a cauliflower plant, there is a cabbage white caterpillar attached on one of the leaves eating away. It has also been circled purple to highlight the caterpillar and how it camouflages against the plants leaves. The third image shows the inside of a cauliflower plant and the caterpillar poop that has collected in the bottom of it. If you see poop, a caterpillar is usually near.
Cabbage moth eggs shown on top, and a cabbage worm (and its tell-tale poop) on the bottom.

2) Row Covers

One of the best ways to keep cabbage worms from eating your plants is to prevent cabbage moths from accessing the plants at all! Mission “stop the butt-bumping”, if you will.

Individual plants, raised beds, or sections thereof can be protected with row covers, traditionally supported on hoop structures. Also called “floating row covers”, they block out pests or other undesirable elements. Some row covers are used to stop insects, while others may be used for frost-protection or providing shade. We use them in our garden to prevent cabbage worm damage as well as protect tender young seedlings from wild birds. 

We use a combination of these sleek hoops along with this insect netting in our garden. The shorter version of the hoops work perfectly in our 2 and 3-foot wide beds. With the addition of these base extenders, they also fit well across our widest beds (4.5 feet), though they stay fairly short. To provide more “head room” or arch over larger plants like Brussels sprouts and tomatoes, the hi-rise super hoops would work best. You can also make your own hoops from PVC pipe.

It is easy to pull back the row cover material when needed (e.g. for harvesting) and simply leave the hoops in place. Be sure to check the various sizes of netting available to best fit the size of your garden! We ordered a large roll and cut them to size for each bed.

Four raised wooden garden beds are covered with floating row covers with the assistance of hoops to keep the covers elevated off the plants below. There are many bushes, shrubs, and trees lining the perimeter of the garden.
Our hoops and row covers on top.
Two raised garden beds full of a variety of leafy green vegetables is shown. Each bed has three metal hoops placed evenly across the bed. Floating row covers are usually placed over the top of the raised beds and kept off the plants with the assistance of the hoops.
With the row covers removed for photos and harvesting. Even with the plants fully grown in, we still lay the floating row covers on top of the hoops (and parts rest directly on the plants too, which is more than okay) and secure it to the hoops with clothes pins.

If you use the right material and tuck the corners and sides in tight (we use clothes pins for this), row covers can effectively keep out cabbage moths and their caterpillars, along with many other pest insects. Row covers may also protect your plants from squirrels, rabbits, birds, neighborhood cats, and other larger vertebrate pests too!

However, keep in mind that pollinators won’t be able to get in either. Thankfully, the cabbage plant family doesn’t need pollination to grow. Yet to use floating row covers with flowering plants like squash, you either need to open and close the row covers daily – or hand-pollinate the squash.

See this article all about hoops and row covers to learn more – including tips about DIY PVC hoops, and using row covers for shade or frost protection.

3) Plant Purple & Red Varieties 

Did you know that pests are less attracted to red and purple vegetables? They sure are! Year after year, the purple cabbage and red kale in our garden is significantly less damaged by cabbage worms and aphids than their green counterparts. One reasonable theory is that green or pale-colored pests can’t blend in and hide as easily on brightly-colored vegetables as they can on green ones. That would make them an easy target for predators.

Furthermore, studies show that anthocyanin (the antioxidant-rich flavonoid that makes red, purple and blue-pigmented veggies so good for us!) is actually mildly toxic to caterpillars. It may even deter larger pests like squirrels!

Raised garden beds are shown, the bed in the foreground has red cabbage planted in the front and green cabbage planted in the back. While the beds further away are full of red giant mustard greens and fava beans.
In a garden bed of both red and green cabbage, the cabbage moths will almost exclusively lay eggs on the green cabbage! Don’t believe me? See the photos below.
A two way image collage, the first image shows a close up of a green cabbage head. There are many holes throughout the various leaves on the plant due to cabbage white caterpillars. The second image shows a close up of a red cabbage head and it does not have any holes in it from cabbage white caterpillars even though it is planted right next to the green. Cabbage white butterflies lay almost exclusively on the green cabbage because they are drawn to the green color as opposed to the purple or red.
Planted in the same bed, every green cabbage has cabbage worm damage – while the red cabbages are all unblemished.

So, choosing red and purple varieties of the cabbage family is one way to reduce cabbage worm damage. Yet I’m sure we all crave a bit more variety than a garden bed full of red cabbage! And that is more than okay. Variety is good, and leads us to our next point…

4) Polyculture & Companion Planting to Deter Cabbage Moths

Growing a wide variety of plants creates biodiversity in your garden. This is a way to maintain balance, and also attract more beneficial insects. Additionally, variety and polyculturethe term for mixing many types of plants in one space – reduces the chances of widespread devastation by pests that are all attracted to the same crop. Meaning, it may not be the best idea to plant an entire garden bed full of just broccoli. 

I also highly suggest interplanting some companion plants with your pest-prone crops. For example, brassica companion plants like thyme, dill, oregano, lavender, onions, garlic, and marigolds are said to deter cabbage moths.

On the other hand, some companion plants can serve as a “trap crop” and attract cabbage worms – while luring them away from your veggies! Nasturtiums are a prime example. However, be sure to periodically remove infested trap crop plants to prevent a booming population of cabbage moths in your garden. Or manually remove and kill the cabbage worms from the trap crops.

For more information on companion planting combinations and natural pest deterrents, be sure to subscribe to our weekly newsletter to receive a free garden planning toolkit! There is a detailed companion planting chart included in the toolkit.

A hand is holding about ten cabbage white caterpillars after they have been manually removed from the nasturtium trap plant in the background. Trap plants help keep the caterpillars off your vegetables.
I hand-picked all of these cabbage worms from a potted nasturtium, planted as a trap crop at the end of a bed of collard greens and kale. These little jerks ate all of the nasturtium flowers and many of the leaves, but completely left the brassica veggies alone! Companion planting for the win.

5) Use Decoy Cabbage Moths

This tip is a quick one. Apparently, cabbage moths are territorial and will stay away if there are other cabbage whites around! Thus, some gardeners have success in deterring them by placing decoy or dummy white butterflies around their garden beds. The most common way to do this is to make your own. There are printable templates available online to help. 

6) Beneficial Insects: Parasitic Wasps

Parasitic wasps lay their eggs inside or on top of other arthropods, including caterpillars and their pupae. Therefore, these beneficial insects can be a great tool against cabbage worms and other pest caterpillars like tomato horn worms. There are dozens of species and types, so they won’t all look like the one shown below. Once their eggs hatch, the wasp larvae feed on the host caterpillar, killing it.

Did you know that you can buy a starter community of parasitic wasps to introduce to your garden? These Trichogramma wasps are a popular choice. Unlike other large wasps that you may be imagining, these do not bite or sting, and go virtually unnoticed by humans! I am leery of purchasing them for our garden, only because we raise monarch caterpillars.

A black parasitic wasp with orange legs is inserting an appendage into a caterpillar where it will deposit eggs that will turn into larva and feed on the host caterpillar until the caterpillar dies.
A parasitic wasp. Photo from

7) Bacillus Thuringiensis – “Bt”

Bacillus thuringiensis, also known as Bt, is a naturally-occurring, soil-dwelling bacteria. It is a common active ingredient in organic biological pesticides. Namely, it kills caterpillars. Bt is ONLY toxic against the larvae of butterflies or moths. It makes them stop eating. Therefore, Bt is commonly used to control cabbage worms and cabbage loopers on the brassica plant family. 

“Bt is a bacterium that is not toxic to humans or other mammals, but is toxic to certain insects when ingested. It works as an insecticide by producing a crystal-shaped protein (Cry toxin) that specifically kills certain insects. Bt is naturally found on leaves and in soil worldwide, and has been used commercially both in organic and conventional agriculture for over fifty years. Over two decades of review, the EPA and numerous scientific bodies have consistently found that Bt and Bt-crops are not harmful to humans.”

Entomological Society of America

Bt spray is available to purchase either pre-mixed, or as a concentrate that must be diluted before it is applied to plants. Concentrates are the more cost-effective option. We use this concentrate by Safer Brand. Mostly, for our cannabis plants to stop “bud worms” from destroying them – and on rare occasions in the garden, when the cabbage worms are beyond other means of control. When applied to vegetable crops, Bt is considered safe for human consumption even if sprayed the same day as harvest. (To read more about cannabis-specific organic pest control, see this post.)

How to Use Bt in the Garden

When mixing your Bt spray, follow the directions on the Bt product you purchase. For the one we use, it calls to dilute 1 tablespoon of Bt per one gallon of water. Mix well directly in your pump sprayer. Spray your plants of concern to the point of dripping, including the bottom of leaves.

Like other foliar sprays, it is best to apply your Bt solution in the evening hours. Yet Bt is even more mild than others, and doesn’t pose the same risk for accidentally burning leaves with improper applications. On the contrary, Bt rapidly degrades in sunlight and also washes off with rain or other water. It is most effective the day or two after application, and considered virtually non existent after a week. 

Bt is most effective against small caterpillars, so is important to treat caterpillar-infested plants early on. It may not impact larger caterpillars, such as those over 1 inch long. You may need to hand-pick those fatties. Speaking of fatties… you know how much I love monarch caterpillars! We are very, very cautious as to not spray Bt anywhere near our milkweed plants. Also, avoid over-spraying your plants onto non-target areas! 

A hand is holding a bottle of Safer Brand caterpillar killer which is BT or bacillus thuringiensis. There are green trees and shrubs in the lower background with a partially clouded blue sky taking up the upper half of the background.
Bt Caterpillar Killer, approved for organic gardening

8) Neem Oil

Neem oil is a plant-based oil, extracted from the seeds of the India-native neem tree. Concentrated neem oil is diluted and mixed, and then sprayed onto plants for organic pest control. Neem oil is particularly effective at controlling small soft-bodied insects, like aphids, thrips, spider mites, mealybugs, scale, and white flies. When applied directly, the oil can coat their bodies and kill them – or otherwise interfere with reproduction and feeding.

Neem oil can also help repel cabbage moths, mosquitoes, and flies. Therefore, routinely spraying your garden with a neem oil solution may make your plants less attractive to pests. However, if your plant is already infested, neem oil will not typically kill cabbage worms. 

That said, neem oil is last on this list of cabbage worm control options for a reason. Used in conjunction with other control methods, neem oil can help the problem – but will not likely prevent or eliminate the presence of cabbage moths entirely. 

If you want to use neem oil in your garden, I highly suggest you read this article to learn more about how to properly mix and use it. Because neem combats fungal diseases like powdery mildew and doesn’t harm beneficial insects (when used correctly), it can be a great product to use in an organic garden! Yet when neem oil is applied incorrectly or in the wrong situation (which is common!) – it can do more harm than good.  

And that is how we get rid of cabbage worms.

In closing, I hope you learned some new helpful tips to control cabbage worms! Again, perfection is not the goal here. Please don’t get discouraged (or feel tempted to reach for chemical pesticides) if your plants have a few blemishes. In contrast, be proud of your efforts to grow food in an organic manner! I commend you.

If you enjoyed this article, you’ll may also like:

Please feel free to ask any questions, and spread the love by sharing this article. Pin it below!

DeannaCat signature, keep on growing


  • Yannick

    Excellent article, we used BT spray and it worked. I am a little worried even though studies claim it has no effect, it’s still wise to avoid it if possible.

    • DeannaCat

      Hi Yannick, we don’t spray it very often at all, BT degrades in sunlight and heat so if you spray a week before you harvest, all traces of the BT will likely be gone by then.

    • Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)

      Hi TC, unfortunately since most beneficial nematodes are soil dwelling, they won’t offer much defense against cabbage moths and their caterpillars since the eggs are laid on the plant itself where the caterpillar remains until it pupates and turns into a cabbage moth. Hope that helps and good luck!

  • Ilana Bernstein

    Hi, thanks for sharing your wisdom. I’m having issues with my Broccoli and Red Cabbage getting eaten by (I think) cabbage worms. I can’t post a picture. I may have made a mistake by taking off the lower leaves of the cabbage due to over crowding (my first veggie garden). Is the problem solvable and are the plants salvageable? Thanks in advance.

    • Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)

      Hi Ilana, have you found the caterpillars on your plants? There are some tell-tale signs of cabbage worms so I would just try and verify that the issue is indeed cabbage worms, once you do that, you can try and hand pick the caterpillars off your plants if you can see them, also spraying the plants with BT will help get rid of the caterpillars and your plants should start to rebound. As far as removing the lower cabbage leaves, if the plants are already sizable, it isn’t an issue to remove some of the lower leaves, you just don’t want to do so on smaller plants. Hope that helps and good luck!

  • Cara

    Hi Deanna and Aaron,

    As this is an older post that I was reviewing, I’m not sure you’ll see this question, but here goes!

    My problem (and this is lame) is in cutting/measuring floating row covers and shade cloth to fit over the hoops. I always screw it up and waste fabric and money. Figuring out the dimensions of a semi-circle(?)/half cylinder(?), rectangle(?)/square prism(?) to fit my beds is just a crap shoot. And, as a single person, it’s really hard to just lay the fabric (especially the “sticky” row covers) over long beds and measure from that estimate. I have a mix of 11 raised beds with 3′ and 4′ widths and from 4′ to 12′ bed lengths as well, so no easy template here.

    If you have some magic formula or method — or any formula or method at all! — I’d be so grateful to read about it.

    Thanks so much for all you do. I’ve been following your blog and videos for many, many years and I always recommend your site to others in my various garden groups. Just wish I was in Zone 9 instead of 10!

    Cara in Pasadena

    • Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)

      Hi Cara, thank you so much for following along through the years and we are so grateful for your support! In regards to comments in older posts, thankfully new comments, no matter what article they are in, show up front and center for us. In regards to your question, yes, measuring out the insect netting can be a real pain and it’s something we struggle with as well!

      For our 4 foot wide beds, we use this 6.5 foot wide insect netting which seems to be the right width to fit over our super hoops with base extenders. We essentially just lay the netting over the edge of the bed with hoops installed and makes sure we have enough slack on one end, we then unroll or unfold the netting over the bed until we reach the other side, once we have the right amount of slack on that end, we then cut the insect netting. You can do this on your own if you use clips to hold down the one end on the fabric on bed while you unfold the netting to the other side.

      We have two raised beds that are 3 feet wide and we use the same width insect netting, it just has a little more fabric hanging over the ends. Now if you have raised beds in other shapes than squares or rectangles, I can see you would have an issue cutting the fabric correctly and I am not sure I have any suggestions for those unfortunately. Yet, I would think trying to secure one section of netting at a time to your bed while you roll out the rest will help you have an idea of where to cut, just be sure your hoops are installed on the beds while you do it. Hope that helps and reach out if you have any other questions, good luck!

      • Cara

        Thanks, much, Aaron! I guess there is just no magic solultion. Such is life — trial and error.
        Please take good care of yourselves and all your 2 and 4-leggeds as well.
        Best wishes,

  • Holly

    Can you dispose of the plants that are covered with eggs/ “poop” in the lawn recycling/composte bags or should they be put directly in the garbage?

    • Nancy

      BT. Supposedly “safe” for edible vegetables, but seems like everyone in grow shops, FB and forums are saying BT for cannabis in flower. I wouldn’t want to inhale after BT spray. Says it can irritate lungs if inhaled. I’ll bet!
      Canada is reviewing it as possible harmful pesticide used for that purpose.

      What’s your opinion?

      • Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)

        Hi Nancy, it looks like there needs to be more research in the use of BT on cannabis but I know that BT dissipates fairly quickly after application as it degrades in sunlight. A Texas A&M article on BT says it can last between 22 days or 24 hours and under normal conditions, it lasts betweewn 3 and 7 days. Thus, if you cease spraying BT a week or so before harvest, there will likely not be any BT left on your flowers. Hope that helps and good luck!

  • Megan

    I had row covers on my 4×4 bed of brassicas but unfortunately somehow I would find a cabbage moth flying inside. Is it possible for the eggs to overwinter? I just cleared out all my kale which was mostly infested and will plant fresh seedlings for the fall garden. Is there anyway to treat the soil to eradicate any trace of eggs left behind?
    Also, I had an infestation of white flies I think because I kept the mesh netting on all season. I’m hoping it doesnt happen this fall again!

    • Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)

      Hi Megan, I wouldn’t be worried about the cabbage moth eggs overwintering as they usually hatch in 4-8 days and the caterpillar won’t be able to survive if it doesn’t have any food to consume once it does hatch. White flies are another story and can be hard to keep out with netting as they are so small, the netting could have kept them contained within your one bed once they did emerge but I would use a soap spray to take care of the white flies as it will kill them on contact. Hope that helps and good luck with your fall seedlings.

  • Michele

    Can I remove the damaged bottom leaves without harm to the plant? I only have red cabbage and they seem to love it! The leaves look terrible and I’m unable to post a picture. Help please!?!

    • Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)

      Hi Michelle, we typically only remove the lower leaves once we harvest the cabbage but if you want to do so now, the plant should be able to handle it depending on how big the plant is. If your cabbage is getting destroyed by cabbage worms, you should give them a spray with BT every few weeks as needed and as long as you don’t see too much being eaten off the main head, I wouldn’t be too worried if it is mostly the outer and lower leaves. Hope that helps and good luck!

  • Kumar

    The red leafed vegetable trick worked well for me. I have “Black Majic” Kale which is greenish-purple and they only nibble on it. My rainbow Swiss Chard which has green leaves but red stems was also spared most of the harm. The squash, tomatoe, cucumber, and cilantro plants also survived with no damage.

    On the other hand all of my collard greens were torn apart which is what brought me to your website. I have decided just to only plant a few green vegetables and focus on red vegetables or plants with colors other than green.

  • Nick

    Same, several of my green brassicas have been pretty much destroyed this season but my purple cabbage is completely untouched.

    • Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)

      Interesting, our red cabbage is usually left untouched compared to the green but there is only so much one can do.

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