What are cabbage worms?

Cabbage worms are common pests that can cause significant damage to cabbage and other cruciferous vegetables. If you are a gardener or a farmer, it’s important to understand these pests and know how to effectively control them to protect your crops. In this article, we will explore the characteristics of cabbage worms, their life cycle, the damage they cause, and various prevention and control methods.


Cabbage worms, also known as imported cabbageworms (Pieris rapae), are the larvae of small white butterflies commonly found in gardens and agricultural fields. These worms primarily target cabbage plants but can also infest other cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, kale, and Brussels sprouts.

What are Cabbage Worms?

Cabbage worms are voracious feeders that can quickly devastate a cabbage crop if left unchecked. They have a pale green color, blending in well with the leaves of the host plant, making them difficult to spot. These pests have a soft body with three pairs of legs near the head and several pairs of prolegs along the abdomen.

Identification of Cabbage Worms

To identify cabbage worms, look for small green caterpillars that are about an inch long. They have a distinctive velvety texture and may have faint yellow stripes running along their body. As they feed on the foliage, you may notice chewed or ragged leaves, often accompanied by dark green droppings known as frass.

Life Cycle of Cabbage Worms

Understanding the life cycle of cabbage worms is essential for effective control. Adult cabbage butterflies lay their eggs on the undersides of cabbage leaves. These eggs are tiny and pale yellow. After a few days, the eggs hatch into small caterpillars, which then begin to feed on the cabbage leaves. As the caterpillars grow, they molt several times, shedding their skin to accommodate their increasing size. After approximately two weeks of feeding, the caterpillars enter the pupal stage and transform into adult butterflies, starting the cycle anew.

Damage Caused by Cabbage Worms

Cabbage worms can cause significant damage to cabbage and other cruciferous crops. They chew large irregular holes in the leaves, leaving behind a lacy appearance. Severe infestations can completely defoliate plants, reducing yield and quality. Furthermore, cabbage worms can transmit bacterial diseases, leading to further crop loss.

Natural Predators and Beneficial Insects

Nature provides some solutions to control cabbage worms. Several natural predators and beneficial insects feed on cabbage worms, helping to keep their populations in check. Ladybugs, lacewings, parasitic wasps, and birds are among the natural enemies of cabbage worms. Encouraging biodiversity in your garden or field can attract these helpful creatures and assist in pest control.

Prevention and Control Methods

Preventing cabbage worm infestations is key to protecting your crops. Here are some effective prevention and control methods to consider:

Organic Control Measures

Organic control measures focus on utilizing natural products and techniques to manage cabbage worms. These include:

  1. Handpicking
  1. Handpicking: Inspect your plants regularly and remove any visible cabbage worms by hand. Drop them into a bucket of soapy water to ensure they don’t return.
  2. Beneficial Nematodes: Apply beneficial nematodes to the soil, which target cabbage worm larvae and help reduce their population.
  3. Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt): Bt is a naturally occurring soil bacterium that produces proteins toxic to cabbage worms. Spray Bt-based insecticides on your plants to control the pests effectively.

Chemical Control Measures

While organic methods are preferred, in severe infestations, chemical control measures may be necessary. Here are a few options:

  1. Insecticidal Soaps: Use insecticidal soaps to kill cabbage worms on contact. These soaps disrupt the pests’ cell membranes, causing dehydration and death.
  2. Synthetic Insecticides: Certain synthetic insecticides can be effective in controlling cabbage worms. However, exercise caution and follow the instructions carefully to minimize harm to beneficial insects and the environment.

Companion Planting for Cabbage Worm Control

Companion planting is a natural way to deter cabbage worms by interplanting companion plants that repel or confuse the pests. Some beneficial companions for cabbage include:

  1. Mint: The strong aroma of mint repels cabbage worms.
  2. Nasturtiums: Nasturtiums attract aphids away from cabbage plants, reducing the food source for cabbage worms.
  3. Marigolds: Marigolds emit a strong scent that repels many pests, including cabbage worms.

Crop Rotation and Sanitation Practices

Practice crop rotation by avoiding planting cruciferous crops in the same location year after year. This disrupts the life cycle of cabbage worms and reduces the chances of re-infestation. Additionally, practicing good sanitation, such as removing plant debris and fallen leaves, eliminates potential hiding spots for cabbage worms.

Using Row Covers

Using row covers is an effective physical barrier to prevent cabbage butterflies from laying their eggs on the plants. Make sure to seal the covers tightly to prevent any gaps through which the butterflies can enter.

DIY Remedies for Cabbage Worm Control

Several DIY remedies can be made using common household ingredients. These include:

  1. Garlic Spray: Blend garlic cloves with water, strain the mixture, and spray it on cabbage plants. The strong odor repels cabbage worms.
  2. Hot Pepper Spray: Mix hot pepper flakes or powder with water and a few drops of dish soap. Spray the solution on the plants to deter cabbage worms.

Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Techniques

Implementing an integrated pest management approach combines various control methods to effectively manage cabbage worms while minimizing environmental impact. IPM techniques include monitoring and scouting for pests, using cultural and biological controls, and resorting to chemical control only when necessary.


Cabbage worms can pose a significant threat to cabbage and other cruciferous vegetables. However, with proper identification and proactive control measures, you can effectively manage these pests and protect your crops. Remember to prioritize organic control methods, encourage natural predators, and practice preventative measures to minimize the need for chemical interventions.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

Are cabbage worms harmful to humans if accidentally ingested? Cabbage worms are not harmful to humans if accidentally ingested. However, it is always advisable to thoroughly wash and inspect your vegetables before consumption.

Can I use chemical insecticides without harming beneficial insects? Synthetic insecticides should be used with caution to minimize harm to beneficial insects. Follow the instructions carefully and consider organic alternatives whenever possible.

Do cabbage worms only affect cabbage plants? While cabbage worms primarily target cabbage plants, they can also infest other cruciferous vegetables like broccoli

Are there any natural predators that can help control cabbage worms? Yes, there are several natural predators of cabbage worms, including ladybugs, lacewings, parasitic wasps, and birds. Encouraging biodiversity in your garden can attract these beneficial insects and birds, which can help keep cabbage worm populations in check.

How often should I inspect my cabbage plants for cabbage worms? It is recommended to inspect your cabbage plants regularly, at least once a week, especially during the growing season. Early detection allows for timely control measures and helps prevent extensive damage.

Can companion planting alone eliminate cabbage worm infestations? Companion planting is a helpful strategy, but it may not completely eliminate cabbage worm infestations on its own. It should be used in combination with other control methods for best results.

Are there any specific signs or symptoms that indicate the presence of cabbage worms? Yes, some signs of cabbageworm infestation include chewed or ragged leaves, small green caterpillars on the plants, and dark green droppings (frass) on the foliage.

Can I use organic control measures if I want to grow organic cabbage? Absolutely! Organic control measures are the preferred choice for organic cabbage production. By using methods like handpicking, beneficial nematodes, and insecticidal soaps, you can effectively manage cabbage worms while adhering to organic practices.

Are cabbage worms a year-round problem? Cabbage worms are most prevalent during the warmer months when cabbage and other cruciferous vegetables are actively growing. However, they can be a problem throughout the growing season, so it’s important to remain vigilant.

Can I use row covers for other pests besides cabbage worms? Yes, row covers can provide protection against various pests, including other insect pests and even some diseases. They create a physical barrier that prevents pests from reaching the plants.

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