Most people think that caterpillars can’t cause too much damage in a garden. After all, they’re cute and fuzzy, and turn into beautiful butterflies and moths — how bad could they be?
It turns out that they are very hungry leaf eating worms that can quickly and destroy many of your crops. They will devour tomatoes and the bases or heads of broccoli, cauliflower, basil, lettuce, and cabbage without getting noticed.
Here’s how to get rid of caterpillars naturally.
1. Soap and Water
An inexpensive remedy to stop little green caterpillars from eating your plants is soap and water.
Completely dissolve a small amount of organic liquid soap in warm water, and then spray on the affected areas.
Does soapy water kill caterpillars? No, it doesn’t. The mixture won’t harm them or your plants but will create a slippery surface that discourages or stops them from walking on or eating your plants.
While regular soap will not cause death, a potent insecticidal brand will get the job done. Follow the instructions on the bottle.
2. Organic Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis)
Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) is a naturally occurring bacteria that is found in the soil. This bacteria contains a protein that is highly toxic to soft-bodied pests such as hairy caterpillars (higad) and mosquito larvae. It paralyzes their digestive system, causing them to stop eating and die.
Though Bt insecticide is toxic to the critters, it is non-toxic to humans, beneficial garden insects, and animals.
It is also safe to use in your organic garden, though all produce should be washed thoroughly before consumption.
When buying bt spray or granules, be careful with the labeling as some companies produce theirs with genetically modified ingredients. Look for brands with the OMRI (Organic Materials Research Institute) stamp.
3. Neem Oil
Neem oil is a great natural pesticide for controlling caterpillars in the garden. Additionally, it will keep tomato worms, cabbage worms, and other agricultural pests away but should be used cautiously as it can harm beneficial bugs.
Dilute a small amount of neem oil (2 ounces or less) in one gallon of water, then apply with a light hand to the affected areas in the evening. It will suffocate the critters.
4. Pepper and Garlic Mixture
This potent mixture is a home remedy that kills caterpillars and also works well as a natural repellent for other plant-eating worms, aphids, and cabbage moths.
Simply combine 1 tablespoon of dried red pepper flakes, 1 whole bulb of minced garlic, and 1 teaspoon of soap into a full gallon of water.
Blend thoroughly, and then let the mixture stand for at least 24 hours. Spray wherever needed to keep these hungry eaters and their friends off of your plants.
5. Chili Spray
This is another effective DIY method for getting rid of caterpillars outside your house. Read 13 Homemade Caterpillar Repellent Sprays.
Combine 3 ½ ounces of dried, ground chilies with ½ gallon of boiling water for five minutes; remove from heat, then add ½ gallon of cold water and 2-3 drops of liquid soap.
Stir well, and let the mixture sit and cool for a few hours. Try it on a small section of an affected plant, then check it after 24 hours. If there are no adverse effects, then use it all over the plants as needed.
6. Create a Habitat Friendly to Birds
One caterpillar killer method that does not require effort and works great for affected tall trees is attracting birds. In case you’ve forgotten your basics about birds, they like to eat crawly things.
They are also the perfect helpers to control sawflies and their larvae. If you see small leaf-eating caterpillars on your roses, gooseberry bush, or hibiscus, they might be sawfly larvae.
Install a birdhouse and/or put some feed near affected trees and the birds will fly in and eat the critters.
Point to note: this is not the best idea if the caterpillars are on apple trees or other fruit trees, as it will likely entice more birds to eat the fruits.
Additionally, if you have space, keep chickens near your garden. Let them wander throughout your yard and around the house to take care of your insect pest problems.
7. Vinegar Solution
Vinegar can be used as a great insecticide and natural pesticide to deter many types of insects that destroy crops. A light vinegar solution will keep away the critters.
Mix 2 tablespoons in 4 liters of water and spray where those fat green worms are visible eating the leaves or other parts of your plant. Raw vinegar can also eradicate snails and slugs if sprayed directly on them.
8. Use Burlap
Another great strategy for protecting trees from caterpillars is using a burlap barrier band.
Wrap the tree trunk with some burlap. They will then crawl under the “shade” during the heat of the day. Once they are all under the burlap covering, squish them or remove them by hand.
9. Cover Your Plants
You can use a thin mesh covering to cover all of your plants to keep off caterpillars, tomato hornworms, and other crawly pests.
Laying down ground cover can also prevent moths and butterflies from laying their eggs in or around your crops, which can prevent a caterpillar insect infestation from ever arising.
10. Complement Your Plants
Certain types of plants will naturally repel caterpillars and other insects and can easily be incorporated into your vegetable garden or flower bed to keep them away.
Peppermint, lavender, mugwort, and sage are some of the most potent plants that repel garden caterpillars.
Not to mention, these smell great and are easy to maintain. Plus, you can quickly incorporate them into many of your dishes.
11. Remove Them By Hand
An easy way to get rid of gypsy moth larvae, tomato hornworms, bagworms, armyworms, and other harmful insect larvae is to remove them all by hand.
Afterward, you can either squish them or place them elsewhere in your yard. They are unlikely to return, as long as you move them far enough away.
For tent caterpillars, drop the webs or nests into a bag and dispose of them. However, do not touch higad because you might develop rashes that are itchy and painful if those tiny hairs prick you.
Other Organic Caterpillar Control Methods
- Spraying them with enough water to drown them can also be an easy fix.
- Look for the eggs and dispose of them immediately.
- Make sure that you don’t have any sort of lights on in your garden or flower bed at night, as this will attract moths, which may then lay their eggs on your plants.
- Buy caterpillar control pesticides such as Molt-X, JMS Stylet Oil, Diatomaceous Earth, and Monterey Spinosad. These products are OMRI-listed, which means that they are safe for use in organic gardening.
Caterpillar infestation is one of the biggest problems that organic farmers face in some areas like Australia and Florida. Besides, some are even poisonous. If left alone, they can cause a lot of damage, even laying eggs for their future generations to continue the trend.
Be sure to check your plants regularly. If you think you have an issue, follow these natural solutions to getting rid of the cute critters.