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 totally destroy many of your crops. They will devour your tomato plants and the bases or heads of broccoli, cauliflower, basil, lettuce, and cabbage without getting noticed.
If you think you have a tomato hornworm or caterpillar problem, follow these natural solutions to getting rid of the cute critters.
1. Soap and Water
An easy remedy to a little green caterpillar problem 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 natural bacteria that is found in the soil. This bacteria contains a protein that is highly toxic to soft-bodied pests, including 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 insects, and animals.
It is 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.
3. Neem Oil
Neem oil is a natural pesticide that will eliminate caterpillars and keep tomato worms, cabbage worms, and other agricultural pests away but should be used with a light hand as it can harm beneficial bugs.
It will suffocate the critters. 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.
4. Pepper and Garlic Mixture
This potent mixture is a home remedy that kills caterpillars and works well for 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. Mix 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. 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 your affected plant(s), then check in after 24 hours.
If there are no adverse effects, then use it all over the plant(s) as needed.
6. Create a Habitat Friendly to Birds
This is one natural killer method that does not require effort. 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 caterpillars feeding on your roses, gooseberry bush, or hibiscus, they might be sawfly larvae.
Install a birdhouse and/or some bird feed near the afflicted plants, and the birds will help significantly reduce the population.
Point to note: this is not the best idea if the critters are affecting your fruit trees, as it will likely entice more birds to eat the fruit off your trees.
A very friendly bird to keep near your garden would be chickens. If you have the space for your own, let them wander throughout your yard and around the house, and they’ll take care of these pests.
7. Vinegar Solution
Vinegar can be used as a great insecticide and natural pesticide to deter many types of garden pests. 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
This is a strategy for trees that are afflicted by caterpillar insect invasions.
Wrap the tree trunk with some burlap (it doesn’t need to be completely covered), and they will crawl under the “shade” during the heat of the day.
Once they are all under the burlap covering, you can squash them or move 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 larger bugs.
Laying down ground cover can also prevent moths and butterflies from laying their eggs in or around your crops, which can prevent an infestation from ever arising.
10. Complement Your Plants
Certain types of plants will naturally repel caterpillars and can easily be incorporated into your vegetable garden or flower bed to keep them away.
Peppermint, lavender, mugwort, and sage are the most potent plants that will repel caterpillars.
Not to mention, these smell great, are easy to maintain, and can quickly be incorporated into many of your dishes.
11. Remove Them By Hand
An easy way to get rid of gypsy moth larvae, bagworms, armyworms, and other insect larvae is to remove them all by hand and 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 nest into a bucket of soapy water where they’ll suffocate.
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 in the night, as this will attract moths, which may then lay their eggs on your plants.
- Buy caterpillar pest control products such as Molt-X, JMS Stylet Oil, Diatomaceous Earth, and Monterey Spinosad. These are OMRI listed, which means that they are safe for use in organic farming.
Caterpillar infestation is one of the biggest problems that organic farmers face. 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 so that you can treat any issues as soon as they arise.