How to Keep Caterpillars From Destroying Plants

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Caterpillars may eventually turn into big, beautiful butterflies, but that doesn’t mean you have to put up with them destroying your plants. Caterpillars can be very destructive little critters, and if you hope to have a successful growing season, it’s best to know how to deal with them.

Things You'll Need

  • Basic gardening tools
  • Possibly soap or kerosene
  • Maintain the garden well. A well-maintained garden and plants are your best defense against this pest. This includes feeding and watering plants regularly and adequately, cultivating the soil and weeding the plants on a weekly basis, and removing drooping stems and partly eaten foliage frequently. Avoid using pesticides. The absence of pesticides will promote the presence of caterpillar predators such as birds, parasitic wasps and lady beetles.

  • Get rid of old leaves and stems. After harvest time, be sure to burn and trash any old foliage that may be laying around. Caterpillars like to spend their winters in them.

  • Check out the soil in the spring. Dig or rototill your garden before you begin planting. This will help to expose pupae that you can later destroy.

  • Get rid of any caterpillars you find. For leaf-eating caterpillars, pick it up using gloves, then drop it into warm soapy water or water topped with ½ inch of kerosene. If the infestation is major, spray the plants with a natural control which is toxic only to caterpillars. Some caterpillars may not be visible because they burrow into the stems of plants, like squash. In order to detect their presence, look for leaves that are stunted or yellow. For these pests, make a lengthwise cut in the stem of the leaf and discard the caterpillar, then rid your garden of weeds where they typically breed. For tree and fruit eating caterpillars, look for egg masses on trunks, branches and bark during the winter. Then scrape them off and destroy them.

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