Garden Attack – Part 3 Caterpillars

Welcome to the final part of the Garden Attack series.

Part one we went over aphids and part two was all about the slugs and snails but today we get down and dirty over some little insects that, while a source of much fascination as a child, quickly become a real nuisance when you become a cultivator in the garden.  Today we get ready to battle with caterpillars!

After spending so much time sowing and growing your well loved crops all the way from little seedlings into full sized plants the last thing you want is for a pesky pest (or pests), to come along and ruin your hard work.

If you do ever encounter garden pests, don’t give up!  Pests are not always a demise to your plants.

Any attack from a garden pest can really put the dampener on growing anything ever again, but over here at Forget-me-Not Cultivation we’re not going to give up.  Sometimes there will be battles to be had in the garden, ones you just can’t ignore and if that’s the case you’ve got to be well prepared.

Fear not though – preparedness begins here.

I’ll detail the pests, and more importantly, explain a battle plan that can be used to win the war!

Battle plans

These posts are a simple guide to three of the biggest pests you’ll likely to encounter in your gardens.  I’ll go into detail about what the pest is and the battle to be commenced.  More importantly I’ll make sure you’re well armed to win the battle.

Caterpillars

Caterpillars can be extremely interesting to look at, they come in all shapes and sizes and right now there could be up to 70 varieties of butterfly and over 2,500 varieties of moths*.

In the garden the more varieties of plants (especially if they are native plants), you have the more species of caterpillar you’ll encounter.  That’s a good thing though.

I always think it’s amazing that the life cycle of the caterpillar can turn something long and hairy into something very graceful and beautiful with wings.

However unlike other garden pests, the caterpillar life cycle is actually easier for spotting, ensuring your garden plants make it to maturity.

How to identify an caterpillar attack 

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You’ll either notice the eggs being laid by the butterflies/moths or you’ll spot the caterpillars themselves and finally the damage last.

  • In the case of cabbage butterflies you’ll notice a tiny batch of bright yellow eggs under leaves
  • Leaves that are tightly curled will normally have a caterpillar hiding within in
  • If the above are not detected then you’ll notice chucks of leaves having been eaten, all over the plant once the eggs have hatched.  In the case of brasicas that can mean plants being stripped of leaves within days so you’re left with nothing but a cabbage skeleton!
  • If you have enough caterpillars munching over your plants then you’ll also notice the caterpillar poo on the leaves (I don’t think I need to explain what that looks like!)

How do caterpillars cause issues?

Apart from making your plants look unsightly most caterpillars won’t cause that much damage, individually and will actually encourage more wildlife into your garden.   The real damage happens when you start growing brasicas and the caterpillars start munching away on mass.  That is what we’ll concentrate in this plan.

Battle plans

Look out for butterflies flying about from May onwards, that is when the battle needs to commence.  Basically in terms of caterpillars you need to stop those butterflies and moths from laying their eggs.

While you could spend your cold winter days looking for butterfly and moth pupates in soil and “vertical surfaces” around your garden it would be much more beneficial to the garden and you if you waited until a bit later in the season.  There are three areas to the pest battle that can be used straight away from June onwards:

Prevention

Get plants netted.  Either use really fine netting (so the butterflies and moths can’t get through), or even better, use fleece.  you can construct a cover using canes and fleece to go over your cabbages but getting the timing right is crucial.  Don’t leave it too late in the season.  Mid June is just about right.  The fleece will allow light, air and water to reach the plant while ensuring the flying moths and butterflies can’t land and lay any eggs.

Control

If you want chemical control you are reading the wrong blog.  Over here we know that while chemical control is a solution it’s not a great one and it’s only a short term solution.

Instead you can do these organic methods that will not only work in harmony with the ecology in your garden but ensure it won’t effect any future harvest from the plant.

  1. Pick off the eggs.  It sounds simple and it works.  Because the eggs are simple to spot just squish them between your fingers and the job is done.  You’ll need to check plants once a day, every day during May to July to ensure the pests don’t get a hold on your plants.
  2. If you don’t like the idea of squashing the eggs then you could always hose them off however be aware that this may in fact just move the eggs lower down the plant and not stop them from hatching.
  3. If a leaf has too many eggs or caterpillars on it then simply remove the leaf and bin.
  4. Encourage birds into the garden to control the pests.  Simply put the more birds you have the better control there will be so strengthen the local bird population coming into your garden through feed, water and shelter.

Collateral damage

I’ve given up growing brasicas in the past because after thinking I was growing wonderful cabbages through spring I then spent many weeks battling caterpillar eggs to finally have to give in and let the plants be eaten.  However my experience taught me a lot.

  • Grow later or early varieties of brasicas.  Kale is a wonderful example of this – it matures before the cabbage butterflies and moths have a chance to take hold so I get a good harvest in before leaving the rest to the butterflies
  • Don’t use up all your effort making plant cages too early.  Your plants will keep growing and your cage will be too small so ensure the cage is big enough for the final plant growth.

As always consider just giving one or two plants up to the butterflies and moths so you can concentrate on the plants you need for food.  That way it will encourage good predators and save you some work.

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What are your tips for dealing with caterpillars?  Is there one plant in particular they always attack in your garden?

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* Butterfly Conservation

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7 thoughts on “Garden Attack – Part 3 Caterpillars

  1. Oh how timely this post is for me. the caterpillars are out in force here too… I thought putting my plants in pots this summer on my deck would help, but they are finding their way 7 feet up from the ground to my upper deck. Here we go again with all the critters… and chipmunks, too…

    Take care from, Laura ~

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      1. Sophie, those chipmunks are so cute, you’d never think they could do so much damage to the plants, eating them, up rooting them, digging holes all around them and the list just goes on and on.

        Two days ago, after chasing the critter away from one of my garden sections, he later got on my deck as soon as I went inside, and peaked in my patio door. He sat there I swear laughing at me, while I rinsed out my coffee cup.

        I suppose all you can really do is laugh and hope the other sections of the garden aren’t too damaged…

        Thanking you kindly for your comments, as they are truly welcome on my blog…

        Take care and happy gardening to ya, from Laura ~

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  2. I just composted my winter kale and my DH just torched a branch of the Burr Oak that had been host to more than a hundred tent caterpillars. I have some luck with diatomaecious earth on the brassicae.

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