How to Control Cabbage Butterflies

Written by sharon sweeny
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How to Control Cabbage Butterflies
Control cabbage butterflies with a variety of methods. (Hemera Technologies/AbleStock.com/Getty Images)

With black tips on its upper wings and one black spot on its lower wings, cabbage butterflies are one of the most common butterflies found in some parts of the United States, particularly the New England area. The butterflies lay their eggs on young cabbages. When the caterpillars hatch they eat their way through the cabbages, chewing irregular holes in the leaves beginning at the bottom of the cabbage, all the way top the top.

Skill level:
Moderately Easy

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Things you need

  • Hydroponic mesh pots
  • Floating row covers
  • Nylon stockings
  • Fine wire or nylon mesh
  • Aluminium hoops
  • Insect predators of cabbage butterflies
  • Bacillus thuringiensis
  • Garden sprayer

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Instructions

  1. 1

    Create a barrier between the host cabbage plants and the cabbage butterflies. Because the butterflies lay their eggs on cabbage plants, you can control the population of cabbage butterflies by physically keeping them away from cabbages. Cover the plants with an overturned mesh hydroponic pot or cover the entire bed with a barrier system. Floating row covers make good temporary protection and can be removed when the white butterflies are no longer visible. A discarded nylon stocking, stretched to cover the head of a growing cabbage, can also keep the butterflies away from the cabbage. A more permanent solution is to cover the entire growing bed with a fine mesh, supported by a frame of hoops.

  2. 2

    Remove all spent vegetation at the end of the growing season, because cabbage butterflies overwinter as cocoons on dead vegetation or other hard surfaces.

  3. 3

    Hand pick the eggs or the resulting caterpillars at any age. Although this method is labour intensive, it is rather effective at reducing the population of cabbage butterflies, as well as reducing the damage they cause.

  4. 4

    Introduce natural predators to the area containing cabbage butterflies. Assassin bugs, paper wasps, lacewings, tachinid flies, ladybirds, trichogramma wasps and Apanteles wasps are all natural predators of cabbage butterflies and will quickly reduce their population.

  5. 5

    Attract birds that eat small insects to your property. Provide safe nesting places, as well as a constant, reliable supply of fresh water. Dense plantings of native shrubs and manufactured bird houses will attract insect-eating birds to the area.

  6. 6

    Spray with Bacillus thuringiensis, Bt for short, a biological control for caterpillars. It functions as a stomach poison on caterpillars, but does not harm beneficial insects. Mix following label directions and spray onto the foliage of cabbage plants with a garden sprayer when you notice caterpillars are present. Because Bt is broken down by the sun in just four to seven days, reapplication is necessary until the caterpillars are no longer present.

Tips and warnings

  • Avoid using all-purpose insecticide to control cabbage butterflies, as the insecticide will also kill insects that are beneficial to cabbages and other garden crops.

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