How to Keep Caterpillars Out of the Garden

Two Methods:Dealing with Specific Types of CaterpillarsCombating Caterpillars with Birds and Herbs

While caterpillars are interesting creatures, as a gardener you might find them to be more frustrating than fascinating. Luckily there are ways to deal with caterpillars. In order to remove caterpillars from your garden, you will first have to identify the kind of caterpillar you are dealing with as some caterpillars should be moved, rather than killed.

Method 1
Dealing with Specific Types of Caterpillars

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    Understand that identifying the caterpillar will determine how you handle them. Identifying the caterpillar type is crucial for treating these pests because some methods will get rid of certain types of caterpillars, but will be ineffective against others. The following steps cover some of the most common caterpillars and what you should do to remove them from your garden.
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    Deal with cutworms. Cutworms live below the soil surface and eat through seedlings’ stems during the night. Plastic cups or toilet paper rolls can be cut into 2 inch (5.1 cm) strips and placed around tender young plants to protect them from these pests.[1]
    • Another way to avoid cutworms is to use sterile soil to start your seedlings. This helps prevent any pests that overwintered in your garden from eating your baby plants.
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    Handle tomato hornworms. Tomato hornworms chiefly target tomato plants and will strip them leafless in less than a day. These pests are easily recognized by the large spike on their posterior end.[2] Handpicking is a good way to get rid of these caterpillars. Drop the hornworms into a cup or jar that contains soapy water, which will kill them.
    • Those that don’t run around their garden barefoot may prefer to squash these pests underfoot.
    • Gardeners that have an aversion to either method can instead dump any caterpillars they find into the garbage bin.
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    Do not kill swallowtail butterfly caterpillars. Dill, parsley, fennel, cilantro, carrot, and parsnip foliage are a favorite food source of swallowtail butterfly caterpillars. Gardeners will recognize these creatures by their white and yellow stripes as well as their fat, bright green exteriors. Gardeners are advised to handpick these caterpillars and move them to a patch of Queen Anne’s lace or to another location away from their garden.[3]
    • Planting extra dill, parsley, and fennel for the butterflies to eat is another way to be sure that there is enough to go around.
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    Protect your plants from cabbage moth caterpillars. Covering plants with translucent fabric or by using polypropylene row covers are both good ways to protect brassicas from coming to grief at the hands of cabbage moths and other pests that take on a caterpillar form at one stage of their lives.[4]
    • Premade row covers can be bought at garden centers, but gardeners can make their own. All you have to do is stick hoops into the ground and cover them with either perforated plastic or fabric sheeting. These materials should let in both sun and air but also serve as a barrier for most bugs.
    • It’s a good idea to weigh down row covers on one end using bricks, wood planks, or other sufficiently heavy materials.
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    Check your plants for eggs frequently. Rake up and remove all of the fallen leaves and debris around your plants each fall. This will help to keep the caterpillar population under control. Check the leaves on the plants for caterpillar eggs—regardless of what kind of caterpillar you are dealing with—throughout the growing season. Be sure to check both the tops and bottoms of the leaves carefully.
    • When eggs are found, simply pinch or snip off the leaf and throw it in the garbage.

Method 2
Combating Caterpillars with Birds and Herbs

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    Encourage birds to spend time in your yard. An effective way to avoid caterpillars is to encourage birds to make their home in your yard. While this may not be an ideal solution for gardeners that want to keep the local avians away from their berry patch, it will certainly work for gardeners with plants that don’t appeal to the bird’s taste buds. To get birds to come to your yard:
    • Set out a bird feeder with a cone around it to keep out hungry squirrels and a birdbath to encourage the local avian populace to visit.
    • Ducks and chickens also enjoy caterpillars and if one has the space they might add either for both bug control and the tasty eggs.
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    Hide plants by using strongly scented herbs. Placing mugwort, sage, thyme, rosemary, and/or peppermint* around affected plants may remedy some caterpillar problems. These strongly scented herbs will help disguise the creature’s favorite foods so that they head elsewhere for dinner.[5]
    • Intercropping, or placing different plants together in one area, is another way to confuse insect predators.
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    Use organic controllers to rid your yard of caterpillars. There are several organic controls that can be used to get rid of caterpillars. BT, or Bacillus thuringiensis, is an excellent option for keeping pests out of the yard. However, this substance is not always easy to find.[6] To use BT:
    • “Kurstaki” BT kills most species of caterpillars. Mix it up according to the manufacturer’s instructions and spray the plants thoroughly, covering the tops and bottoms of the leaves as well as the stems. It can be sprayed on flowers and landscape plants every three to five days until the caterpillars are under control.
    • Gardeners who cannot find BT should try Neem based sprays instead. These sprays should only be used as a last resort because a number of beneficial insects may perish along with the caterpillars.


  • Mint plants are invasive in most areas and should be planted in containers rather than in the ground.
  • Always wear good gardening gloves when hand-picking caterpillars. Some species will inflict a painful sting.
    • BT is safe for animals, your plants, and even beneficial bugs.

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Categories: Garden Pests and Weeds