White Cabbage Butterfly

White Cabbage Butterfuly

You have heard me talk enough about attracting pollinators to your garden to know that I am a fan of most of the flying creatures that visit my garden.  I love the small wasps, especially the ones that prey on less beneficial insects.  My garden welcomes bees of all sizes and varieties.  I even keep butterfly-attracting plants in my garden to provide a haven for butterflies.  With one exception.  The white Cabbage Butterly.  I have declared war on this little white monster.

The Bane of my Greens

White cabbage Butterflies seek our brassicas on which to lay their eggs.  If you have tried to grow cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, bok choy, etc. you have probably been plagued by these medium-sized white butterflies as well.  

They lay their eggs in the undersides of the leaves of this plant and the eggs eventually hatch.  The larval stage of the white cabbage butterfly is the little green caterpillars that we commonly call the leaf loper.  These voracious small worms can strip an entire kale plant of its leaf material in just a few days. 

white cabbage butterfly eggs

Several years ago, we lost a whole grow bed of kale that was growing in our aquaponics system when an invasion of leaf loopers occurred.  We have been battling them this year as well.   They did away entirely with a small patch of Kohlrabi before we were aware of them.   I have been fighting them on our kale for weeks.    I just recently discovered that they will also feast on the tops of our radishes. 

My Methods

If you are like me and refuse to use any toxic synthetic pesticide in your garden, then white cabbage butterflies pose a problem. There are some organic control methods.  Mine is to spend some time each morning and evening in my garden,  looking at leaves.  I scrutinize them, top and bottom.   I look for tiny yellow specks that are the eggs of the white cabbage butterfly.  To remove them, I wipe them with a finger.  I also look for the caterpillars.  

Leaf Looper white cabbage butterfly

When they first hatch, they are tiny, and the green color makes them almost invisible.  It takes some time to learn to spot them.   The more mature larger versions are much easier to spot.  I pick them up and drop them in a tall plastic cup.   More on what to do with them later.

You may find the chrysalis on your plants.  The chrysalis is the last stage of the life cycle for the butterfly.  Each caterpillar will create a small hard shell.  Inside that shell, the chrysalis, the caterpillars morphs into a butterfly.  Pick these off as well.

Other Options

If you have a large garden, leaf picking each plant is not feasible.   A good dusting of diatomaceous earth regularly will help control the caterpillars.  The soft-sided worms don’t like the sharp edges of the DE and will leave the treated plants.

row covers

Row covers are also useful.  Fine net row covers allow plenty fo light and air circulation for the plants.  The fine netting also prevents the butterfly from landing on the plant to deposit eggs.   Adding row covers is prevention at the source.

Pollinator or Nuisance?

White Cabbage Butterflies are a nuisance and, in my garden, are considered a pest insect with no redeeming value.  They aren’t particularly pretty and the result of one butterfly spending an hour in your garden can be the loss of an entire crop.  I keep a butterfly net handy so that I can catch them when I get the chance.

The Tall Plastic Cup

Oh, back to the tall plastic cup.  Once I pick the worms from the leaves of my plants, I take them to my fish tank in the aquaponics system.  I am raising bluegill.  I have close to 50 little bluegills in the tank.  Some are approaching 4 to 5 inches in length and they have a healthy appetite.   I shake the caterpillars into the water and then watch.   The bluegill considers the green caterpillars a top-notch treat and makes short work of them.   They will also eat the butterflies as well if you can get the butterfly in the water and keep it there. 

Ready for battle

Many of us are beginning to plan our fall gardens now and brassicas play a considerable role as temperatures start to cool in the fall.   As you plan your fall garden, plan on including measures to control the white cabbage butterfly for a more productive harvest.

Links and Resources

For more information about organic gardening, lifestyles, and living, visit our website at West Texas Organic Gardening.

If you found the information here helpful, you might also find these articles on our website of interest.

Organic Growing Myths

Toss Your Tiller


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