Cabbage White Butterfly

How to deal with a white cabbage butterfly invasion


cabbage white butterfly

A cabbage white butterfly invasion will leave your salad greens in tatters. While it’s lovely to see a fluttering of whiteness dancing around your veggies, there’s a nasty side. They lay their eggs on the leaves of your plants so that the caterpillars will have plenty to eat when they hatch. And eat they do... If, like me, you’ve had your greens decimated by the white cabbage butterfly caterpillar, you’ll be interested in solutions.

Cabbage white butterfly is sometimes called a cabbage moth, although cabbage moths are actually a separate species (that can also cause a lot of trouble.) The cabbage white butterfly is about 4 cm wide and has black spots on its wings.

Those who have had their mizuna stripped, their pak choy reduced to lacework and their silverbeet patterned with holes will be no fan of the cabbage white butterfly. Some for you, some for me just doesn’t seem to work, the caterpillars take it all. To make matters worse, they leave a mess of tiny poo balls clustered into the base of your plants. Yuk!

Prevention

cabbage white butterfly damage

Scatter crushed eggshells around the base of your plants to deter the butterflies from laying their eggs. They think there’s too much competition and go elsewhere. The eggshells have to be quite thick. I tried mixing my kitchen compost, which had a fair amount of crushed eggshells in it, into the top layer of my container mix but it wasn’t thick enough.

Cover your containers or garden beds with fine netting. Half hoops placed over the growing space provide a frame for the netting. This will solve a number of insect problems for you, including blocking grasshoppers from your veggies. The drawback is that it also blocks out the friendlier insects such as the ladybugs and bees. If you do use this method to cover your veggie patch, plant a lavender or rosemary bush for the bees instead.

Cut out butterfly shapes from pieces of thin white plastic such as old icecream container lids. Attach these to the end of 30-40cm lengths of coat hanger wire and stick them into the ground around your veggies. It will look like there is already a gang of white cabbage butterflies in residence. This is another trick that makes them think there is too much competition and go elsewhere.

Cure

The good old-fashioned pick ‘em off method... kids love this job and the chooks will love cleaning them up for you. Even the dog will eat them if the kids toss them in the dogfood bowl while you’re not looking...

Believe it or not this can be quite a relaxing and satisfying activity. I found it took several days of decreasing yields to reduce our cabbage butterfly caterpillar population to manageable levels. Ongoing monitoring is required. The best time to pick is early in the morning before too much direct sun has driven the caterpillars deeper into your plants. I did find caterpillars out and about at other random times of day, but morning seems to be the time they go out exploring and seeking greener pastures.

If your kids don’t like touching the bright green and furry little caterpillars they can at least help you spot them. You may need the extra help, as the cabbage moth caterpillars are great at camouflaging themselves. Sometimes you need to gaze at your greens for 10 seconds or more before you can actually see them, especially if they’re still. Once you start picking them off you’ll be amazed at how many are right in front of your face.Sprays are always a last resort, even if they’re organic, as they often target friendly insects as well. For white cabbage butterfly try spraying with organic pyrethrum.

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