While the majority of caterpillars will develop into beautiful butterflies that we all love, the threat of these critters chowing down on your plants is one many growers prefer to avoid. Typically, we only encounter caterpillars in outdoor setups. However, if you slack off on cleaning an indoor grow room or keep a nearby window open, you could find yourself with caterpillars indoors too.
Dealing with a Caterpillar Problem
Caterpillars are a nuisance for a number of reasons. Primarily, home gardeners find them annoying due to the destruction they cause to plant leaves.
Prevention Method: Create a Barrier
The best way to prevent the destruction of leaves is through the installation of a barrier before the caterpillars can access the plant. It is very important to ensure that the barrier is in place prior to the caterpillars having a chance to lay their eggs. Otherwise, the developing larvae are simply protected from their natural predators, like birds and larger flying insects.
One of the methods for constructing a simple overhead barrier for your garden to place bamboo poles around the edges of your vegetable plants, and drape garden fabric cross the top. This is available at most landscaping or home supply retailers.
Note: This prevention method is not suitable for crops requiring pollination.
Pick ’em by Hand
A tried and true method is picking them off by hand and relocating outside of the garden. However, this can become a time-consuming task if your caterpillar problem is large. When removing caterpillars, do not forget the small, brown eggs they will have left behind on your leaves. You will want to be sure to check the undersides. On the underside, you should find clusters or individual eggs that can be removed as well.
Spinosad/Organic Garden Spray
Another option is to spray Spinosad or a comparable product on any areas in the garden that are affected caterpillars. However, you don’t want to spray any flowering plants during the growing season. Therefore, this method is only viable prior to the garden starting to flower.
Invite Beneficial Insects into Your Garden
Lastly, by bringing beneficial insects into the garden, you can also easily take care of the leaf-munching pests. Simply by bringing in a few insects that prey on caterpillars, you can quickly handle your infestation and get back to big luscious leaves everywhere. The best insects to bring in include chalcid, brachonid, and ichneumon wasps.
While these wasps don’t sting you, they will help you quickly handle a number of pest problems in your garden. You can choose to purchase them and release them into the garden. However, a better option is to grow plants that attract these insects. To do so, there are a number of plants in the carrot family that you can grow. Instead of harvesting them, allow the plants to flower and the wasps will come to enjoy the nectar and pollen. Of course, they’ll eat many of the pests in the garden too!
Though butterflies are some of the most beautiful and appreciated creatures that grace our gardens, the creepy-crawly caterpillars from which they develop do serious damage to our crops. A few simple steps to prevent those caterpillars from calling your garden home will prove very beneficial in the long run. And more than likely, those butterflies will still come around!
And as always, Happy Gardening!