How to Identify and Get Rid of Cabbage Root Maggots


The larva of the cabbage root fly, or the cabbage root maggot, can be a serious pest, so learn how to get rid of it here.

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Ian Bedford/GrowVeg.com
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Learn How to Prevent Cabbage Root Maggots

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Calling all gardeners!  Are your cabbages wilting and your Brussels sprouts looking sickly? Cabbage root maggots might be the culprit.  This guide equips you with everything you need to know to identify, control, and prevent Cabbage root maggots.

What Are Cabbage Root Maggots? 

Cabbage root maggots affect cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts. (This group of vegetables is also known as ‘cole crops.’) Different types of root maggots also occur that affect carrots, onions, and other veggie crops. Because cole crops are cool-season vegetables, cabbage root maggots are much more prominent in the Northern zones of the US. They are difficult to control because they hatch and feed underneath the soil, so you may only know they are there when you notice stunted growth or wilting foliage.


How to Identify Cabbage Root Maggots

  • Cabbage root maggots are white, legless, and about 1/3 inch long. As with most maggots, they clump in groups and will feed voraciously on root systems of cole crops.
  • The cabbage fly is tiny, grey, and fragile, and will emerge in early spring. It resembles a small housefly. After feeding for about 10 days, eggs are laid at the base of cole crop seedlings.
  • Eggs are about 1/8 inch and oblong, and laid in rows, usually in moist or shaded areas (eggs are susceptible to heat damage, another reason they are mostly found in northern zones). They can often be seen near the main stem in the soil.
  • Larvae hatch and tunnel through the soil to feed on the roots. After feeding, they become cabbage root fly pupae and prepare for the transformation to become cabbage root flies.
cabbage root maggots in the pupal stage
Cabbage root maggots in the pupal stage signify that you will soon have cabbage root flies in your garden.
Photo Credit: Ian Bedford/GrowVeg.com. 

Cabbage Root Maggot Damage

You will notice wilting leaves and sometimes a hint of blue cast or yellow in the foliage. As the larvae tunnel through the roots, the plants will wilt and shrivel. If you pull up the damaged plants, you will see the tiny maggots on the roots. Inevitably, the plant will die. Cabbage root maggots cause the most damage in late summer.

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Control and Prevention

How to Get Rid of Cabbage Root Maggots

  • If you see flies in the air, scout for eggs in the soil. Run your fingers through the top layers near the bases of your plants. Destroy any eggs found.
  • You can try installing ‘cabbage collars’ at the base of the stem. These can be made from cardboard and will simply be a skirt around the base of the plant. It protects the plants from egg-laying.
  • Sticky traps in the garden are effective at trapping cabbage flies. They are available at most nurseries.
  • Check with your nursery about using nematodes as a biological control for root maggots. Another biological control are wasps, so leave them alone.
  • Carefully dig up your plants and swish their roots in cold water to remove the maggots, then replant them. Either allow the maggots to drown in the water or feed them to your chickens for a tasty snack.
  • Check with your local Cooperative Extension for your area’s regulations on chemical control.
  • Old folk advice from The 1963 Old Farmer’s Almanac says that the smell of tar in tar paper was effective against cabbage root maggots.

Prevent Cabbage Root Maggots

  • Most red cabbage varieties have some resistance to cabbage root maggots.
  • Floating row covers can be effective when set out at time of transplant. It is possible for overwintering pupae to emerge from beneath the cover. Make sure edges are sealed.
  • Late planting can be a successful tactic in tricking pests.
  • Practice crop rotation.
  • Till garden in the fall and spring to expose overwintering fly pupae.
  • If you’d like to keep cabbage root maggots away from more valuable plants, try planting radish as a trap. Many maggots will be attracted to the radish, and then you can destroy it.

Cabbage worms are another common pest of the cabbage family. Click here to deter imported cabbage worms.

About The Author

Catherine Boeckmann

Catherine Boeckmann loves nature, stargazing, and gardening so it’s not surprising that she and The Old Farmer’s Almanac found each other. She leads digital content for the Almanac website, and is also a certified master gardener in the state of Indiana. Read More from Catherine Boeckmann

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