Cabbage Worms

How to Identify and Get Rid of Cabbage Worms


The cabbage worm, which is the caterpillar of the cabbage white, can be a dangerous pest in your garden.

Here are tips on how to identify, control, and get rid of cabbage worms.

What are Cabbage Worms? 

Cabbage worms are the same pest as “imported cabbageworms.” The adult butterflies are sometimes called cabbage whites or small whites. The Latin name is Pieris rapae, or Artogeia rapae.

This is a common pest for cabbage, kale, cauliflower, broccoli, and other members of the cabbage vegetable family. Do not be overly concerned if you see a hole in a leaf; plants can withstand much leaf loss without consequence. It is during seedling establishment or early head formation that plants will incur true damage to their growth and yield.


How to Identify Cabbage Worms

Cabbage worms are velvety green larvae. They have a few faint yellow stripes. They are not to be confused with cabbage loopers, which are yellow-green caterpillars. Unlike cabbageworms, cabbage loopers raise and lower their bodies as they move because they have no middle legs. Cabbage worms become cabbage white butterflies, which are mostly white with a few black markings. Cabbage white butterflies might seem like a pretty addition to the garden, but they are probably laying eggs on the undersides of leaves.

Where you find cabbage worms and cabbage loopers, you also might find the eggs and larvae of the diamondback moth and the zebra caterpillar. The camouflage of these creatures is excellent, so you will often see the frass, or fecal matter, that they leave behind before you see them.


Photo Credit: Cabbageworm eggs like the one in this picture are absolutely tiny, so you might not see them before it’s too late.

Cabbage Worm Damage

Cabbage worms can happily eat away at the bases of cabbage, cauliflower, or the heads of broccoli without being noticed. They feed on foliage, and eventually they can leave plants only with stems and large veins. If left to their own devices, cabbage worms can devour your crops. Their fecal matter can also stain and contaminate the produce.


Photo Credit: Purdue University. Imported cabbageworms feed on the flesh of foliage and often hide on the undersides of leaves.

Control and Prevention

How to Get Rid of Cabbage Worms

  • Manually remove (handpick) the eggs if possible.
  • Yellow sticky traps will catch the adult butterflies, but may also catch beneficial insects.
  • Spraying with Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis var. kurstaki) every 1 to 2 weeks will also help control cabbage family pests. Sevin also is effective. And, the few pests that remain on the vegetables can be washed out after harvest using water and a small amount of detergent or other surfactant.
  • It is said that if you dampen cabbage leaves and sprinkle them with cornmeal, the caterpillars will eat the meal, swell, and die.
  • Check with your local Cooperative Extension for your area’s regulations on chemical control.
  • Old folk advice from The 1963 Old Farmer’s Almanac states: Years ago, people sprinkled rye flour over cabbage plants in the early morning. The flour dehydrated the cabbage worms. Give it a try!


Photo Credit: York College of Pennsylvania. It is hard to control cabbage worm damage, so it’s best to prevent them from coming to your garden in the first place.

Prevent Cabbage Worms

  • Cover your plants with row covers to deter the adult butterflies from laying eggs on the cabbages.
  • Trichogramma wasps (very tiny; they do not sting humans) parasitize the eggs of the imported cabbage worm; these beneficial insects are available by mailorder, although you’ll need to time their release appropriately—the mailorder company would be able to help you. Read more about beneficial insects.
  • Companion planting is a useful deterrent for many pests. Cabbage worms are repelled by thyme, so it would be a good idea to plant thyme near your susceptible plants. Cabbage worms are attracted to mustard plants, so planting mustard near more valuable plants can be a good trap for cabbage worms. Once they take over the mustard, you can destroy the plant.
  • Try planting red leafed varieties of cabbage. The cabbage worms won’t be able to camouflage, so they are less likely to choose these plants.


Reader Comments

Leave a Comment

Green, fuzzy worms eating my Petunias.

These worms look something like cabbage worms. Each year after my petunias bloom, these worms eat the blossoms and destroy the flower.

Cabbage is full of worms and poop

Today I noticed increasing holes in my cabbage leaves so I dug apart one of the heads that are forming and found Tablespoon size globs of poop or eggs, or both in each layer of my cabbage heads with worms all over the place. Every plant is the same way. I am tempted to just pull them and forget it for this year, but is there something that I can do other than scrap the whole crop?

cabbage woes

The Editors's picture

It sounds like you might have an infestation of imported cabbageworms, although other worms may also attack cabbage, such as cabbage loopers. Imported cabbageworm is a green caterpillar with a faint yellow stripe down its back (see the top photo above); eggs are yellow, laid under leaves; you can often see the poop left on the leaves. Cabbage loopers are green with 2 white or yellow lines down their back, and move sort of like an inchworm; eggs are light green; you may notice cocoons in leaves. For caterpillar control, you might try some of the methods suggested in the above article. If you have a small garden, handpicking is the most effective. For heavy infestations, however, you might try spraying BTK (Bacillus thuringiensis var. kurstaki) according to manufacturer’s directions. Row covers help prevent the adult white butterfly from laying eggs on the leaves, but of course it won’t help control the pests already there. Remove weeds around the garden, especially from the mustard family. Good luck!


Apparrently they also like petunias... specifically my night sky petunias.

cabbage pest control

what types of pesticide can we use for the major pest control on the cabbage...if we want to kill the moths and worms instantly within 1-2 days...chemical pesticide.If we get 2-3 names of the pesticedes the we will be very helpfull.
thank you

Pest Control

The Editors's picture

It is rather difficult to target pests like moths and caterpillars specifically, because most pesticides will also harm beneficial insects (like bees). However, since crops like cabbages don’t need to be pollinated, you have more options. We would recommend using a natural pesticide, like Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) or Neem Oil, but if those are not available, a synthetic pesticide containing permethrin could be used.

Cabbage & Cauilflowers/worm poop

Can we saefly eat the cabbage and cauliflower if they have pooped on the vegetable the cauliflower has turned purple is this safe to eat?

cabbage worm droppings

The Editors's picture

It would seem a shame to discard a good harvest just because a relatively tiny pest left a few droppings on it. Cut out or cut off the parts that were pooped on. Wash the vegetable well, and cook as planned. Or, after cleaning them well, you could eat the vegetables raw in slaw or salad. But if you have any hesitation, cook it to eliminate your concerns.

About the purple cauliflower: There is a variety that is supposed to be purple. It grows that way. Are you sure that is not what you planted, or—who knows?—what you did not know you planted? Come to think of it, some white varieties may have a bit of purple on the stems of the curds (the clusters on the head). That is probably safe to eat but if you have any doubt, don’t.

Don’t let the insects bug you!


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