You can easily remove caterpillars from your yard or garden with things you might already have at home, like soap and water or vinegar. To prevent future infestations, consider how you plan your garden or try installing a bird feeder.
There are few things more rewarding than carefully cultivating a backyard vegetable or flower garden. You work hard to make sure the soil is perfect and give your plants plenty of water, waiting patiently for the payoff of beautiful blooms and fresh vegetables. So it’s frustrating when you check your plants only to discover leaves with more holes than swiss cheese.
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Signs you have a caterpillar infestation
Butterflies lay their eggs on their favorite food sources, which unfortunately might be your vegetables or flowers. If you notice butterflies hanging around your plants, chances are they might lay their eggs there as well.
Butterfly eggs are very tiny—around 1-3cm—and they’re usually light yellow or green. Check the leaves of plants that you’ve seen butterflies around to see if they’ve laid any eggs. Removing the eggs before they hatch can stop an infestation before it starts!
Ever heard of “The Very Hungry Caterpillar?” Unfortunately, it’s no exaggeration. As soon as caterpillars hatch from their eggs they start eating everything nearby—and that usually means your plants!
If you notice holes in your leaves, chances are there are hungry little caterpillars nearby. They can cause a lot of damage in a short period, so you need to be vigilant to catch them before they eat your whole garden.
Frass is a nice name for caterpillar poop. It looks like little grains of black pepper, and caterpillars leave it behind wherever they happen to be eating.
Frass is even smaller than butterfly eggs, so it can be really difficult to spot. Use a magnifying glass to help you inspect your plants more closely.
5 Best ways to get rid of caterpillars
Soap and water
An inexpensive and easy way to get rid of caterpillars is plain old soap and water. First, dissolve some liquid soap in warm water. Then transfer the mixture to an empty spray bottle. Spray all of the plants where you’ve noticed caterpillar activity, making sure to get the leaves really well.
Keep in mind, soap and water won’t kill caterpillars—it just makes your plants too slippery for them to climb on. If you have a serious infestation, you might combine soap and water spraying with another removal method.
B.t. (or bacillus thuringiensis) is a bacteria that occurs naturally in some soils. It’s incredibly toxic to different insects, causing their gut to break down so they die of starvation. Adding B.t. to your plants and soil will effectively wipe out caterpillars and most other plant-eating pests.
B.t. might be toxic for bugs, but it’s completely safe for humans and pets—even around your vegetables!
Another natural remedy, neem oil can kill caterpillars in your garden and prevent them from coming back. Dilutetwo ounces of neem oil in a gallon of water, and shake to mix. Spray on your plants to kill caterpillars within a few hours (and it works on a lot of other pests as well!), and spray around plants to keep more critters away.
Neem oil is non-toxic for humans, pets, and birds, so it’s safe to use even around your vegetables or areas where your pets may go.
Need another quick and affordable solution? Try vinegar! A vinegar and water solution will kill most garden pests, plus it will create a barrier around your plants to deter other bugs from returning. Just mix two tablespoons of vinegar with four liters of water, and spray wherever you’ve seen caterpillars.
If you don’t mind a more hands-on approach, you can always pick the little creeps off your plants by hand. Search your plants carefully and remove any caterpillars you see, either squishing them or dropping them into a bucket of soapy water to dispose of them. Picking off all the visible caterpillars is a quick way to save your plants, and you can combine it with other methods to make sure you get the whole infestation.
Be sure to wear gloves—some caterpillars have spines that will cause irritation and rashes if they touch your bare skin. Some varieties of caterpillar eggs can even do the same thing!
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Tips to prevent future infestations
You can use an all-natural solution (like soap and water or vinegar and water) to spray around your plants to deter caterpillars and other pests, or you can opt for a more potent chemical spray. Either way, spraying around your plants can keep infestations from occurring again.
When you’re ready to plant vegetables again, or even if you’re starting a new garden patch, the way you plant may help deter future pests. Butterflies are attracted to nectar-rich flowers, so plant any blooming flowers away from your vegetables to keep caterpillars out of your crops.
Some strong-smelling herbs—like lavender, sage, or mugwort—will keep caterpillars away as well. Plant these herbs near your vegetables to protect them from pests.
A lot of common bird species love snacking on creepy crawlies. Some species even prefer caterpillars above other bugs, so why not encourage them to clear out your garden? Building a bird’s nest near your plants means you can get the birds to do the hard work for you.
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What causes caterpillar infestation?
Infestations are caused by butterflies laying their eggs on plants they deem as good food sources. Butterflies love nectar-rich flowers, so keep a careful eye on any plants where you notice butterfly activity.
What can I spray for caterpillars?
There are several all-natural and chemical sprays you can use in your garden to kill or deter caterpillars. Opt for a natural remedy if you’re spraying near vegetables or any place where kids or pets might have access to.
What is the best way to kill caterpillars?
Organic B.t. is the fastest way to kill caterpillars. It breaks down their gut and causes them to die of starvation very quickly. Plus, B.t. is completely safe to use around people and pets!