When a Cabbage Looper rears its ugly head in your garden it can be devastating to your cabbage plants. They eat it up fast if you don’t catch it in time and make them look terrible!
I have had them a few times and when I go outside to look at my beautiful cabbage I see leaves that look more like lace than cabbage… :/ It’s truly disappointing and reminiscent of Tomato Hornworm damage, only the cabbage have actual holes – here, there, and everywhere truly making it look like lace.
But, let’s start at the beginning and find out what they are and how to deal with them.
Cabbages are cold-hardy annuals or biennial vegetables that are generally easy to grow. However, they can be susceptible to certain pests that feed on the lush leaves of the plants.
Today, we’ll be talking about the cabbage looper and how you can prevent them in your cabbage patch. Let’s get started!
What Is A Cabbage Looper?
Adult Cabbage Loopers are a kind of diamondback moth also called a gray moth with a narrow white stripe or a silver “Y” mark on each of its front wings and the middle of the body the wings are also light brown at the base, with the distal portions dark brown.
You can find them pretty much anywhere in North America and Eurasia. The larva is a smooth, green caterpillar with narrow white stripes on its back and sides. It crawls in a looping motion. Young larvae eat only from the bottom of leaves. Older larvae chew large, irregular holes in the leaves of many plants.
Looper caterpillars are present nearly the entire growing season. Its larvae is a common and destructive pest often found in cole crops, cruciferous plants, or brassicas like cabbages, kale, collards, kohlrabi, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, Chinese cabbage, and cauliflower.
They are called loopers because of the way they move through the leaves they feed on. These pale green caterpillars don’t have legs in the middle of their bodies which causes them to loop and double up as they inch along the leaves of your crops.
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They can eat up to three times their body weight in plant material and can grow up to 1 ½ inches long. They’re most destructive during the last few days of their development since this is when they munch on the leaves of your crops the most.
They’re considered one of the most problematic cabbage pests. This is because they eat large areas on the lower surface of the leaf, leaving the upper surface intact.
The fourth and fifth instars chew large holes, and usually do not feed at the leaf margin. They also tend to eat baby cabbage plants. Plus, they can leave behind a sticky frass that can contaminate your plants.
Adult cabbage looper gray moths or diamondback moths don’t do as much damage since they feed on nectar instead of plant material.
What Plants Do Cabbage Loopers Affect?
Cabbage loopers generally prefer cruciferous vegetables like cabbages and broccoli. They grow on these plants faster because of their nutritional content.
They are also attracted to a wide range of plant odors and floral compounds including:
- methyl salicylate
- 2-phenyl ethanol
- benzyl alcohol
- benzyl acetate
- methyl-2-methoxy benzoate
However, almost 160 different crops can also serve as host to these pests including lettuce, spinach, celery, parsley, beets, peas, potatoes, and tomatoes. Other hosts include alfalfa, soybeans, and cotton.
Young cabbage looper larvae feed on the undersides of leaves and create window pane patterns especially in thick-leaved crops.
As they mature, the larvae can chew ragged holes in the center of the leaves and may even bore holes into broccoli and cabbage heads. This can result in whole leaf loss and major damage to your crops.
How To Deal With Cabbage Looper Infestations?
The simplest and safest way to get rid of cabbage loopers in your cabbage patch is by manually removing them – just pick them off.
You can easily spot them and pick them off one by one. The best time to do this is in the morning and late in the evening. Be sure to dispose of them properly so they won’t have a chance to mature.
Be sure to also check for yellow and white eggs, check the underside of plant leaves and scrape them off gently. Their eggs hatch in as little as 3 days and up to 10 days. Removing the eggs before they hatch allows you to prevent a new generation of cabbage loopers from feasting on your precious cabbage plants.
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You can also use spray treatments containing Bacillus thurigiensis or BT, a naturally-occurring soil bacterium and biological pesticide. It’s an organic and slow-acting option that you apply weekly to be effective.
You can also use Diatomaceous Earth for cabbage looper control sprinkle it on plants where cabbage worms are spotted. The diatomaceous earth powder will kill cabbage worms by piercing their bodies.
Broad insecticides can also be used to get rid of cabbage loopers. However, you need to use it sparingly so you don’t unintentionally kill beneficial insects and pollinators.
One of the best ways to stop cabbage looper damage is to use floating row covers. This lightweight fabric lets in sunlight and moisture. When placed over these crops, it acts as a physical barrier to keep insects away. In this case, it prevents cabbage looper moths from getting to your plants to lay their eggs, Pheromone traps are also a good way to catch the adult moths.
If you’ve experienced an infestation during the growing season, be sure to till the area in the fall and to remove any garden and plant debris to prevent the pupal stage from overwintering because that can cause trouble in the next season.
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