How To Get Rid of Caterpillars

Caterpillars are generally small but they sure seem to eat a lot. I find them to be one of the most difficult pests to get rid of organically. Handpicking them off your plants is probably the most environmentally friendly way of getting rid of caterpillars but it is not always effective. Whenever I’ve done this I’ve always seemed to miss one or two and then found I had no plants left the next day.

Another option with caterpillars is to just leave them alone. Let them eat what they want and you take the rest. This can work with plants such as cauliflower and broccoli. The caterpillars tend to eat the outer leaves and then leave the rest. If you are happy to share your veges, then go ahead. I don’t think this works, however, with herbs. I have a couple of green caterpillars who love my basil and they never leave any for me. Plus if you leave the caterpillars you don’t want to find one has accidentally made its way into your salad.

Getting rid of caterpillars can be a matter of trial and error. What works best will depend on they type of caterpillar and the plant affected. A few things you can try include:

  • Picking them off by hand
  • Place sticky bands around the base of plants
  • Spray with an organic pesticide
  • Do nothing

Another way to control caterpillars is to introduce predatory pests into your garden. Pests of caterpillars include:

  • Frogs
  • Lizards
  • Wasps

If you want to spray, there are a couple of non-toxic pesticides. These may be biodegradable or organic but it’s best to read the label carefully before using them.

  • B. Thuriengiensis spray
  • Organic insect spray with pyrethrum such as Beat-A-Bug
  • Chilli and garlic spray
  • Biodegradable soap spray such as NatraSoap
  • Eco Oil
  • Pest Oil

Personally I think if you have such a major problem with one pest that you need to spray them then I think it’s better to just grow something else which is better suited to your environment.

The best way to prevent damage by caterpillars is to practice good organic gardening methods which will give you strong, healthy plants which can naturally fight off pests. In general it helps to:

  • Companion plant
  • Not plant your vegetables in rows
  • Rotate your crops
  • Encourage predatory insects and birds
  • Build up the soil by adding compost and mulch
About Andrea

Andrea is the founder and author of Buy Organic. Follow her on Twitter and become a fan of Buy Organic on Facebook.


  1. Gr8t, yes thanks for confirming that, the cauliflower itself looked well protected and though there is hundreds of catapillars, they only seem to be eating the leaves, so we’ll let them be.

  2. lisabcool says:

    I spreaded a little over one square foot of basil seeds, and I have more than I could ever eat. There are some catapillars munching on it but that just gives me an excuse to pluck that leaf off so more leaves can grow. I love that the more you pluck leaves off a basil the more leaves you will actually have. So my suggestion is just plant tons of seeds and there will be enough for everyone. ( I only used one packet.)

  3. richard mackay says:

    Garlic spray could i have the recipe please

  4. Darren Craig says:

    The safest and most personally beneficial way to get rid of any chewing or sucking bug is to use diatomite, also called permaguard. you must get food grade quality. It has a huge number of health benefits also. check it out on the web. I am a certied organic seedling grower and use it extensively. If you cant find any email me and I will arrange to send you some. Oh its also cheaper than any other non chemical control. [email protected]

  5. Hi,
    I just began gardening and started with Basil as my first edible plant. It was doing gread but now half the leaves are eaten and I found little black spots (like tiny lumps of dirt) on some of the leaves. I can brush them off but want to protect the leaves. Does this sound like caterpillars or something else? Oh….and thanks to weird summer Aussie weather we’ve had rain non stop (or just about) recently.
    Thanks for any tips/help people can give a total newbie. :-)

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