How do you organically get rid of caterpillars in your garden?
There are some commercially available organic insecticides, but I prefer not to use anything if I can help it.
I pick the caterpillars off by hand as much as possible. It's a good idea to check vulnerable plants for eggs before the caterpillars hatch out and start doing any damage. I usually check the underside of my cabbage and brassica leaves for the little clusters of yellow eggs laid by cabbage white butterflies, and rub them off if I find them.
In the longer term is also a good idea to try to encourage insectiverous birds into your garden as they will eat the caterpillars. You can do this by providing nesting sites and year round food that will encourage them to live and feed in your garden.
I would first try to identify what kind of caterpillars they are, because sometimes they turn in to pretty wonderful insects. There are many insects that parasitise caterpillers. Those mostly belong to the small wasp family that are benign. Assassin bugs also love caterpillers. A simple remedy would to make sure that you have flowering plants in the garden as this will attract both the wasps and the assassin bugs. most Caterpillers are dependent upon a few specific types of plants. I won't be able to answer this question again but you can email me if you have more details.
You need to know what kind of caterpillars you are dealing with. They're attracted to something particular. Once you identify the many-legged culprit, you may distract them with what they may find a yummier choice. You may also grow something that attracts the predators that will be happy to take care of them for you. Do you know what these nasty fellas are?
The tried and true approach is BT (bacillus thurigensis). It is a naturally occuring bacteria that is toxic to caterpillars only. It is available as a dust or a liquid, ready to use or in concentrate. The other safe, organic control besides hungry birds and hand-picking is Spinosad, available under different product names. Sevin and other things can work too, but they are nor organic and too wide spectrum- also can be harmful to bees.
Some plants are host for butterflies like milkweed, butterfly bush, hollyhock,and passion fruit vines. BT is usually for tomato and tobacco hornworms, budworms, corn earworms, and cabbage moths that destroy our edible crops. Note: caterpillars are larva of moths and butterflies. Fly and beetle larvae, including fruit tree borers are not. They require different products.
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