How To: Get Rid of Caterpillars

Try these easy DIY pest solutions to rid plants of pesky caterpillars and take back control of your garden greens.

How to Get Rid of Caterpillars in the Garden


A love of gardening often goes hand in hand with a hatred toward the pests that pervade the fruits of your labor, both figurative and literal. While backyard gardens attract some “pests” that are actually beneficial to the ecosystem, they also appeal to a number of creepy crawlers that are detrimental to the plants, including caterpillars. It’s these small critters’ big appetites that leave frustrated homeowners looking for their demise. Luckily, these tried and true, all-natural methods can help homeowners regain control of their lush landscape once more.

- Bucket
- Liquid dish soap
- Rubber or gardening gloves
- Broom handle
- Bacillus thuringiensis
- Molasses
- Garlic
- Vegetable oil
- Birdhouse

How to Get Rid of Caterpillars


Hand-Pick Your Least Favorites
When it comes to caterpillar removal, the fastest way to address the problem is by hand—that is, by gloved hand. Fill a bucket about halfway with hot water and a couple of tablespoons of mild dish soap, pull on a pair of rubber or canvas gardening gloves, and head out to your garden to do a different kind of picking. This time, you’ll want to lift caterpillars from the leaves—checking all of the undersides, where caterpillars are known to hide—and drop them one by one into the bucket to drown. The protective hand gear will ensure that you aren’t stung by the spines on some varieties of caterpillar as you handle them, like the saddleback. While this method is the most proactive, it also may require repetition to remove the entire population.

Empty the Nest
A more aggressive way to attack the problem—literally—is to destroy the caterpillars’ nest. You’ll often find these silk-spun homes hanging from tree limbs. Simply punch your implement of choice (either a long sharpened stick or broom handle work well) into the nest itself, then spin and scrape along its interior to remove all of its inhabitants. Afterward, dispose of the nest and its contents in a bucket of warm, soapy water to drown still-living caterpillars.

For the best chance of success, attack the camp early in the morning or late at night to guarantee that the majority of the caterpillars will be in the nest. While immediately effective, this method may also require a few rounds should any remaining caterpillars rebuild their home.

Poison the Hungry Caterpillars’ Food
Homeowners who aren’t interested in hunting and handling these pests can opt to administer the hands-off—and hand-down most effective—extermination solution, Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt). This naturally occurring soil bacteria kills caterpillars in a matter of days by destroying the lining of their stomachs. Simply dust its powder or mist its liquid form directly onto your garden plants and wait for the caterpillars to get hungry. Better yet, apply without any worry about negative side effects: Bt is completely safe for the plants, their pollinators, pets, and humans. The bacteria is only toxic to caterpillars, as well as some moths and worms who’d like to munch on your greens. Stock up at any local garden shop, and reapply after a week or two if your infestation still exists, as your first application would have broken down in direct sunlight and rainfall.

If you’re not ready to shell out for caterpillar control, you can mix up a home remedy to get the job done. For plants, a regular spray of a molasses solution (1 tablespoon molasses, 1 teaspoon dish soap, and a liter of warm water) or a garlic solution (three crushed cloves of garlic, 1 tablespoon vegetable oil, 1 teaspoon dish soap, and a liter of water) will deter insects from munching.

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