How to Control White Cabbage Butterfly in the Garden 12

As I mentioned in our recent newsletter, this autumn I’ve noticed a lot more White Cabbage Butterfly (Pieris rapae) in our gardens than usual. White Cabbage Butterfly lay their eggs on our Brassicas, such as broccoli and cauliflower. Little green caterpillars hatch from these eggs, and then get to work chewing holes through the plants.

Autumn planting melbourne white cabbage moth

The caterpillars from the White Cabbage Butterfly can wreak havoc in the garden

A few holes in the leaves is not a major concern for your Brassicas. However, the numbers of caterpillars this year, have left some of my plants stripped back to bare stems. There are several methods you can use to control White Cabbage Butterfly, as well as other caterpillars.

Decoy Plants for White Cabbage Butterfly

How to Control White Cabbage Moth Melbourne

Nasturtiums make a great decoy plant for White Cabbage Moth

Since we have moved house, we haven’t planted Nasturtiums in our garden. This could be one of the reasons why we are having such a caterpillar problem in our garden. White Cabbage Butterfly love Nasturtiums, and will often seek these plants out to lay their eggs on, instead of the Brassicas.

Using Dipel to Control White Cabbage Butterfly

If things get really desperate you can spray your plants with Dipel. This biological control is a bacterial stomach poison for all caterpillars, which is mixed with water and sprayed onto both sides of foliage. It must be ingested by the actively feeding caterpillar, which will then die 3-4 days later. It is not a contact spray. It is considered safe for beneficial insects, including ladybirds and bees as well as fish, birds, mammals and pets. Dipel contains Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), which is a bacterial toxin and specific against most species of leaf eating caterpillars. Dipel is listed as an organic spray.

Search and Destroy Missions for White Cabbage Butterfly

The easiest method to control caterpillars is via search and destroy missions. It’s a great activity for the kids to hunt them down. You can then squish them, or feed them to the chooks. It can become quite a game of hide and seek, as most of these caterpillars are masters of disguise. Make sure you inspect the undersides of leaves, as that’s where a lot of them hide during the day.

Control White Cabbage Moth Melbourne

Chooks love the protein in White Cabbage Butterfly Caterpillars

Allowing Parasitic Wasps to control White Cabbage Butterfly

This year, rather than squishing them all, I’ve been trying to relocate the cabbage moth to other plants that are less important to us. The idea is that by maintaining an abundance of these pests in the garden, predatory wasps will be encouraged to breed up and tackle the problem for me. This method was semi-successful, as I have noticed an increase in number of Predatory Wasps in the garden. Predatory Wasps inject their eggs under the caterpillar’s skin. Then their larvae hatch and consume the caterpillar from the inside out, eventually killing the caterpillar.

Here’s a video that I recorded a few weeks ago. It shows Parasitic Wasps hatching out of a Dainty Swallowtail Chrysalis.

Decoys for White Cabbage Butterfly

You can also try tricking the White Cabbage Moth with decoys such as fake moths and even eggshells! Using these decoys ticks the White Cabbage Moths into thinking the leaves are already home to caterpillars and are too much competition for more eggs.


You can also use a fine netting to keep the moths from laying eggs on the plants. You will need to put the netting over as soon as you plant the seedlings. If you wait until there are signs of caterpillar damage, it is too late, as you just trap the emerging moths inside the netting. Which means they have to lay eggs on the plants inside it.

How to Control White Cabbage Moth Melbourne

Eggshells used as decoys for white cabbage butterfly

Or, Just Wait for the Cold Weather!

As the weather turns colder, pest species such as Aphids, Whitefly and White Cabbage Butterfly will become less of a problem. So try and avoid using sprays in the garden, if you can, and let nature take care of it for you.

Our cabbage moth problem was eventually cleaned up by another much despised pest in Melbourne.

Do you have any tried and tested methods for controlling White Cabbage Butterfly? Please share your experiences with us in the comments section!

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12 thoughts on “How to Control White Cabbage Butterfly in the Garden

  • Dianne

    I luv to leave some broccoli go to seed, the yellow flowers attract heaps of bees and I scare if the butterflies Lay eggs!
    Secondly I cut white butterflies out of margarine or ice cream containers, if you hang Two in the same spot a meter apart they are teralorial and work in pairs and will not go there!
    Especially with free broccoli just meters away ha ha

  • Amanda

    Or create a cloche of netting! Spotlight has the perfect stuff for $2.50 a metre. Particularly good for allotments or if a garden has to be left alone for a few weeks.

    • Leaf, Root & Fruit Post author

      Of course! We do this regularly for our clients, but for some reason neglected to include it in the guide. Thanks for pointing it out. It might be worth adding that you need to put the netting over as soon as you plant the seedlings. If you wait until there are signs of caterpillar damage, it is too late, as you just trap the emerging moths inside the netting. Which means they have to lay eggs on the plants inside it.

  • Julia McGrath

    We’ve just moved from East Malvern to Langwarrin to a house with a bigger garden (and at last have some veggie beds). The whole place is covered with nasturtiums for a start, and I have never in my life seen so many white cabbage moths. Unbelievable! I’ve not quite got the veggie beds ready but am heartened by your advice to leave planting them out for a bit. In the meantime I continue the seek and destroy mission. Caterpillars beware

    • Leaf, Root & Fruit Post author

      Thanks for sharing your experience Julia. Sounds like quite a Cabbage Moth haven you have there. Might be time to unleash some chooks on the garden?!!!

  • Dee

    Could you please update your website to correct the article on white cabbage ‘moth’. It is a white cabbage butterfly. Cabbage moth is entirely different. I’ve noticed many people making this mistake, even professional gardening sites. It’s incredibly frustrating and spreads misinformation. Thanks, Dee

    • Leaf, Root & Fruit Post author

      Hi Dee, thanks for highlighting out this common mistake. We’ve updated our article as per your request.

      Good Luck & Happy Gardening!

  • John Whelan

    More cabbage moth than I can recall this summer. I have an abundance of Nasturtium & Rosemary & these supposed decoys don’t work. A butterfly net on a sunny day! Catch as many as you can & destroy them under foot. I know I won’t eradicate these pests but I’m doing my bit.

    • Leaf, Root & Fruit Post author

      Hi John,

      Yes, there were certainly an abundance of them this summer. We found that netting our Brassicas was the best approach to protect the plants.

      Happy Gardening!