The cabbage looper is a common pest found in schoolyard gardens. The larva is a smooth pale greenish 1-1½ inch caterpillar with thin white stripes on its back and sides. They get their name from the unique way they inch along forming a small loop with their bodies. The adults are a mostly nocturnal gray moth, with a white shape on the center of the wings.
Cabbage loopers are voracious eaters. Larva can eat up to three times their weight in foliage. Brassica plants like collard greens, cabbage, broccoli and brussels sprouts are the cabbage loopers’ primary food. But they also eat lettuce, kale, even arugula. They eat holes in leaves and leave small gummy waste behind.
The adult moths lay very small eggs on the leaves of garden plants. These eggs hatch in two to five days. It is important to remember that the adult cabbage loopers are most active in low light conditions, such as night time and cloudy days. You can cover vulnerable crops with floating row cover over night and on cloudy days to keep the moths from laying eggs on garden plants. Be sure to request row cover from your schoolyard gardens contact!
You can also sprinkle Dipel dust on plants after watering. Dipel dust is not harmful to humans, plants or other animals, but it does make cabbage loopers sick and they will not eat plants with it on them.
Even after taking these preventative steps, you might still find cabbage loopers in your garden. They are such a common garden pest that sometimes it’s best to remove the loopers manually. Keep an eye on your brassicas and have students remove caterpillars and eggs from the garden.
Natural predators of cabbage loopers are wasps, birds, toads and spiders. Keeping these garden helpers around will help with pest management!