Should I Kill Caterpillars in My Garden? (Answered!)

There’s hardly anything more disheartening and frustrating for a gardener than seeing the plants they put much effort in full of holes and their leaves chewed up.

When this happens, in many cases, the culprits are caterpillars who typically love to feast on the leaves of burgeoning plants.

After seeing their plants in these conditions, the first thing on the mind of many gardeners and homeowners is to kill caterpillars and get rid of them.

However, caterpillars are not your typical pests.

As you probably know, even though they can damage plants, they’re highly beneficial to the garden.

Most caterpillar species, after they finish their metamorphosis into butterflies, become important pollinators for a variety of plants.

The fact that caterpillars eventually can bring so much good to the garden may put you in a dilemma:

Should I kill caterpillars in my Garden?

Should I Kill Caterpillars in My Garden?

The first thing to understand is that there are “good” and “bad” caterpillars, at least when it comes to how beneficial or damaging they can be to your garden.

Bad caterpillars can do significant harm, targeting certain plants, and munching on the greener ones, sometimes even fully destroying the plant.

The damage is relatively easy to spot, these caterpillars leave behind holes in leaves, webbed or rolled leaves, excrement, and eggs.

Most of these harmful caterpillars will later turn into moths. However, there are also useful caterpillars, the kinds you want in your garden.

A typical example is the caterpillar of the Monarch butterfly, which goes on to play an important role in pollinating the garden.

Identifying the caterpillar can be very tricky, as there are thousands of different species.

Still, there are numerous resources on the internet that can help you discover if the caterpillar is good for your garden.

Getting Rid of Caterpillars Without Killing Them

Caterpillar on a plant leaf.

As it can be so difficult to determine whether caterpillars are beneficial for your garden or not, perhaps the best course of action is to work on prevention or getting rid of these pests without killing them.

Below are a few tips that can help you achieve just that.

Using Soapy Water

Probably the easiest way to control the caterpillar population in your garden is by using soapy water.

In general, caterpillars are rather sensitive to strong smells and look to avoid anything that emits a powerful scent.

So, what can you do is prepare a mixture of liquid soap and water. One teaspoon of soap per cup of water should be enough.

One thing to remember is to make sure that the plants you use this method on can handle the increased moisture.

When you’ve prepared soapy water, put it into a spray bottle and spray the plants early in the morning or late in the evening.

This will not only create a strong smell around the plants but also coat the leaves and make them slippery.

This will make it very hard for caterpillars and similar pests to climb onto the plant and move around the surface of the leaves.

Companion Plants

Certain plants repel caterpillars and you can plant them in your garden as a natural deterrent from these pests.

Many of these plants, besides working to repel caterpillars, can also bring other benefits.

Some of them you can use as ingredients for culinary purposes or for their health benefits and some simply look nice and will add to the visual appeal of your garden.

Among the plants you can use for these purposes are chamomile, marigold, cilantro, or nasturtium.

Using Aluminum Foil or Cardboard

Another way of preventing caterpillars from getting to the leaves is by using cardboard or aluminum foil.

Most caterpillars lay their eggs around the base of the plant.

If you use cardboard or aluminum foil and set it around the base of the plant, then access to this area will be restricted, forcing caterpillars to lay their eggs elsewhere.

While this won’t directly target the caterpillar population in your garden, it can be a great preventive measure.

To make it even more effective, you can combine this approach with the previously described method and soak the cardboard or foil in soapy water.

Another benefit of aluminum foil is that it will reflect the light onto the plants, helping them get rid of excess moisture and deter other kinds of bugs from approaching the plant.

However, be careful to secure the aluminum foil, so it doesn’t fly away and pollute the land.

Removing Caterpillar by Hand

Caterpillar is removed by hand.

If the caterpillars have already infested the plant, you can try to simply remove them by hand. This means that you can pluck the caterpillars off one by one.

Make sure to look under the leaves, as this is where you’re most likely to find them, and check for the eggs around the base of the plant.

The downside is that this only works if the infestation has not fully taken over, and the number of caterpillars is still relatively small.

Of course, doing this leaves you with the question of what to do with the caterpillars you picked up off the plants.

Instead of just throwing them away, there’s a better use for them. If you have a compost bin, you can simply throw the caterpillars you plucked off inside.

As they move around, they will work to aerate the compost and increase the diversity of the compost bin.


When planting a garden, you have to think of it as a whole ecosystem, that works to benefit both your plants and other inhabitants of this environment.

So some species, such as caterpillars, can be your foes, as they are the pests attacking and destroying your plants.

However, looking at the big picture, caterpillars can be beneficial in the long run, as they transform into butterflies and moths, which are arguably some of the most important creatures in the world.

Therefore, instead of just looking to kill them and control damage to your leaves, you should try natural methods to prevent this from ever happening and allow these pests to develop and do some good for your garden.

Melissa Johnson
Melissa Johnson

Hello, I'm Melissa, owner and author of this website. I hope my article was able to help answer your questions. If you want to learn more about me, click the home icon above.

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