By: Heather Rhoades
Cabbage maggots can wreak havoc on a newly planted patch of cabbage or other cole crop. Cabbage maggot damage can kill seedlings and stunt the growth of more established plants, but with a few preventative steps for cabbage maggot control, you can protect your cabbage from being damaged or killed.
Identifying Cabbage Maggots
Cabbage maggots and cabbage maggot flies are most often seen in cool, wet weather and most commonly affect gardens in the north. The cabbage maggot feeds off the roots of cole crops like:
- Brussels sprouts
The cabbage maggot is the larva of the cabbage maggot fly. The larva is small, about ¼-inch (6 mm.) long and is white or cream colored. The cabbage maggot fly looks like the common housefly but will have stripes on its body.
Cabbage maggots are most damaging and noticeable on seedlings, but they can affect more mature plants by stunting their growth or causing the leaves of the plant to have a bitter flavor. A seedling or adult plant affected by cabbage maggots may wilt or take on a blue cast to their leaves.
Cabbage Maggot Control
The best control is to prevent cabbage maggots from being laid on the plants in the first place. Covering susceptible plants or growing the plants in row covers will help to prevent the cabbage maggot fly from laying its eggs on the plants. Also, placing yellow buckets of soapy or oily water out near the plants is said to help attract and trap the cabbage maggot flies, as they are attracted to the yellow color and then drown in the water.
If your plants are already infected with cabbage maggots you can try applying an insecticide to the soil to kill them but typically by the time you discover that a plant has cabbage maggots, the damage is extensive enough that pesticide will not save the plant. If this is the case, your best option is to pull up the plant and destroy it. Don’t compost affected plants, as this can give the cabbage maggots a place to overwinter and increases the chances that they will return next year.
If you had a vegetable bed affected by cabbage maggots, you can take steps now to prevent cabbage maggots from returning next year. First, make sure that all dead vegetation is cleared out of the bed in the fall to reduce the number of places the cabbage maggot can deposit over winter. Till the bed deeply in late fall to help expose and disturb some of the cabbage maggot pupae that may be in the soil. In the spring, rotate the susceptible crops to new beds and use row covers. Systemic and organic pesticides like neem oil and Spinosad can be applied at regular intervals to help kill any larva that manage to get past other efforts to control the cabbage maggots.
While cabbage maggot damage may ruin your crop of cabbage this year, that’s no reason to allow them to continue to plague your garden. Following a few simple steps for cabbage maggot control will help you ensure that this pest does not bother you again.
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How to Rid Your Garden of Maggots Once a Year
Maggots are fly larvae that can be found on rotting vegetation and around the roots of garden plants such as corn, onions, turnips, carrots, cabbage, and even fruit trees. They can cause a lot of damage to the plants by eating their root systems, destroying their method of obtaining water or nutrients from the soil.
Usually, if you've spotted maggots, your garden plants are already damaged. While there are many ways to get rid of these garden pests when you see them, the best way to fully protect your garden is to take preventative measures once a year. Follow these steps to get rid of any maggots you currently have and reduce the chance of getting more maggots.
Step 1 - Find the Maggot Infestation
If your otherwise healthy plants are suddenly wilting or if their growth has been stunted, there's a good chance you have a maggot infestation. The best way to find out if you have this problem is to carefully pull a few of the plants from the soil and examine the roots. If you see just one squirming grayish- or yellowish-white worm, then you know you have a maggot problem. Use your gloved hand to shake the soil to see if there are any more.
If they're small, then you know they've just recently hatched and probably haven't done much damage. Large maggots are older and have likely had a chance to do more damage to your plants by eating more of their root systems.
Step 2 - Stop the Spread
There's not a lot you can do to save an infested plant. If your lucky enough to have caught the problem early, there are a few things you can do to stop any other plants from becoming infected.
First you need to remove the dying plants and the soil around the dying plants. The rot from dying plants will attract the root maggot fly which increases the chance of it laying more eggs and starting the cycle all over again. The soil around the destroyed plants also needs to be removed in case it is infested with eggs.
Infested plants and soil should be burned or thrown out in a double sealed plastic garbage bag. Do not compost them.
Step 3 - Kill Any Missed Maggots and Eggs
Even after completing the above step, there's a chance you could have missed a single maggot or fly egg pod which will start the maggot cycle all over again if not treated.
Dust your plants with diatomaceous earth. It's a fine powder made out of the fossilized remains of a type of hard-shelled algae. It dries out maggots and other garden pests causing them to die.
Apply beneficial nematodes to your garden when it's damp. Nematodes are living organisms that will eat maggots. Simply add them to water and spray over the surface of your garden when the temperature is at least 55 degrees Fahrenheit. Water the nematodes for two days after application.
Step 4 - Prevent Future Infestations
Prevent maggot flies from laying their eggs near your plants by covering them with floating row covers. The flies prefer to lay their eggs in cool, moist conditions. Try solarizing your plant beds to make them drier and warmer.
Keep your compost away from your garden since rotting vegetation will attract flies. Also keep garbage away from your garden and regularly clean out garbage cans.
How To Control Cabbage Worms, Moths and Loopers
There are several ways to protect your crop naturally. The first key, as with controlling all garden pests and issues, is to walk through your garden on a daily basis to notice and head off attacks before they have become a major problem. With that said, here are some great natural remedies to controlling these destructive pests:
Herbs and Flowers
Planting repelling herbs in your cabbage and cauliflower rows can be a big help in keeping cabbage pests at bay. Thyme is well-known as a natural repellent to cabbage worms.
Row covers work incredibly well at eliminating pests
In addition, Dill and the Mint family of herbs are known repellents as well. Be careful with mint, it can be extremely invasive, so it’s best to have it in pots placed throughout your cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower rows.
How do the flowers come into play? Planting a few blooming annuals like marigolds and nasturtiums in rows or throughout your garden helps to repel many harmful insects, like aphids and mosquitos. But more importantly, it brings in beneficial paper wasps and insects looking for nectar. Those wasps love to lay attacking parasitic eggs on the backs of worms – killing them naturally. It is truly amazing how Mother Nature can work! See : 4 Plants That Repel Pests
Utilizing row covers is probably the most effective way to control damage from the outset. Row covers eliminate the ability for the moths to ever lay eggs on your plants. This keeps larvae and subsequent moths at bay. Although they are a small investment, they can be re-used from year to year.
You can usually get a 50′ x 6′ or 10′ wide row cover for around $20 to $30. They also double when needed for frost protection. Place row covers on young plants the first few weeks after planting, before the moths begin showing up in the early summer months. Product Link : Row Covers
Yes, the good old-fashioned hand method of walking rows daily and removing worms / loopers really does work! And if you see those dreaded white moths floating around, take them out as well – that is of course if you can catch them! It only takes a few minutes, but walking rows and removing the pests that are present can keep a small problem from quickly becoming an epidemic.
Chickens love cabbage worms, and can help to decimate a population quickly. If you are fortunate enough to have your own flock, let them into the garden in the early spring and in late fall to help keep pest populations under control. It’s a shame you can’t let them in during the actual growing season, but they also love the taste of those fresh greens!
One of the best kept secrets around for total pest control is to let chickens forage in a garden before and after planting. It is amazing how well they work in eliminating bugs and critters as they scratch about the garden soil. It’s in that soil that many of the bugs try to find a permanent home to overwinter until next season.
Happy Gardening! – Jim and Mary. If you would like to receive our DIY, Gardening and Recipe articles each week, you can sign up to follow the blog via email in the right hand column above, “Like” us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter. This article may contain affiliate links.
8 ORGANIC WAYS TO PREVENT & CONTROL CABBAGE WORMS
Now that you know more about their lifecycle, here are several ways to control cabbage worms in your garden – organically! Let’s discuss each of them below.
- Manual Removal
- Floating Row Covers
- Plant Purple & Red Varieties
- Use Polyculture & Companion Planting
- Beneficial Insects
- Decoy Moths
- Bacillus Thuringiensis (Bt) Spray
- Neem Oil Spray
Are you considering learning how to grow cabbage? If so, you’ll find that it’s a hardy vegetable, and it is one of the easiest vegetables to grow. Cabbage is in what is called the Brassica family.
Brassica’s are the mustard family comprised of Broccoli, Cauliflower, Kale, turnips and several other “cole crops.” Many people refer to them as “cool crops” because they like cool temperatures for growing.
Start From Seeds
Yes, and when growing cabbage you have several choices.
- You can start seed indoors about 6 weeks before last frost and then transplant them into the backyard garden when they are 3-5 inches tall.
- Or, cabbage can even be direct sown into the soil about 4 weeks prior to last scheduled frost. If you direct sow, seeds need to be ¼ to ½ inch deep and thin them as they grow to 1-3 feet apart.
Good news! Seedlings pulled up can be transplanted elsewhere in the garden.
I transplant seedlings. Honestly, I’ve have never tried direct sowing cabbage seeds. Maybe next season, I will give it a try.
When To Plant
Cabbages grow best in temperatures of 60 – 65°F. Growing cabbages can comfortably tolerate temperatures down to 45° F and up to as high as 80° F.
They can tolerate cold temperatures too. Frost will not kill cabbages but, temperatures around 26 – 30°F will burn the outside leaves. An easy way to prevent burn on cabbages is to use row covers help protect them.
You should also know that growing cabbage in hot weather is not a good idea. Temperatures above 75-80°F will cause plants to bolt, meaning they will “flower” and try to produce seed for the next generation.
It is safe to eat bolted cabbage, but honestly, it will most likely be so bitter, you will not eat it.
How to Plant
Soil pH should be higher than 6.8. Cabbages also require full sun. If you are curious how to start a garden this article is a great read.
Cabbage plants also need adequate space to grow in the garden. The amount of space between them will determine the size of the cabbage head.
Planting 2-3 feet about will produce larger heads while planting them closer, 1-2 feet apart, will produce smaller heads. It is not recommended to plant them any closer than 12 inches though.
My raised beds are 40 x 45 inches. I normally grow 3-4 cabbages in a bed. This spaces them approximately 2 feet apart. And I am well satisfied with the results.
Cabbage planted in raised beds 2 feet apart
Of course, I do companion planting to take up the rest of the space. So it’s not wasted.
Growing cabbage heads are heavy feeders, so avoid planting them with other heavy feeders such as tomatoes, cauliflower, broccoli, and even strawberries.
Some great companions to plant along-side cabbages are:
- Green Beans
Keep mulch heavy around cabbages to retain moisture and keep them well watered so they are able to mature easily.
Care and Maintenance
Cabbage requires that soil be kept consistently moist, but NOT be sitting in water. On average, cabbages will need 1–1½ inches of water every 5-7 days.
Do large cabbage leaves need to be tied-up for support?
There’s really no need to tie-up cabbage leaves. The stem is completely capable of holding up the head as well as all the large leaves.
Some people do believe that tying up leave will prevent disease and make cabbage to grow faster – this is not proven. I don’t tie up my leaves at all. I just allow them to be gorgeous.
Fertilizing cabbage plants organically is easy. When plants are first placed in the soil, water them well and place good organic mulch such as finely chopped leaves or straw around the stems to hold in moisture.
When heads first begin to produce, feed them with a good dose of all purpose organic fertilizer with a high nitrogen count.
The best organic fertilizers for cabbage is aged composted chicken manure or fish emulsion both work extremely well. These are an easy-to-absorb nitrogen to encourage larger, more gorgeous cabbage heads.
Unfortunately, cabbages are a big target for both pests and disease. But, don’t give up, they can be controlled naturally, it just takes some planning.
There is a large list of pests that bother cabbages and few are:
Cabbage Root Fly
Small grey fly, about the size of a house fly, lays eggs on the base of the cabbage. Its hatches into a cabbage maggot, that burrows down and eats on the roots.
The symptom of a cabbage maggot: small plants stop growing and turn a blue color.
Use a floating row cover and place over cabbage plants to prevent the fly from laying larva. Be sure to hold sides down completely with rock or heavy object.
Use cabbage collars and lay around the base of the stem on top of the soil. This helps to prevent maggots from being able to burrow down into roots.
A 3 rd and great way to control cabbage maggots is to use active nematodes to eat away and fight the maggots. I use these. It only adds healthy amendments to the soil.
These caterpillars can destroy a cabbage plant in a day. To find them, carefully look for small yellow eggs on the underside of leaves and hose them off with a garden hose, or brush off with your hands.
Fortunately, the cabbage moth can be controlled in several different ways, here’s how.
Whiteflies are not as much a problem as the cabbage moth, but they can cause some damage. These are a tiny white aphid found on the bottom side of the cabbage leaf. They produce a sticky substance on the leaf that is thought eventually become a disease called grey mold.
When you find them, wash off with a “strong jet” with a garden hose.
Some other pests are the flea beetles, cabbage worms, cut worms, and more. You can read all about them in this great article from the University of Kentucky .
Of course, as with any organic vegetable, growing cabbages are subject to disease.
Actually way more than we can go into here but a good article to find out some great information is this one from Clemson University .
Black Rot and Black Leg Fungus:
These are 2 separate diseases, but they can be controlled by using the same process so I listed them together:
Black Rot – Basically the leaves turn yellow in a “V-shape” toward the vein of the leaf. The yellow will wilt and turn black/brown.
Black Leg – Symptom is “ashy gray spots speckled with black dots” on both the leaves and the stem. Stem will die causing the cabbage plant to die.
Unfortunately, there is no liquid control, so PREVENTION is the key to controlling both black rot and black leg.
These are bacteria that survive on leaves and such left in the garden. These can be avoided by practicing rotation (avoid planting) and not planting another cole-crop in a location for 2 years.
Remove any volunteer weeds or plants around cabbage plants and destroy any plants that may be diseased.
This too is an active fungus. Cabbage leaves will develop a powdery gray mildew that will cause them to turn yellow, then brown and die. The fungus is caused by excessive moisture.
Rotate with other cole crop vegetables. Use wide spacing with planting to allow for adequate drainage and drying of leaves.
When watering, avoid wetting the leaves, water low near the stem and soil.
If it becomes necessary, an organic copper fungicide will help to destroy the disease. Be sure to follow directions closely on the bottle.
Harvest and Store
If you started your cabbages from seed, the seed packet will define how many days it takes for your cabbage head to fully mature.
If you purchased plants from a garden center, a small tag in the package will tell you number of grow days. Be sure to harvest cabbages before they “split.”
Carefully cut head from the stalk, using a sharp knife.
Tip: Leave the large outer leaves intact on the stem. Cut an “X” in the stem top and smaller cabbage heads will grow if you have an early enough harvest.
Store in the refrigerator and will remain fresh for about 2 weeks.
Cooking and Fermenting Cabbage
You can prepare cabbage in many different ways. It can be used as a gluten-free wrap, baked, stuffed, fried, chopped into slaw and even used in soups and stews and even fermented.
The possibilities are endless.
I grew up eating “boiled cabbage” and still do. Mom would simply chop up a portion of the head, rinse, and cover with water in a pot. Season with lots bacon grease , salt and pepper. Bring cabbage to a boil and boil hard until cabbage is tender. It’s delicious!
Some other really good recipes are:
What do you think? Are you all about growing cabbage in your home garden now?
If you already grow cabbage, did you learn about something you didn’t already know? If you’ve never grown cabbage, I hope I’ve encouraged you to do so.
Is cabbage going to become a part of your backyard garden? Feel free to leave a comment and let me know what you now think about cabbage.
More Garden Growing Tips:
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Dianne Hadorn is the owner of Hidden Springs Homestead nestled in the hills of East Tennessee. She is a Master Gardener and enjoys helping others learn how to grow and preserve their own food and sharing tips for living a more frugal lifestyle.
3 thoughts on “How to Grow Cabbage”
I wish we had a longer cold period to be able to grow cabbage here in central Florida. I do have some in the ground and doing great though, this year. Hopefully, it reaches it’s potential before the heat sets in! Great tips and information!
I have never grown cabbage in our garden, maybe this will be the year!
Thanks for the great tips! I struggle with the caterpillars. I recently read that planting nasturtiums among cabbage helps to deter them, so I am going to try that and some of the herbs you suggested for companion plants and hopefully together that will keep them away!
5. Cabbage Maggot
What is it? A cabbage maggot is a small worm-like creature with a flat end. It is typically grayish-white in color and about ⅓ inch long. An adult looks like a typical housefly.
When do they arrive? They are most prevalent in early-spring to fall.
What plants are most vulnerable? They like cabbage, brussel sprouts, collards, cauliflower, turnips, parsnips and radishes.
What damage can they cause? They are known to create tunnels in stems just below the surface of the soil. The plants may wilt and die.
How can they be eliminated? To get rid of cabbage maggots, apply lime or wood ashes around the base of plants. Beneficial nematodes, chalcid wasps and trichogramma wasps will also help eliminate these maggots .
How can they be avoided? Cabbage maggots are repelled by tomatoes, mint, sage, and rosemary.