Should You Kill Caterpillars in Your Garden? 4 Facts

Finding caterpillars in your garden might be panic-inducing, especially once you notice their damage to your plants. Caterpillars are voracious eaters, and they will happily munch on leaves, stems, seeds, and even whole seedlings all day if you let them. Is this enough reason to bring out the heavy artillery and eradicate these caterpillars once and for all?

You should not kill caterpillars in your garden because they transform into butterflies and moths. These beneficial insects play significant roles in pollination, biodiversity, and promoting a healthy ecosystem. Some caterpillars can also produce silk, a highly sought-after material.

In this article, we will discuss 4 reasons why you should not kill any of the caterpillars you may find in your garden and why these hungry crawlers benefit the environment. Then, I will offer tips on how you can safely and effectively stop caterpillars from munching on your plants and ruining your garden. Let’s start!

Facts To Consider Before Killing Caterpillars in the Garden

Caterpillars are both friend and foe for plant lovers. When you spot one in your garden, it may be natural to panic and immediately go on attack mode. After all, these fuzzy crawlers pose threats to plants, fruits, and vegetables. They often come in groups, too, so spotting one usually means a whole army of caterpillars munching away in your garden.

However, there is more to these creatures than meets the eye, and they have a place in your garden ecosystem. Let’s look more closely at the pros and cons of these hungry grubs. 

Negative Effects of Caterpillars

Butterflies and moths lay eggs in clusters. They choose specific host plants for laying their eggs. When the larvae hatch, these host plants will provide the nourishment that the larvae need to morph into caterpillars. 

The caterpillars then move on and find other sources of food. They will eat as much as possible because metamorphosis will consume a lot of their energy.

Caterpillars are known to be voracious eaters and can leave your garden looking as if a storm just ravaged it. They chew through leaves with their hearty appetites and aren’t picky eaters. They’ve been known to munch on anything from leaves, to fruits, to twigs and even seeds.

This ravenous devouring of plants may seem damning for these crawly creatures; however, there are advantages to caterpillars that gardeners often overlook. 

Benefits of Caterpillars

On the other hand, caterpillars are considered beneficial insects. As soon as a caterpillar goes through metamorphosis and transforms into a moth or butterfly, it becomes one of the most important pollinators for many plants. 

That is why it is vital to take a step back and see the whole picture before going into a tailspin when you spot caterpillars in your garden. Keep in mind that when all is said and done, they provide benefits for plants and the ecosystem.

1. Caterpillars As Food for Beneficial Insects and Animals

Since caterpillars are soft-bodied insects, they are easy prey for many insects, small mammals, and birds. Predatory insects, such as ladybugs, will have a quick and easy source of protein from consuming caterpillars. They will then have sufficient energy to help eliminate other garden pests, such as aphids, mealybugs, and spider mites

Caterpillars are both filling and nutritious for these predators. Before becoming either a moth or a butterfly, their sole purpose in this stage of development is to eat. In fact, a caterpillar can increase its body mass by about 1,000 times or more. That protein-packed meal can energize and sustain any insect or animal. 

2. Caterpillars As Hosts for Beneficial Insects’ Eggs

Caterpillars sometimes serve as hosts for other insects’ eggs and larvae. Parasitic wasps, in particular, prefer laying their eggs on caterpillars. When the eggs hatch, the larvae will begin feasting on the caterpillar. 

A protein-packed meal such as a caterpillar can provide larvae with the nutrition they need to grow and thrive. Parasitic wasps are beneficial insects that can help rid your garden of pests.

3. Caterpillars Produce Silk

Caterpillars produce silk for different reasons. Some, like the gypsy moth, produce silk to descend from treetops to look for food. Others, like eastern tent caterpillars, produce silk to build tents where they can all seek shelter together. 

Caterpillars called bagworms use their silk to join leaves and twigs to build a home. Generally, caterpillars use their silk to make cocoons to protect themselves during metamorphosis. 

Humans benefit from this silk, too. We harvest caterpillar cocoons, draw out the silk threads, and make silk fabric. We have caterpillars to thank for our silk garments, silk furnishings, and silk beddings. 

4. Caterpillars Turn Into Moths and Butterflies

Caterpillars eat so much because they need to store energy in preparation for the biggest and most important moments in their lives – transitioning into a butterfly or moth. They stay inside their cocoons for 5-21 days before appearing as beautiful winged creatures. From hereon, they take on a more vital role in nature. 

Butterflies and moths are known to be of great value for many reasons. Sanctuaries are built in different parts of the globe to help protect and preserve various species of these interesting and valuable insects. Here are some of the vital roles butterflies and moths play:

Butterflies and Moths Are Reliable Pollinators

Butterflies and moths are attracted to colorful flowers and feed on their nectar. As they feed and flit from one flower to the next, they inadvertently collect pollen and carry it to other plants. Pollination helps plants produce seeds. Most plants need the help of pollinators, such as butterflies, moths, and bees to reproduce. 

Butterflies and Moths Promote Biodiversity

When your garden attracts butterflies and moths, it will attract other insects and animals, including birds and bees. Increased biodiversity benefits the environment, something butterflies and moths may reliably indicate. 

Furthermore, these beautifully patterned insects, unfortunately, also sometimes serve as prey to larger animals like lizards, mice, bats, and spiders. 

Butterflies and Moths Are Indicators of a Healthy Ecosystem

When butterflies and moths are present, it is a sign that the interaction among various living organisms is healthy and thriving. In gardens, their presence spells good pollination rates and reliable natural pest control. The absence of moths and butterflies is generally bad for your garden health. 

How To Get Rid of Caterpillars Without Killing Them

Caterpillar damage is pretty easy to identify. They leave irregularly-shaped holes in leaves, making your plants look sad and ragged. They can often be caught quietly snoozing, with their stomachs full, on top or the undersides of leaves, along stems, or even right on top of the soil. Caterpillars can obliterate young plants and seedlings by completely devouring their soft leaves and stems. 

Caterpillars can also wreak havoc on your vegetables. Good crops can go to waste once caterpillars decide to fast on them. They could devour an entire head of cabbage. They can munch through tomatoes and carrots, rendering them almost inedible or unsellable. 

It is crucial to get rid of caterpillars to save your plants and vegetables from being devoured. However, it is entirely unnecessary to kill caterpillars. The benefits they offer offset the damages they can potentially inflict on your garden.

Here are some tips on how to get rid of caterpillars without killing them:

Create a Caterpillar Haven

Set aside a portion of your garden for caterpillars. This allotted space allows them to happily munch away on some of their favorite plants until they grow big and strong. Imagine how beautiful this part of your garden will be when the caterpillars emerge from their cocoons and start flying about as butterflies and moths. 

Consider these plants for your caterpillar haven:

  • Milkweed
  • Lantana
  • Red Clover
  • Thistle
  • Verbena flowers
  • Fennel
  • Dill
  • Carrot Greens
  • Parsnip Greens
  • Parsley.

Companion Planting

Use this method if you don’t want to attract caterpillars to your garden. Certain plants repel them, and it would be best if you place these plants around those that have previously fallen prey to caterpillars. These repellant plants will act as barriers to protect your precious greenery from the tiny jaws of caterpillars. Herbs and plants with strong scents usually deter caterpillars. 

Consider using these plants as your natural caterpillar repellants:

  • Peppermint
  • Garlic
  • Onion
  • Lavender
  • Sage
  • Mugwort.

Use Plant Nettings 

A good plant netting will effectively keep caterpillars and pests away. Nettings protect your plants while allowing air, water, and sunlight to stream so that plants remain healthy. 

Ensure that the nettings you select fulfill the specific role of keeping caterpillars away. Remember that caterpillars love munching on practically anything, so invest only in nettings made of sturdy materials.

I’ve written an extensive guide about using nettings to protect your plants from Japanese beetles. Don’t miss it: Does Netting Really Stop Japanese Beetles?

Garlic Caterpillar Repellent

You can make your own caterpillar repellent from ingredients that are probably already in your kitchen. This repellent is a great way to discourage caterpillars (and other pests) from munching on your plants without seriously harming or killing them.

To make caterpillar garlic spray, follow these easy steps: 

  1. Crush 3 cloves of garlic. Set aside in a bowl.
  2. Add 1 tablespoon vegetable oil and 1 teaspoon dish soap.
  3. Mix all the ingredients well.  
  4. Fill a jar with 1 liter of water.
  5. Pour the contents of the bowl into the jar. Mix well.
  6. Transfer some of the mixture into a spray bottle.
  7. Spray all over your plants at least once a week. The smell will keep caterpillars (and other pests) away. 

Pluck Them Off

You could also pluck caterpillars off of your plants. Make sure to use gloves because some caterpillars may cause allergic reactions. Collect the caterpillars in a bag and move them as far away as possible from your garden. If you have a caterpillar sanctuary, move them there so they can happily munch on their favorites. 

Final Thoughts

Caterpillars may seem like pests, but if you take a step back and see the bigger picture, you will realize that this ravenously destructive attitude is merely a phase. They’ll soon transform into beneficial and beautiful winged insects that will be welcome visitors to your garden.

Instead of eradicating them, consider providing a safe place to munch on nutritious plants so they can prepare themselves well for their journey through metamorphosis.

Alexander Picot

Alexander Picot is the principal creator of, a website dedicated to gardening tips. Inspired by his mother’s love of gardening, Alex has a passion for taking care of plants and turning backyards into feel-good places and loves to share his experience with the rest of the world.

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