Will Caterpillars Kill Plants? {How To Protect Them}

Are you noticing holes all over the leaves of your plants? Will caterpillars kill plants?

How can you protect your plants from hungry caterpillars? Will these plants ever grow again?

In this article, we will find out if your plants have actually been killed by caterpillars and whether or not they can survive for another growing season.

Will Caterpillars Kill Plants?

While it looks like caterpillars are killing your plants, they are only damaging the leaves, flowers and fruits. They are not killing the root system of your plant. If you pick off these caterpillars for this season and do not notice any blooming flowers, do not be concerned.

Control your caterpillar population by using natural or commercial pesticides and consider planting a separate area in your garden with their favorites in order to keep the rest of your prized plants thriving.

Sometimes plants that have been chomped on to the point of decimation by caterpillars end up growing back even bigger and better than before. If the plants are too young and have not been established yet, they can die.

Which Caterpillars Kill Plants?

Although it is extremely rare for caterpillars to kill plants, they can destroy your crops for this season. You may not receive any flowering fruits, vegetables or buds. The following examples of caterpillars are known to eat many garden greens and plants.

  • Cabbage Loopers
  • Hornworms
  • Cutworms

Cabbage loopers

The Cabbage Looper is pale green that contains stripes on its back. They eat greens like lettuce, kale and chard. You may even notice their eggs underneath the leaves. If they form chrysalis and become moths, they will form wings with silver spots on them.


Hornworms love to devour tomato plants. You may also see them eating potatoes, eggplant and peppers as well. You could see a horn at the end of the body, hence their name. These caterpillars can devastate your garden in no time at all.


Cut worms are devastating to baby seedlings. They come in many different colors. They also eat parts of trees. You can find some of them curling around plant stems.

They may end up cutting off the stem just above the surface of the soil. If you have tender seedling plants, they are at the most risk. Cut worms can kill plants before their root systems have established themselves.

How Do You Protect Plants From Caterpillars?

Caterpillars are susceptible to being eaten by many natural predators including:

  • Parasitic flies
  • Wasps
  • Birds
  • Assassin bugs
  • Lacewings
  • Predaceous ground beetles
  • Spiders

If the population of caterpillars expands out of control due to a lack of natural predation, it’s time for you to step in.

  1. Pick up caterpillars off your plants.
  2. Drop them into a bucket of soapy water.
  3. Look for caterpillar eggs hiding under the leaves.
  4. Flush the leaves with water to force the eggs to drop.
  5. Use neem oil or homemade insecticides with other essential oils.
  6. Place tin foil or cardboard at the base of plants to repel caterpillars.
  7. Clear up plant debris at the base of your plants.
  8. Introduce garden insects like parasitic wasps that don’t sting people.
  9. Use microbial insecticides containing bacillus thuringiensis or BTK that don’t kill bees.
  10. Use commercial insecticides with active ingredients such as spinosad, pyrethrin, azadirachtin.
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How do Caterpillars Damage Plants?

Caterpillars are famous for damaging plants during their growth stage. In the larval stage of their existence, their only focus is to munch on food until they are strong enough to form chrysalis.

They will be chewing on the following areas of your plants:

  • Fruits
  • Flowers
  • Shoots
  • Leaves

Here are some signs of noticeable caterpillar damage:

  • holes on leaves
  • webbed leaves
  • wilted or rolled leaves
  • butterfly eggs
  • excrement

Caterpillars are also able to bore into wood. They can create substantial damages to trees without you noticing it.

Trying to pick up as many caterpillars as you can and throw them into soapy water. Wear gloves to make sure that you don’t get stung by certain species of caterpillars that are capable of doing so.

How Do I Get Rid of Caterpillars on My Plants?

There are two methods we would like to mention to get rid of caterpillars on your plants:

  • Water and Dish Soap
  • Bacillus thuringiensis

Water and Dish Soap

Always remember to wear gloves first before trying to get rid of caterpillars off your plants. Start with filling a spray bottle with warm to hot water and a few tablespoons of dish soap.

It’s time to get these caterpillars off your plants. Look at the undersides of leaves. This is where they are known to hide. Spray the leaves of these trees with your dish soap and water solution.

Bacillus thuringiensis

Another method is to use bacteria in the soil to kill caterpillars. One naturally occurring bacteria can be used to destroy the lining of the stomachs in caterpillars. It is known as Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt).

Dust its powder form or liquid form sprayed onto your garden plants. When caterpillars get hungry, they will consume parts of your plants that contain this dust or mist.

They will die soon after. This bacteria is safe for your plants, pets and you as well.

How Can You Tell If There Are Caterpillars In Your Garden?

If you are worried about your garden being infested with caterpillars, look out for them more carefully. They are usually hiding under the leaves. Look at the rest of the plant and see if it’s wilting or filling up with holes.

The underside of leaves is also where you might find their eggs. You will not want to eat the fruit from these plants that have been attacked by hungry caterpillars. If the plants are too young and have not been established yet, they can die.


If you don’t want to kill caterpillars, set aside a section of your garden with plants that they love. Protect your garden plants with mesh or netting. Apply repellent if you wish or use Bacillus thuringiensis.

Your garden caterpillars would love the following plants:

  • Milk Weed
  • Red Clover
  • Lantana plant varieties
  • Verbena flowers
  • Thistle

You will have a lovely garden with plants for you and some for the butterflies that will frequent your property which also brightens up your garden.


Thanks for visiting ThePestManagement.com for the best information to help you to make the pest control process easy, safe & affordable.

Jason Barrett

Hello, I'm Jason. I have 11 years of experience in dealing with pests. I try to provide you the best information that'll help you to make the pest control process easy & affordable