Bugs eating your cauliflower means fewer of those firm, full crucifer heads to enjoy.
You may have seen worms, beetles, fleas, or even caterpillars munching down on your hard work.
It probably made you panic and had you considering to pick up some spinosad or pyrethrin from the hardware store to spray them down.
But then again, you’ll be eating your harvest.
So you defiantly DON’T want to spray synthetic poisons all over your vegetables.
That leaves you down to natural remedies. And that’s what we’ll cover in this guide.
You’ll learn about:
- Types of bugs that eat cauliflower plants
- How to naturally get rid of specific pests
- How to protect your crucifers from future pests
- And more
You should have a decent understanding of what’s going on with your plant by the end of this guide.
if you have nay questions, you can post a comment and ask me (as always)!
Sound good? Let’s save your cauliflower!
What are eating holes in my cauliflower leaves?
A lot of things. There are a ton of different bugs that love to eat the young, tender leaves that grow on cauliflower plants.
Everything from flea beetles to garden snails is possible culprits, so don’t be surprised to even find multiple bugs eating up your crucifer.
The leaves are the most precious part because they provide a lot of nutrients that bugs love to eat.
Plus, they’re easy to reach and digestible for them so they continue to feed. Many pests also deposit eggs on the leaf surfaces or chew around them so the leaves become veiny.
You may also find leaves that are irregular, jagged, yellow, or have trails on them. They can be skeletonized or full of random holes on the tender parts.
These are all telltale signs of a pest infestation on your cauliflower plants.
What bugs eat cauliflower?
Cauliflower is a very popular crucifer grown in the yards of gardeners that’s prone to be infested with worms and aphids.
Similar to other crucifers like kale, broccoli, or cabbage, these veggies attract a common group of pests that wreak havoc on them.
Of course, it also depends where you live, as some pests are more prevalent than others based on climate.
Should I be worried about cauliflower pests?
Yes, because if you do nothing about it, it can reduce your yield.
Younger plants can be killed by bug infestations if there are too many of them.
What’s the point of growing cauliflower if there’s no good yield? Are you going to put in all that work for some tiny veggie heads full of yellowing crucifers and irregular shapes?
Nope. So take care of the pests first to get the most out of your crucifers.
What bugs are attracted to cauliflower plants?
Cauliflower heads are a delicious meal for sucking insects.
It provides adequate cover from predators for smaller insects to hide and feed. The leaves are also vulnerable to bugs because they’re soft and tender which makes them easy to digest.
Cauliflower is also very easy to feed on because it’s near the soil surface. This makes it easy for snails, slugs, and ants to get on it.
Here are some of the most common insects that eat cauliflower:
- Cabbage worms (webworms)
- Flea beetles
- Cabbage loopers
- Cross striped cabbage worms
- Harlequin bugs
- Imported cabbage worms
- Blister beetles
- Spotted leaf beetle
- Yellow leaf beetle
Thankfully, even if you completely miss your insect identification, you can still protect your cauliflower from pests by using DIY control methods.
We’ll cover some common ones you can do at home with basic materials that you probably have lying around.
Let’s focus on natural ones and avoid artificial synthetic compounds. Everyone likes natural cauliflower, right?
Can bugs kill my cauliflower?
Cauliflower bugs can destroy and kill your plant if ignored.
Getting rid of them as soon as you notice any pest activity will help protect and save your crucifer from being eaten up.
If the infestation isn’t noticed, you’ll start to see the telltale signs of damage on your heads and get a reduced harvest or failed harvest.
So yes, bugs can kill your cauliflower.
Signs of pest damage
There are a variety of pests that attack the vegetable and the common signs of damage will vary.
But here’s what you can look for:
- Holes in the leaves
- Damage to the cauliflower heads
- Missing vegetation
- Poor yield
- Stunted growth
- Poor plant vigor
- Jagged or torn leaves
- Bug tracks on the leaves
- Poor plant color
- Yellow or brown leaves
- Visible pests (beetles, slugs, snails, aphids, fleas, worms, leafhoppers)
- Eggs or larvae
- Bugs that come out when you wash the cauli heads
These are all symptoms of damage from many different insects. Finding out which one is eating your cauliflower is the first step.
Then you can create a plan of attack after you identify the pest with an organic or natural way to get rid of them.
After all, you don’t want to use synthetic sprays or compounds on edible vegetables.
How to get rid of bugs on cauliflower naturally
Here are some popular DIY home remedies you can do at home to kill cauliflower bugs. Try a few of them out and see what works for you.
Whether you’re in California or the UK, the methods will vary in effectiveness.
There’s no single technique that works for everyone. You need to do some experimentation and see what applies to your situation.
I’d start with identifying the pest, then using an appropriate insect control method that’s likely to work against it.
Focus on identifying first, then insect exclusion, then insect capture and control. Set up repellents and passive barriers to catch any other pests that are in the area.
Sounds confusing? Let’s break it down step by step.
Apply diatomaceous earth
Diatomaceous earth is a fine white naturally occurring powder.
Its crystalline structure will puncture the outer shell of beetles, causing them to dehydrate and eventually perish.
The powder might sound dangerous, but it’s used as a supplement and eaten by humans. The key is to get the food-grade one, not the pool-grade one. There are two different grades found on the market.
You want organic, food-grade DE which is sold as a supplement. This is what you’ll want to use on your edible plants.
Get some DE and then sprinkle in a circle around the stems of your cauliflower plants. This will make it so that any pests that try to cross this tiny barrier will touch the powder and get it sucked into their body.
It’ll puncture them and then kill them, effectively stopping them from breeding. It works against beetles, slugs, snails, and even ants.
Cover each plant with a ring of powder at the stem. But also put a perimeter of powder around your entire plant bed.
This is like a secondary “fence” to keep bugs out of the area. You can even sprinkle it all over the substrate. This will then act like mini minefields for bugs. It can even be applied to the soil.
If they try to walk to your cauliflower plant to eat it, they’ll walk across the powder and get killed. It works well against flea beetles which bore holes in the leaves.
Make your own bug spray
Bug spray is easy to craft at home. Dish soap and water work well.
A few tablespoons of dish soap with a quart of water makes a soapy spray that kills bugs on contact.
Use this to spray down your cauli leaves every other day until the bugs are gone.
Don’t overdo it. Just a few spritzes will be enough. Wash off any excess spray you find on it. And wash your heads before you cook with them.
If you really want to be natural, there are plant-based dish detergents that are suitable for this purpose.
It’s a quick and easy way which is why it’s so often recommended on blogs. Dish soap. The original DIY remedy for a reason.
Use insecticidal oil/soap
When homemade bug spray ain’t enough, you can use commercial sprays to do the job.
There are dozens upon dozens of them on the market.
To quickly narrow it down, opt for an organic one if possible.
If not, then get a natural one. Avoid synthetic ones with dangerous or weird-sounding ingredients because you’ll be eating them.
Insecticidal soap works when you buy it for the right insect and when used right. Follow the directions on the package.
Harvest on time
Letting your cauliflower become overripe isn’t good.
It brings in even more pests that love to feed on rotting veggies. Harvesting on time will help stop these insects from appearing, so it’s an easy way to stop future pest problems.
When cauliflower rots, it slowly becomes softer and emits a foul odor that bottom-feeder pests like.
It also molds or can grow fungus, both of which are severe issues which will make your entire harvest not edible.
The TL;DR? Collect your veggies as soon as they’re ready.
Cauliflower heads are around 6-8 inches when they’re ready. They’re hard, firm, and white. They should be full in appearance with no visible indents in the head.
Keep your garden tidy
Keeping your yard clean will help reduce the number of pests present.
Believe it or not, bugs will pass on a yard that’s well kept. I’m not going to go into detail, but basically, a yard that has vegetation growing like the wild brings in bugs.
They come in to hide, breed and feed on the foliage. They deposit eggs which give rise to future generations that repeat the process. Larger bugs come in and eat those smaller ones. And the cycle repeats.
This is why you should keep your plants pruned, clean up leaf litter, and get rid of excess foliage everywhere.
Never let plants climb your home’s exterior, as they provide a “bridge” for bugs to get inside. Don’t overwater.
Avoid fertilizers if possible. Make sure your soil drains well and keep waterways clear. Maintain water features. And never store furniture or other clutter outdoors. Firewood should be protected from pests.
Doing this will take time if your yard is in bad condition.
But once you do, it’ll save you from pest problems more than you’d expect. If you don’t have time, hire a gardener to come help.
Use neem oil
Neem oil makes an excellent organic insect killer. The oil also has a long residual effect so you don’t have to keep applying it when you spray.
The thing to keep in mind is that neem will coat the plant with a layer of oil which is what protects it in the first place. If you do this too often, it can burn your cauliflower plant.
This is important especially on the leaves where it is used to photosynthesize and produce the heads.
So don’t do it excessively. Nem oil needs to be diluted after you buy it with water and then used on a schedule. Read the label and use it as directed.
When used properly, neem oil kills, repels, and protects veggies.
Never use it when the sun is out because it can burn your cauliflower plants because it traps heat.
Some people and pets may also be sensitive to it so do your due diligence first before you spray.
Plant cauliflower with other plants that help repel insects.
Some of the best companion plants to grow with cauliflower are beets, broccoli, chard, spinach, cucumber, corn, radish, or brussels sprouts.
Unfortunately, pests can eat them also. But it makes the damage distributed between the plants rather than all on a single one. Bugs WILL breed up to the available food in the ecosystem though. Eventually there will be so many pests as your plants can afford.
Some plants make it easier to spot a pest infestations than others.
As for insect-repelling plants, grow plants that are bitter or “stinky” to bugs. These are those strongly-scented herbs.
Think of plants like chrysanthemum, as these have a powerful aroma that bugs just can’t stand. Plus, you can combine it with your cauliflower in your culinary adventures.
Use sticky traps
Stick traps are awesome.
These traps come in various shapes and sizes made for specific pests.
Find the pest you’re dealing with then see if there’s a sticky trap. These things usually are hung around the plants that are infested.
The traps are baited with some kind of compound they just can’t resist eating. They’re easy to use and passive because they work without your effort once set up.
Check the traps once in a while to see if they’re still working and see all the pests you’re catching. You can use them to gauge the infestation.
At first, you should see a bunch of bugs. But over time, if it’s working, you should see fewer bugs. If you don’t, it’s time to rethink your strategy.
You can also buy sticky tape, which can be hung between stakes in the yard. Think of it as building a pen.
Any flying pests that fly into it will get stuck.
Or you can place it so it touches the soil surface to get those crawling ones. Put a ring of tape around the stems of your cauliflower plants so you can stop bugs from getting up in there.
Make beer traps
Beer does more than make you feel good after a day at work.
Did you know it also kills snails by itself?
Get a shallow dish and fill it up with beer. Put it next to your cauliflower for a few nights. Snails/slugs will crawl into it and drown.
Empty it out and repeat until all snails are gone.
Attract beneficial predatory insects
Some bugs can be lured to the yard to help eat and control the current pest population.
These are beneficial insects that will eat nuisance insects. Two that can help in this situation are parasitic wasps and ladybugs (lady beetles).
Parasitic wasps exist in different species.
Think of ichneumon wasps, braconid wasps, and chalcid wasps. These species can help infest the host pest and then kill them in the larval form.
Parasitic wasps can help benefit your yield.
They’ll seek out the bugs that are attacking your cauliflower and then infest them by depositing eggs inside them.
Since these wasps aren’t readily available for most people, they can be special ordered online.
They have steps to be released, usually in batches.
If your cauliflower is still small, it’s possible to put the plant inside a mini greenhouse and then release the wasps inside. Read the directions from the seller.
If used correctly, the wasps can be extremely effective at getting rid of cauliflower bugs.
Ladybugs are a versatile beneficial insect that are a pleasure to have in the garden. Though high numbers of them can be a nuisance (such as inside your camper or on your porch), they DO help bring down other pest populations.
They’re also found natively in many different regions all over the US. So you may have a good chance of bringing them to your yard naturally with just a few changes.
You can help increase the presence of ladybugs in your garden by doing the following:
- Plant geraniums, coreopsis, cosmos, tansies, daisies, asters, zinnia, sunflowers, yarrows, dahlias, marigolds, dandelions, angelicas, or other flowering plants
- Ladybugs like herbs such as dill, fennel, caraway, chives, and more
- Grow butterfly weed- the orange flowers are a favorite of ladybugs
- Build a ladybug house
- Add a water source to your garden
If you don’t have ladybugs native to your area, you can buy them in bulk online.
They’re usually released in small batches over time and they’ll feed on pest larvae and eggs on your plants- not just the cauliflowers.
Ladybugs aren’t destructive and will leave on their own when they’re done feasting. They make an excellent way to control aphids, ants, snails, worms, loopers, and more.
If you have a smaller cauliflower plant, you can put it inside a greenhouse and release the ladybugs there. They’ll eat everything they can find until the bugs are gone.
The greenhouse can help keep them in one place until the bug problem is taken care of.
Apply Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt)
Bacillus thuringiensis (sold as “Bt”) is a bacterium nematode that can help stop the lifecycle of many different garden pests.
It’s used on both home gardens and industrial commercial fields.
It’s sold as a concentrate and then applied with water into the substrate. The Bt will infest the host organisms and then kill the larvae, which stops them from breeding in the future.
It won’t kill the current generation, but I will stop the future generation or two from breeding.
So you won’t see results right away. Read the label and follow the directions. Use as directed.
Depending on where you buy it and the specific strain of Bt you use, instructions will vary. Bt is considered to be safe and organic.
Crop rotation isn’t just for industrial farmers.
When you plant new cauliflower, be sure to practice crop rotation. If you have no idea what this is, it’s not planting the same type of plant in the same spot that can lead to an infestation.
Bugs have specific plant groups they like to eat. If you plant something that’s not attractive to the pest that resides in one spot, they’ll leave the next time the larvae hatch.
For example, if you have a cauliflower infestation of blister beetles one season, don’t plant it again there next season. Plant something else entirely- like not a vegetable.
After 3 years, you can rotate back to cauliflower. Plant the cauliflower somewhere else in your yard.
This also helps expose the larvae because you till the soil and “mess up” their environment.
The larvae come out and are exposed to sunlight which can kill them if they’re still in egg form.
They also won’t have a plant to eat since the host plant is gone or replaced with something that’s not their food. So you get two birds with one stone.
Here’s a good video that shows the process:
How do you get rid of aphids on cauliflower?
Aphids can be found eating the green leaves of your cauliflower plant. They may also be found all over the stems.
Aphids are a prevalent species and can be found on nearly all vegetable crucifers. Anything that has tender leaves is a favorite of these buggers.
Other than being destructive by completely destroying the leaves, they also secrete a sticky substance behind which molds and then collects ants.
The mold blocks your plant’s ability to photosynthesize, so this produces weaker yield and slows down your plant’s ability to grow. The ants that the residue brings in are going to be crawling all over your plant resulting in a huge mess.
Thankfully, aphids can be ridden with some basic dish soap. Make some soapy water and rinse down your cauliflower daily.
You can even just spray them with a garden hose to get them off.
Additionally, set up sticky traps around the perimeter to help catch crawling aphids. A ring of sticky tape on the base of the plant helps prevent them from crawling up your stems.
How do you get rid of worms on cauliflower?
Sometimes you’re eating or cleaning cauliflower and you see worms in it. This is actually very common and the worms are cabbage loopers or “cauliflower worms.”
These are yellow/green caterpillars that infest the heads of the plant. The larvae munch on the heads and the leaves all day until they pupate and spin into an adult moth.
Cabbage loopers are everywhere and eat everything from cauliflower to mint.
The larvae will make a “loop” when it walks so that’s how it gets its name. It digs into the cauliflower heads and munches on it all day until it’s ready to pupate.
Cabbage worms are the larvae of white moths.
They have velvety green skin with light yellow stripes. They raise and drop their backs as they slink around and don’t have legs in the middle of their body. But they do have legs on the front/back of their body.
They like cool and moist environments, which is also what cauliflower likes.
Cabbage worms aren’t exclusive to cabbage- they’re found on kohlrabi and broccoli as well. These caterpillars exist where moths are found.
There are different species but they’re all generally the same:
- Cabbage loopers (Trichoplusia ni)
- Imported cabbage worms (Pieris rapae)
Cabbage webworms are similar to loopers, but they’re only about 1cm in length. Cabbage loopers are much longer (3-4 cm).
Webworms are green and striped that actually spin webs on the plant. If you see white webbing on the leaves, these are webworms.
A less common cauliflower worm is the imported cabbageworm. These are green with an orange stripe down the back in a straight line.
There’s also a cabbage worm that sometimes is found on cauliflowers.
These are known as cross-striped worms. They have a horizontal stripe patterning on their backs with a light green or yellow mottled pattern on the belly. They eat the leaves and will make holes in your cauliflower plant. This will ruin the ability to photosynthesize and produce yield.
No matter which worm you find in your crucifer, you can get rid of them by manual removal.
Get a pair of garden gloves and a bucket of soapy water. If you’re not squeamish, then you can pick them off and toss them into the bucket. It’ll kill them by drowning them nearly instantly.
Additionally, you can spray them on the stem with soapy water. This will help eliminate them on the spot
Don’t worry about spraying your plant by accident, you can wash it off. The soapy water will kill worms upon contact.
If you have a lot of birds native to your region, you can attract them to your garden to help take care of the worms. Birds love worms.
So get them to feed on them by making the worms more available. Prune back your cauliflower so they’re visible.
Put up bird feeders, birdbaths, and birdhouses to bring in more of them. Once your garden is flocking with birds, they’ll gobble up the cauliflower worms like crazy.
Worms are also controlled by Bt, which we covered earlier in this guide.
These worms can be prevented in the first place by using row covers to stop egg-laying.
They come out in the springtime. Plant herbs or other strong scented plants to help repel the big adults from laying eggs in the first place.
You’ll find laid eggs on the underside of leaves.
They will hatch and then feed right away.
Since they’re green, they can be hard to see. You may not even notice the damage until your leaves are completely desecrated.
They’re excellent at hiding and will hide in your plant base to protect themselves as they eat. Bt is very effective at riding them or spinosad.
Practice regular crop rotation to help kill the larvae that are hiding in the soil.
Use manual removal when possible. Soapy water makes a good quick natural caterpillar killer that costs nothing to make at home DIY remedy style.
Companion planting also works against caterpillars.
Try planting cabbage or kohlrabi nearby with the red leaf variant so they’re easier to spot. If you see them on your decoy plants, they probably are eating your cauliflower plant.
Flea beetles are boring insects that’ll bore holes in your leaves. They feed on young leaves and will chew random holes in them.
If you see small beetles that are black or bronze, they may be flea beetles. They also can infest the roots of your cauliflower and will damage them entirely from growing.
If you have a young plant, you need to protect it from flea beetles.
Diatomaceous earth can kill flea beetles if you put it at the base of your plant. Sprinkle it in a circle around the base and use it in the soil. The sticky tape also works well.
If you have a ton of these beetles, use this guide to help get rid of them.
Blister beetles are tiny measuring about 1cm in length total. They’re dark like flea beetles, but have a grayish tone to them. They eat the leaves and will leave behind small holes in them.
You can control them in the same manner as with flea beetles. Commercial sprays that contain pyrethrum work well. Crop rotation also helps kill the larvae.
Slugs and snails
Build a DIY beer trap. This is the best way to get rid of them other than manual removal.
Here’s a video that shows one off:
Cabbage root maggot
The cabbage root maggot is a tiny white maggot that’s found on the roots, as the name implies. It’s about the size of a single grain of rice.
The adult flies are gray or brown and look like the common housefly. They leave behind bullet-shaped eggs on the soil line or the stem.
Once they hatch, the cabbage maggots will dig into the cauliflower roots and feed. This will cause your cauliflower to shrivel up and wilt. Younger plants can be killed by them.
You can prevent cabbage maggots by using fleece, or row covers. These can help block out the fleas from infesting it in the first place.
They usually come out in the summertime and the numbers are voluminous. You can also make a DIY plant collar to help guard it against soil-boring insects. Make a skirt and put it around the plant’s stem.
Cardboard or paper both work OK. Just shape it to size and tape it around the stem like a sleeve. Sticky traps can also help trap them.
If you by chance have poultry, they can help pick off maggots and other pests from your plants. Chickens are the best predator.
Diamondback moths are also known as cabbage moths.
They deposit eggs on cabbage, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, romaine lettuce, collards, wallflowers, ornamental brassicas, and broccoli.
The adult moths lay eggs on the leaves which hatch into small green caterpillars that devour the plant. They eat the leaves and will feed until there are none le
The caterpillars are about 0.5 inches. They have forked tails which is a distinguishing phenotype to identify them from other caterpillars in the garden. They have green skin, but it’s not the smooth type that cabbage worms have. They also have white feet with whitish heads.
Diamondback moth larvae will eat the plant leaves.
The leaves will have a windowpane appearance after they’re done. You’ll find them on the bottom of the leaves on your plants. Row covers, manual removal, soapy water, and regular pruning of the eggs can help.
Bt will eliminate them nearly completely when used properly. Practice regular crop rotation to help eliminate the eggs. If the moths don’t get into the plant, then they can’t lay eggs.
Floating row covers work well when used properly. They stop the adults from coming in to lay eggs.
These are parasitic insects that suck out the precious plant juice from your cauliflower. Harlequin bugs are about 1cm in length and have a shield with black and red spots on their back.
They feed on the sap and will suck out everything until the cauliflower can’t support its leaves. You’ll find them juicing away on the leaves until they become withered or dried up.
You can control them with soapy water, neem oil, or insecticidal soap. These are the easiest, most accessible ways that most people can do.
What can I plant with cauliflower to keep bugs away?
Plant strong-scented herbs or flowers that naturally have pest repelling properties.
Some of these are:
How to protect cauliflower from insects
Like any other outdoor plant, it’s not possible to completely protect anything from pests. If it exists, it can be a meal for a bug.
You can only limit the possibility of it being eaten by making it extremely unfavorable for bugs. Start with manually removing them or killing them.
Set up traps to passively catch them and gauge the extent of the infestation. Use natural repellents like essential oils, neem oil, or companion plants to keep them away.
Spray soapy water to kill them. Sprinkle diatomaceous earth to kill crawling insects. Use sticky traps to catch flying ones. It’s all about finding the right combo that’s suitable for your specific pest then scaling up.
Here are some references you may find useful:
- Cauliflower – Diseases and Pests – PlantVillage
- Managing Pests in Gardens: Vegetables: Cauliflower – UC IPM
- Little Green Worms are my broccoli and cauliflower – Reddit
Did you get rid of the cauliflower pests?
You should now have a solid understanding of how to control, eliminate, and manage pests on your cauliflower plants.
There’s no need to use dangerous synthetic compounds to get rid of them unless you’re doing a purge of your garden.
Find the proper combination of insect killer, repellent, and exclusion techniques that works for you.
Since there are many different pests, it’s hard to cover every single one in detail that may be eating cruciferous plants.
The steps are to identify the bug first, then eradicate it with DIY remedies, then set up repellents, and finally use traps to catch any bugs left strangling. It’s pretty easy if you’re persistent.
Do you have any questions about a specific pest? Or do you have any feedback/suggestions for this article? Leave a comment and let me know.
If you found this page somewhat helpful, please let me know as well! Consider telling a friend who’ll get some use out of it!
Currently an active researcher in the pest control industry for the past 8 years- with a focus on using natural and organic methods to eliminate pest problems.
I share handy DIY pest techniques I come across here to help out others (and possibly save them from a mental breakdown).
Fight nature with nature.