What is eating my kale leaves? The most probable cause is the cabbage worm, a nasty pest that loves to eat cruciferous vegetables and their leaves. They may start as beautiful butterflies, but they soon lay eggs that turn into awful critters. For clarity, those butterflies leave hundreds of eggs. So, eliminating them is not easy and time-consuming.
What is eating my kale leaves? Insects that Like to Eat Kale
- Aphids. These insects come in hundreds of different types, but they are all equally annoying. On top of that, they can be green, black, white, or red. Sometimes, they are woolly or pear-shaped. And, of course, cabbage aphids specialized in eating members of the Brassica family.
- Cabbage loopers. Like the cabbage worms, loopers have four stages: the egg, the worm, the cocoon, and the moth stage. They usually live in the countryside and are virtually impossible to eliminate. So, you have to disrupt their life cycle to minimize their damage.
- Cabbage worms. As mentioned above, they come from the white butterflies that devastate your cool weather crops. Once the eggs hatch, bitty worms grow into caterpillars and eat all the kale leaves they can reach.
- Flea beetles come out of hibernation in the spring. In early summer, these insects target the most tender kale leaves. They chew tiny holes in all the young leaves, condemning the plant to death or stunting their growth.
- Harlequin bugs have beak-like mouthparts, and they stick them in the stems of your kale plants to suck the plant dry. Usually, their population explodes in late spring and late winter with the warm weather.
How to Treat Kale For Insects
Most pesticides used on kale are a cause for concern after the USDA put kale on the Dirty Dozen list. That is, a list that links the use of pesticides in tested vegetables to human health problems.
So, it would be recommendable to switch to insecticides that you can use on organic crops like pyrethrum, pyrethrins, and pyrethroids.
Planting some thyme and mint near your kale plants may discourage some insects from coming near them.
But companion planting does not always work. So, using other natural methods like neem oil is highly recommendable. To use neem oil effectively, spray both the leaf front and back and reapply once more after it rains because the rain will wash it off. For a similar reason, water your kale plants at the base.
Insect cloth can offer good bug protection and reduce the need for pesticides. In detail, its meshed fabric will keep away butterflies, grasshoppers, and harlequin bugs.
All you have to do is drive at least four stakes in the ground around the kale crop. Next, put the netting over the stakes and clip them to the net!
Animals that Like to Eat Kale
- Rabbits and hares are destructive pests that can munch your kale plants to the ground. Of course, wild rabbits are shy and will not come close to your garden if you are there. But as soon as you turn your back, they will hop right in and eat all they can.
- Rodents like rats and squirrels will feast on kale if nothing else is available. Usually, they go for more juicy fruits. But they will eat kale leaves to mix their diet. Or for the fun of messing with your garden.
- Snails and slugs slowly but surely munch as many kale leaves as possible. At least, as long as the weather is wet. In the hot and dry seasons, molluscs go dormant. But they become active again in the fall.
How to Stop Animals from Eating Kale
A way to discourage rodents from visiting your kale crop is to keep your garden tidy. Leave no wood or junk piles around, and eradicate the weeds and tall grass they might use to hide.
Removing any potential shelter from your property can push unwanted visitors to think twice before entering your vegetable garden.
Lay down a wide surface like a piece of cardboard or plastic to provide a shelter for snails to hide under during the daytime. More importantly, put such havens around the kale crop or gardening bed perimeter. Then, collect them by hand in the evening or early in the morning when they go back to sleep.
You can use empty salad containers to protect the young seedlings from slugs and rodents. But it is better to pin them down with a heavy stone or brick.
Deer may also eat kale if other food sources are scarce in the winter months.
In any case, a hungry animal will dig below the container to access the tender kale leaves. So, other measures might be appropriate for better protection.
Related Article: When to Plant a Fall Garden: A Guide For Any Region