What is eating my kale leaves, is a worry of most gardeners as they would have this question at the back of their minds when their kale leaves start looking less than grocery-store perfect.
Kale leaves are delicious and full of vitamins, but growing them can become a hassle, with various pests constantly attacking them. Here are a few common kale pests that might be responsible for damaging your kale leaves.
List of Common Kale Pests
1. Harlequin Bug
The harlequin bug is a common vegetable pest that enjoys feeding, mating, and reproducing on kale plants in the summer. These bugs can grow to about half an inch long and have triangular or shield-shaped bodies.
Their bodies are often brightly marked with black and orange for adults or black and yellow patches for younger bugs. Their antennas are segmented, and they have short black legs.
Harlequin bugs lay their eggs, which would be white with some black dots on them, on the underside of kale leaves in rows of six. To feed, they pierce the leaves with their needle-like mouth, called a proboscis, to suck nutrients. However, the adult harlequins produce a foul smell when disturbed or in danger.
If harlequin bugs have been eating your kale, you will notice white marks called stipples on discolored leaves resulting from the piercing and sucking of the bugs on the leaves. The leaves will turn brown and wilt if there is a bug infestation.
– How to Get Rid
To get rid of these bugs, you can hand-pick adults, nymphs, and eggs off your kale leaves and drop them in soapy water to kill them. Be careful not to crush them to avoid releasing their terrible smell, which is why it is advised that you wear safety gloves.
You can also spray them with neem oil or insecticidal soap, and they will surely vanish, moreover, you may also use a floating row cover to deter them.
2. Cabbage Looper
Cabbage loopers are medium-sized moths native to North America. It is a common pest of cruciferous crops, which includes kale.
Their caterpillars move on crops through looping movements that involve arching the middle of their smooth-skinned bodies and pushing the back end forward to meet their front end. These caterpillars usually start white but become a lighter green as they mature, with silvery or white lines on either side of their bodies and two or three lines on their backs.
Cabbage looper are basically featured as caterpillars and typically grow up to half an inch with three pairs of legs at their rear end and two pairs of fleshy stub-like legs, called pro-legs, in the middle of their abdomen.
The adults are one-inch brown or gray moths with silvery markings in the middle of the front of their wings that looks like figure eight. They pupate in a cocoon of white threads attached to leaves, and adults merge within two weeks.
Cabbage loopers usually leave large, ragged holes on kale leaves or completely eat up a small leaf. Also, look out for their tiny green eggs on the bottom of the leaves and their small brown droppings or frass containing the remainder of the leaves.
– How To Get Rid
The best way to get rid of cabbage loopers is to pick them off manually because they are big and obvious. You will find them easily in the morning and late in the evenings but make sure to check the underside of their leaves for their eggs and remove them too.
However, if you have a small infestation, you can also use Diatomaceous Earth by sprinkling a portion on and around your leaves, and they would be good to go. A floating row cover will also help prevent them from laying eggs on your leaves.
3. Cabbage Worm
Cabbage worms are the larvae of the cabbage butterflies, also called cabbage white. They are often found on cabbage plants, but they also love eating kale plants. These butterflies lay single bullet-shaped eggs that are white at first but become yellow when they mature.
The worms are velvety to touch and have green bodies with a pale-yellow line down the middle of their backs. Furthermore, they also have four sets of prolegs and three sets of legs near their head but stay flat when they crawl.
These cabbage worms would pupate on the undersides of leaves in spring to become butterflies within ten days. These butterflies are pale white, with males having one black spot on their front wings and females have two.
Their wings span is about an inch to two inches, and the undersides have yellow marks. Females start laying eggs shortly after they metamorphose.
Once you notice white cabbage butterflies hovering around your kale garden, you should look for their eggs and larvae on your kale plants. Your leaves would probably have uniformed holes between leaf veins or be completely skeletonized. They also leave large amounts of round frass that are dark green around your kale plant.
– How To Get Rid
You can pick the larvae and eggs of your kale leaves once you notice any of the signs above. Drop them in soapy water to kill them or feed them to chickens. Using neem oil on your plants is a perfect way to kill the worms and their eggs.
As another option, you may also spray your kale plants with Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), a naturally occurring bacteria that live in soil and produces a toxic protein when consumed by the cabbage worm.
4. Flea Beetles
With over 6000 species, the flea beetle is one of the most destructive leaf beetles ever. This small, shiny beetle only reaches about one-sixth of an inch and has large segmented rear legs that allow it to jump quickly when disturbed or threatened.
These jumping beetles vary in appearance due to their numerous species. Colors can range from greenish-black, tan, or black with a mixture of other colors and have stripes, spots, or solid patterns, depending on the variety that you would spot on your kale.
Adult flea beetles become more active in spring and begin chewing on plants such as kale to lay their eggs. These eggs hatch within ten days, producing tiny white larvae with dark heads. Furthermore, these larvae start to feed on the plant’s roots for about three weeks before they pupate, metamorphose into adult beetles, and cause damage higher up the plant.
Look out for holes in your leaves resembling shots or lacy patterns. Adult beetles usually cause this type of damage. You can also check the roots of your kale plant to see the damage caused by the larvae of these pests.
Young kale plants will begin to turn brown and wilt quickly. But adult plants are established enough to withstand the beetle holes. However, the beetles can cause mature plants to blight.
– How To Get Rid
The simple step is to sprinkle Diatomaceous Earth on the leaves and around the base of your plant about two to three times a week if you have a flea beetle infestation. Furthermore, you can also be using floating row covers, you can create a barrier between the beetles and your kale plant.
You can also use white sticky traps to catch flea beetles when they jump. You can also dust talcum powder on your plant to repel them.
5. Cabbage Aphids
The cabbage aphid is a species of aphid that feeds on kale. These pear-shaped, soft-bodied grayish-green or white insects have dark heads, soft legs, and long antennas. They are commonly found in the crook of the kale plant, where the leaf meets the stem.
They often appear in large numbers on tender kale plants and produce a waxy substance called honeydew that protects them from predators. These insects damage the plants by piercing the leaves with needle-like mouth parts and sucking their juices.
Since aphids are tiny insects, one might be challenging to see on the kale leaves, but they feed in colonies so you would notice them on the stem and roots of the plant. The damage they cause to kale leaves is easy to identify.
Hence, the leaves will become yellow and misshaped because of the loss of chlorophyll and liquid from the leaves, especially when they are eating the kale, they will tear it and the leaves will look weak and smaller.
They would also start growing deformed and eventually curl up and start falling off. You would also notice a sticky substance on the stems.
– How To Get Rid
If you have a large infestation of aphids on your kale plant, you can introduce one of their natural predators, the ladybug, to eat them up. For effective pest control, you must release a large number of ladybugs. You can also use a garden hose to spray them down or use insecticidal soap to kill them.
The easy way is by a light sprinkle of Diatomaceous Earth will help you kill aphids, but you can manually remove them from the leaves and crush them if you have a small infestation.
On another note, you can also cut off damaged kale leaves and add them to your compost pile. Another very effective method is to grow plants that repel these insects, such as catnip.
6. Diamondback Moth
Diamondback moth, also known as the cabbage moth, is one of the species of minor-sized moths belonging to the Plutellidae family of over 200 species. These nocturnal half-inch-sized insects come in a gray or brown color and have white or cream-colored markings on their wings that form a diamond shape when folded, hence the name.
When the moth is at rest, it folds its wings over the abdomen in a tent-like manner. Their wings can spread up to half an inch, and their tips have long hairs. The larvae of the diamondback moth are responsible for large infestations and damage to kale plants.
When the larvae hatch, they feed on the internal leaf tissues for about six days. Although they prefer eating the lower surface, they might move to the upper surface of the leaves to begin feeding externally.
These cigarette-shaped caterpillars are usually half an inch long and can come in a dull yellow or green color with smooth, upright hairs on their bodies. Lastly, you would notice these caterpillars by how they wriggle frantically and drop from a white silk-like thread when disturbed but climb back up the plant to feed after a short while.
The larvae of the diamondback moth chew between the surface of the upper and lower leaf, so mature larvae create irregularly shaped holes on the undersides of leaves. If there is a large infestation of these insects, they can eat the entire leaf and leave only the veins.
Also, when you disturb your kale leaves, you will notice larvae dropping on silk threads. They would also damage the buds on your kale leaves so that they have stunted growth. Mature larvae will eat the undersides of your leaves, leaving only the upper epidermis. So, check your kale leaves to see if they have a window pane effect, such that they are transparent.
– How To Get Rid
One of the best ways to get rid of diamondback moths is to use their natural enemies, such as spiders, birds, lacewings, etc. You can also use neem oil or neem-based products to kill them off. This method might be slow as the larvae can still survive a few days, but their feeding and growth will be stopped.
You can also use Bacillus thuringiensis, the way to do it is to spray every week when the larvae hatch newly to kill them off completely. Floating row covers prevent the diamondback moths from laying eggs on your kale plants, so you can use them to protect your plants.
The only way to ensure your kale plants are not attacked is if you grow them indoors. If planted outside, your plants cannot escape being infested by insects and other kale pests. Luckily, we’ve provided you with its most common attackers and how to deal with them. Here are a few essential points;
- Floating row covers are one of the most effective ways to protect your kale plants from infestation.
- It is best to get rid of the larvae of the diamondback moth, flea beetle, cabbage worm, and cabbage looper when they hatch.
- For larger infestations, using chemical pesticides is the best control method.
- You can spread some neem oil or other types of insecticides and you will get rid of the pests on your kale.
Once you notice any damage to our kale leaves, intervene immediately, as early intervention can drastically reduce your pest infestations.
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