Not to be confused with grasshoppers, leafhoppers are another lawn and garden pest you should acquaint yourself with. These small green insects pierce holes in plant leaves and suck the nutrient solution out, causing damage to your plants. Don’t worry, though—there are plenty of ways to control an infestation once they make their way into your yard.
After talking about ways to control them in your yard, let’s talk about how to identify leafhoppers, how they’re different from grasshoppers, and how to spot their damage.
Ways To Control Leafhoppers in Your Lawn and Garden
- Beneficial Insects
- Sticky Traps
- Row Covers or Netting
- Diatomaceous Earth or Kaolin Clay
- Chemical Control
Bring in the Good Bugs
One of the best ways to eliminate damaging insects is to encourage beneficial insects. These insects—ladybugs, lacewings, damsel bugs, spiders, and minute pirate bugs—prey upon leafhopper eggs and young bugs. Plant dill, yarrow, cosmos, zinnias, or sunflowers as a food source to attract these helpful insects and reduce leafhopper populations.
Set Out Sticky Traps
Sticky traps help control crawling insects like leafhoppers. Adult bugs are attracted to the yellow paper and stick to the adhesive once they get close to the card. You can find sticky traps at most retailers that carry plants or nursery supplies. Either set them on the soil surface or attach them to wooden stakes and place them around your plants.
Protect Your Plants By Covering Them
When your garden plants are seedlings, you can place floating row covers over the seedbed and plants for pest exclusion. You can lay them directly on low-growing crops as long as there is some slack for the cover to expand as the plants grow. For taller plants or sensitive crops, put PVC hoops under the netting to create a framework.
Seal the edges by burying them completely, and then leave the covers on as long as possible to keep leafhoppers from damaging your plants.
Create Physical Barriers in the Soil Around Plants
To keep the leafhoppers from crawling up the stems of your plants, you can sprinkle the ground around your garden with non-toxic products like diatomaceous earth (DE) or kaolin clay. DE has tiny shards of silica that cut up leafhoppers as they crawl through it. Kaolin clay adheres to insects, creating a hostile, irritating environment.
Keep Pests Away Using Companion Plants
Some plants are used as natural pest repellents because of their strong smell or organic compounds within the foliage. These natural properties help to keep leafhoppers and other insect pests away from your treasured vegetables, roses, and other ornamentals. Some of the best species include asters, petunias, geraniums, and painted daisies.
Spray Insecticidal Soap
If leafhoppers start invading your yard, a great first line of natural defense is insecticidal soap. They contain fatty acids that coat small, soft-bodied insects, suffocating them or damaging their cellular membranes. Mix one tablespoon of insecticidal soap into a quart of distilled water and then spray the entire affected plant until the mixture drips off the leaves.
Use Neem Oil
Another natural control method is neem oil, a botanical pesticide that disrupts the transition of insect pests from one life stage to another. The active ingredient stops the production of hormones required for the change of larvae to pupa and pupa to adults. Follow the label directions for dilution instructions, and then drench the soil around your plants.
Turn to the Help of Pesticides
If you are dealing with a significant infestation, you might need to pull out the heavy artillery and apply a chemical pesticide to control the leafhoppers. Look for products containing carbaryl or pyrethrins, and always apply following the label directions specifically. Try to spray when bee activity is low to protect the honeybees from harm.
Keep Numbers Low Through Prevention
Preventing leafhoppers is significant in controlling insect pests and can significantly reduce numbers. When numbers are lower, pest problems are much easier to manage, and you’ll see less damage to your plants. The following are some of the best ways to prevent leafhoppers from infecting your lawn and garden.
- Use a reflective mulch-like straw or lay aluminum foil on the soil’s surface.
- Do not overwater plants.
- Remove weeds and debris from garden beds, especially at the end of the growing season.
- Plant your seeds early to avoid the peak leafhopper activity of late spring and early summer.
- Use garlic spray around your plants as a deterrent.
Identifying Leafhoppers in Your Yard
Leafhoppers are wedge-shaped, slender bugs that look like small green, yellow, or brown leaves with legs. They grow one-tenth to one-half of an inch long and get their name from their ability to jump when disturbed or are being stalked by a predator. Leafhoppers also move side to side like crabs, which sets them apart from most other insects.
Nymphs look like adults but haven’t developed wings yet. All activity is highest during moderate weather in late spring and the start of summer. Activity slows down when it’s wet or hot and dry.
How Are Leafhoppers Different Than Grasshoppers?
- Leafhoppers are very small; grasshoppers can grow almost three inches long.
- Leafhoppers jump 3-4 inches; grasshoppers jump upwards of 30 inches.
- Leafhoppers are sap-sucking insects; grasshoppers have mouth parts designed to bite and chew holes in leaves.
Leafhopper Life Cycle
Unlike many other insect types, leafhoppers develop without going through a pupal stage—they go directly from nymph to adult. Mature adults usually lay eggs in plant tissues, which hatch a few days later into nymphs. Nymphs molt numerous times before transforming into winged adults. Their short lifecycle (12 to 30 days) means you can see several generations each season.
Looking for Leafhopper Damage
Leafhopper damage will appear as a couple of usual symptoms. When they inject their toxic saliva through the leaf cuticle, it distorts the leaf shape and leaves behind small pale spots known as leaf stippling. Heavy feeding can cause the leaves to yellow, curl, and then brown and die. You’ll also see honeydew excretions that trigger sooty mold growth.