How to Get Rid of Grasshoppers
Each fall, yards across Maryland and Virginia are swamped with an army of grasshoppers. Widespread, destructive, and particularly unpleasant, grasshoppers can seem like an insurmountable challenge once they’re established around your home. In reality though, you’re far from powerless to fight back, so keep reading to learn more!
What are Grasshoppers?
Belonging to the suborder Caelifera and existing more or less unchanged for over 250 million years, grasshoppers are among the most ancient insects on the planet. Fully grown, they’re usually no more than 2 inches in length, possess powerful hind legs and strong jaws, and are typically either green, brown, or black in color. Additionally, their wings, which run the length of their abdomen, can help them travel up to 30 miles a day, spreading an infestation quickly. All of this adds up to make grasshoppers one of the most effective and destructive pests around!
What do Grasshoppers Eat?
They might be called grasshoppers, but common turfgrasses only account for a small portion of their diet. While native grasses and even weed varieties aren’t immune from grasshopper-related damage, they typically prefer common commodity crops like:
- And many others
It’s little wonder then that grasshoppers are responsible for millions of dollars worth of damage to American agriculture every year.
Do Grasshoppers Bite?
Typically no, grasshoppers do not bite. That being said, swarming varieties may display increased aggression and even the most docile grasshoppers will bite when they feel threatened. While they’re not venomous and rarely become infected, a grasshopper bite is still quite painful, so we always recommend exercising caution when approaching an adult specimen.
What does Grasshopper Damage Look Like?
Most often, grasshopper damage can be observed on a plant’s leaves but they’ve also been known to target legume pods. Their damage can be easily identified and usually manifests in round or ragged holes between a leaf’s veins. When left untreated, grasshoppers can strip a leaf completely bare, leaving only a skeletal vein structure behind. Eventually, this will destroy a plant’s ability to photosynthesize, causing it to die.
What Attracts Grasshoppers?
As with so many insects, grasshoppers are in a constant search for three things—food, water, and a place to lay their eggs—all three of them exist in abundance in our gardens. Both crop plants and grasses are high in moisture, allowing grasshoppers to eat and drink at the same time. Troublingly, this means that your healthiest plants which usually contain the most moisture are the most vulnerable.
Come mating season, grasshoppers will lay their eggs in the soil and a healthy female can lay as many as 300 at a time! So while we love to foster healthy soil, grasses, and both agricultural and ornamental plants in our yards, keep in mind that grasshoppers love all of those things just as much.
How to Control Grasshoppers
While grasshoppers represent a serious threat to the health of yards and food systems alike, there’s plenty you can do to keep them at bay, including:
- Foster natural predators: Owing both to their massive numbers and nutritional density, grasshoppers are a favorite food source of a wide variety of predators including birds, frogs, toads, and praying mantises. Adopting gardening and landscaping practices which encourage predators such as those to populate your yard can do serious damage to the grasshopper population each fall.
- Till your soil: As we mentioned before, grasshoppers lay their eggs in the soil. Tilling the ground in late summer or early fall, depending on where you live, will deprive them of a place to lay their eggs in the first place. Similarly, repeating the process in the spring will destroy any eggs present in your soil, dealing a severe blow to an infestation before it starts.
- Use a crop cover: Covering vulnerable plants with cheesecloth, burlap, a plastic tarp, or a professional crop cover will provide them with outstanding protection from grasshoppers. After all, if they can’t get to the plant, they can’t eat it! Eventually, they’ll move along in search of food elsewhere, meaning that your yard will have been spared for another year.
- Spread flour on vulnerable plants: Yes, you read that correctly. Silly though it may seem, dusting leaves with flour is actually a remarkably effective way to keep them safe from grasshoppers. Combined with the plant’s natural moisture and the grasshopper’s saliva, the flour will quickly hydrate, creating a gummy paste which will render their jaws ineffective. Just keep in mind that regular flour applications will be necessary, particularly after rain.
- Apply chemical pesticides: Particularly where severe infestations are concerned, chemical pesticides may be the best way to go. Available both in the form of sprays and traps, grasshopper-specific pesticides are widely available both online and in retail settings. Whatever you do though, make sure that you read and follow your chosen product’s instructions carefully to ensure safe and responsible use. In addition, we strongly recommend avoiding any product that contains Carbaryl, as it causes severe collateral damage to beneficial insect populations.
For more information, contact your helpful local lawn experts at Blades of Green!
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