There are few worse garden plagues than grasshoppers. These wretched little beasts devour everything in their path, mercilessly consuming huge quantities of greenery until your space is a wasteland. Seriously, these bugs are a gardening nightmare. Fortunately, there are natural ways to deter them, or reduce their numbers considerably. If you need to know how to get rid of grasshoppers, read on!
These insects have a voracious appetite, and they aren’t picky either. Unlike most garden pests, who pick and choose their meals, grasshoppers will eat almost anything. They’ll eat it all too: leaves, stems, flowers—nothing is safe from their chompy little jaws. Grasshoppers are a menace to any healthy garden.
So, how do you fight them while still keeping your garden safe for kids, butterflies, bees, and all? Grasshoppers may be hard to kill, but there are some organic tricks that can stop these monsters in their tracks!
First and foremost, let’s get to know our enemy a bit. What is it about grasshoppers that make them such an invasive pest?
Eating is what grasshoppers do best. They’ll eat half their body weight in greens each day, heedlessly decimating the world around them. Adults measure 1-5 inches in length, with hard, brownish-yellow bodies, and strong jaws. They have wings and powerful hind legs, which enable them to jump long distances.
Young grasshoppers—also known as nymphs—are smaller, greener versions of adults. They have wing-buds, but their wings are not yet fully formed.
Adult grasshoppers lay their eggs at the end of the summer. The eggs are buried in the soil in pods, and wait through winter for their spring hatching. These egg pods are hardy even through extreme cold, unfortunately. Even if your winter temperatures were bitter, expect a spring hatching of hungry nymphs.
Cold, wet springs may slow hatching, however. Slow or late hatchings give a higher likelihood of mildew or fungus infestations on the young hoppers. We can only hope, right? Keep your fingers crossed!
As soon the nymphs hatch, they’ll start eating. At first, it may not seem like they’re doing too much damage. They’re so little that they’re almost cute. What’s a few leaves here or there? But grasshoppers grow fast, and their appetites grow faster. One classic study compares a moderate grasshopper population’s consumption to that of a full-grown cow.
Is There Anything They Don’t Eat?
Grasshoppers will eat almost any plant in your yard and garden. If you give them a choice, they prefer cereal grains like clover, oats, wheat, corn, rye and barley. But they’ll cheerfully settle for your grass, flowers, greens, beans, and broccoli as well.
Most grasshoppers will avoid eating cilantro, squash, peas, and tomato leaves. There are also a few flowers that actively repel grasshoppers. These blooms will discourage young invaders to hunt for greener pastures. But don’t count on these plants being entirely immune to a large, hungry grasshopper hatching. If they have few options, grasshoppers will eat almost anything.
After about 2 months of stuffing their faces, your little green nymphs are full-grown adults. Now, they’re even hungrier, and can fit more food in their bellies. They’ll continue to eat half their weight daily, lay their eggs, and eventually die as the weather cools. Next year, their offspring will hatch, and you’ll have a larger batch of grasshoppers to fight.
Unless you stop the cycle.
Breaking the Cycle
If you’re going to successfully protect your garden from grasshopper infestation, you’ll need to combine a few different methods.
No single method is 100% effective, but if you attack in two or three distinct ways, you can defeat them.
1. Environmental Attacks
Start out by making your garden less attractive to hungry young hoppers. Plant repellent flowers like moss roses, lilacs, forsythia, sage, and jasmine among the more attractive plants. Companion plant grasshopper favorites like lettuce, corn, and beans with squashes, peas and tomatoes.
Mixing less-desirable plants into your garden will make it less of an ideal habitat for these invaders.
Letting your lawn grass grow tall is another way of luring grasshoppers away. These insects prefer grass to garden variety leaves, so they might move to your lawn and away from your garden. This isn’t a permanent solution, but it might just save your vegetables.
2. Cover it up
Adding row covers to your garden beds can be a great way of protecting plants.
Only use this option if you currently have a grasshopper-free garden, though. Grasshoppers trapped inside row covers will be locked in an all-you-can-eat buffet.
When using row covers, keep all leaves well inside the cover to keep them safe from marauding grasshoppers.
3. Chop them Up
Rototilling in early spring, as soon as the ground is workable, will destroy many of the waiting egg pods in the earth. Remember that at this time, grasshopper nymphs haven’t hatched yet. They’re deep in the earth, waiting to hatch out and devour. If you till them up early enough, they’ll never have that chance.
Not all areas of the garden can be rototilled. If you have a lot of perennials, tilling might not be the best option for you. But tilling up the soil wherever you can will reduce the number of them hatching in spring.
4. Introduce Predators
Now, I know chickens can be pretty devastating to gardens as well, but they do decimate the grasshopper population. I keep my chickens out of the garden in late spring, summer, and early fall. After harvest, however, I let them run wild. Chickens love to scratch at the dirt, searching for insects, egg pods, and seeds.
A hungry flock of chickens can clear out grasshopper eggs before they hatch. If any escape, your springtime flock will find them.
Chickens eat grasshoppers throughout their life cycle. In late summer, your birds will chase down adult hoppers as happily as they scratched up the eggs in early spring.
If you’re worried about keeping your garden safe from chickens, try introducing guinea fowl instead. These birds don’t scratch up the earth as chickens do, but they’re voracious hunters. Guineas can clear a large area of grasshoppers, ticks, and other insects easily.
Note that guineas are wilder than chickens. They tend to roam farther, and they’re not as friendly. They’re also loud birds. As such, if you live in the suburbs, chickens are a safer choice.
But guineas are more effective insect controllers, and they won’t damage your garden. They lay small, teardrop-shaped eggs that taste delicious. If you’re gardening in the country, definitely get to know these unique birds
Dust, Traps, and Topical Applications
Organic favorites like insecticidal soap and diatomaceaous earth aren’t going to work on grasshoppers. These insects have tough, hard bodies that resist gentle approaches.
5. Effective Sprays
Another organic favorite—Neem—has mixed reviews. Neem oil may help disrupt the hoppers’ life cycle by producing an insect ennui among the invasive pests. It reduces appetite, deters breeding, and in general causes insects to give up on life.
Some gardeners have not seen as strong of an effect on grasshoppers, but others use Neem successfully. The trick, in my experience, is to apply a Neem oil spray early in the season. Nymphs are softer, weaker, and more impressionable than adult grasshoppers. The oil affects them better than it does their elders.
Highly concentrated garlic sprays are also effective in deterring grasshoppers who, like vampires, loath the scent of garlic. Coat the whole plant with garlic spray to drive away hunger grasshoppers. Be sure to use this method early in the season if you don’t want all your produce to taste like garlic.
Like beer traps for slugs, grasshopper traps lure the insect in with the promise of food. A half-buried jar of molasses and water attracts the greedy insect. He hops in to munch molasses and drowns in the water.
To make a molasses trap, fill a quart-sized mason jar with 1 part molasses and 10 parts water. Bury it halfway in the ground near the plants your grasshoppers are attacking. Check the trap at least once a week, or once a day if you have a serious infestation. Refresh as necessary.
One of the most effective ways to fight an active infestation of grasshoppers is with flour dust. Yes, really! Grab a fluffy paint brush or a makeup brush and a jar of flour, and start painting your plants’ leaves. You don’t need a lot of flour—just a dusting is enough. Apply in dry weather, and watch your grasshopper population start to die.
Four gums up the mouths of grasshoppers. Think of making paper-mache as a kid: flour and water make a glue that seals up the paper-mache craft. Well, flour and grasshopper saliva make a glue too, and then the insects can’t eat anymore. Give it a try!
Combine two or three of these methods to keep your garden safe and the devouring hoards at bay. With a little bit of work you’ll be ready to defend your garden from invasion. Even better, you can teach others how to get rid of grasshoppers in their spaces. Before you know it, your entire neighborhood will be free from them indefinitely.