They may be tiny, but you need to be able to get rid of leafhoppers fast if you encounter them in the garden.
They have insatiable appetites and can do serious damage to your foliage. Luckily, they are relatively easy to prevent.
We have some great tips to eradicate them should they infest your garden. Before we get to that, let's talk about what they are and how to identify them.
What Are Leafhoppers?
Leafhoppers are small insects, and both the nymph and adult stages can do serious damage to your plants.
There are several species of leafhoppers in North America. In fact, there are more species of leafhoppers around the world than there are all species of mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and birds - combined!
That’s a lot of plant damage to contend with. The way they damage plants is by puncturing the bottoms of leaves and sucking out plant juices.
If that wasn’t bad enough, these pests have toxic saliva that can cause a variety of issues (like yellowing and stunted growth) for your plants, too.
These pests are tiny, at only about ¼" long. They are thin and shaped like wedges. When disturbed, they’ll fly away rapidly, making them tough to manually remove from plants.
They can be yellow, brown, or green in color. While nymphs are wingless, adults have wings - and both stages of leafhoppers are quite skilled at jumping and running sideways.
Leafhoppers are most common in warm climates. They typically appear first thing in the spring as soon as the weather warms up. But, they will also appear sporadically throughout the course of a growing season.
They breed quickly, so it’s important to spot them and take steps to eliminate them quickly. Here are the best ways to identify them.
Signs Of A Leafhopper Infestation
The problem with leafhoppers is they will harm your plants at all stages of life - from nymph to adult.
Leafhoppers feed on sap from plant leaves. As a result, your leaves may look as though they are white or even stippled in areas.
The damage they inflict is similar to spider mites. It can be tough to tell the difference, which is where actually identifying the insect themself is important.
It’s also important to note that leafhoppers can carry various types of bacteria between plants, so if you have problems like leaf scorch or other diseases to contend with, leafhoppers might be the initial culprits to blame.
Another problem that’s encouraged by active, feeding leafhoppers is honeydew.
When leafhoppers feed on plants, they leave behind a sticky substance (honeydew) which can create a variety of problems. They aren't the only bug that does this either.
Not only does this sticky excrement cause mold to develop on your plants, but it can attract other pests, like ants, too.
Upon inspection, you might even find leafhoppers hanging out on the underside of plant leaves. Some other signs of leafhopper damage include yellowing leaves, leaf curling, plant distortion, stunting, and spotting.
Leafhopper nymphs usually appear first thing in the spring and will reappear in the late summer.
Preventing Leafhopper Damage
There are a few ways you can prevent leafhoppers from ever infiltrating your grow in the first place.
Keep in mind, though, if you are growing outdoors, nothing is guaranteed. You are growing in their home, after all!
Remove Overwintering Sites
Leafhoppers are known to overwinter in piles of garden waste and debris. At the end of the gardening season, do your best to clean up any remaining plant matter.
This will get rid of common “nesting” sites and reduce the likelihood that leafhoppers will be problematic for more than one year in a row.
Practice Good Watering Hygiene
Watering constantly and evenly is a good way to prevent leafhoppers from becoming a problem. The healthier your plants are, the more resilient that will be at withstanding leafhopper damage.
Water first thing in the morning and do so deeply, watering at the base of plants instead of the leaves.
How To Get Rid Of Leafhoppers
Like we said, if you are growing outdoors, only so much can be done to prevent this pest.
Fortunately, there are some surefire ways to get rid of leafhoppers that we want to share with you now.
Get Rid Of Affected Plants
As tough as it may be, it’s important that you get rid of any affected plants when you notice leafhopper damage.
This is partially due to the leafhoppers themselves, but moreso because the bacteria introduced by the pests will continue to spread.
Take plants away from the garden carefully, trying not to disturb the bacteria or mold spores on your plant. Throw them in the trash, and dispose of the media.
Be sure to clean and disinfect any pots or growing supplies that came in contact with the infected plants.
Sprinkle Diatomaceous Earth
Diatomaceous earth is one of the best defenses you have against leafhoppers and other similar pests.
This natural compound consists of the ground-up portions of fossilized organisms.
It is totally safe to use around humans and animals, and leaves most beneficial pollinators alone, too. It’s a powerhouse when used against soft-bodied insects, though.
When leafhoppers cross over a barrier of diatomaceous earth, the compound will puncture their soft exoskeletons and cause them to become desiccated and eventually die.
Sprinkling a layer of diatomaceous earth around your plants is an easy way to keep leafhoppers out. You’ll need to reapply it after it rains, however.
Try Floating Row Covers
Floating row covers are used as physical barriers. These help to prevent leafhoppers from damaging plants.
They work best on garden crops, like potatoes and beans, but maybe less effective on larger plants, like trees.
To use a floating row cover, you’ll want to put it on before plants have flowered. Remove it once blossoms appear so that pollinators still have access to the plants.
When the covers are on, your plants will still be able to access the light, water, and nutrients they need - but pests like leafhoppers won’t be able to get inside.
Use Sticky Traps
You may be able to use sticky traps or even simple double-sided tape to keep leafhoppers away from your plants.
When you notice these pests, shake the plants vigorously. The leafhopper should become dislodged, but many will become stuck in the sticky traps. You can then dispose of them.
Keeping a few of these in your garden will help with the initial identification process of any pests you do encounter.
Bring Beneficial Insects To The Rescue
Beneficial insects, like ladybugs and minute pirate bugs, are just a couple of the predators of leafhoppers.
They tend to feed on leafhoppers that are in their egg and larval stages, but can be effective at controlling populations regardless of when you introduce them to the garden.
You can attract these beneficial insects by planting certain kinds of plants that are known to attract them. Ladybugs, for instance, love flowers and herbs like fennel, dill, yarrow, and geraniums.
If you have an infestation of leafhoppers though, time is of the essence. You can't wait around hoping to attract beneficial bugs. You'll need to purchase them online or at a local nursery, and bring them to your garden ASAP!
Try Insecticidal Soaps & Neem Oil
Insecticidal soaps can sometimes be effective against leafhoppers, but only when leafhoppers are very young.
Plus, since these pests tend to be on the move constantly, they can be tough to get rid of with insecticidal soaps alone.
You’ll have to consider how these soaps will affect other insect populations nearby, too. If you’re considering using this kind of chemical - or any chemical, for that matter - in your garden, be sure to consult a professional first.
The Best Insecticides For Leafhoppers
If you have a serious leafhopper infestation, your best bet is probably to use an insecticide. Don't just use any chemical product you can get your hands on, though.
Look for OMRI listed insecticides approved for use on consumable plants. These won't leave behind residuals in the plant in most cases, so you can feel good about using them. They also won't harm the environment, or anyone else for that matter.
The best active ingredient to look for when it comes to killing leafhoppers quickly is pyrethrin. Here are a few products we recommend to those struggling with this pest:
- PyGanic Gardening (OMRI Listed)
- Safer Brand 3 in 1 Garden Spray Concentrate (OMRI Listed)
- Fox Farm Force of Nature Insect Repellent Concentrate
Be Attentive To Get Rid Of Leafhoppers
All of these steps might not seem as though, individually, they would do much to control leafhopper populations.
However, the key to proper pest control - regardless of these pieces - is to be as attentive and dedicated in your efforts as possible.
Start small and implement one of these tips at a time. You’ll likely see results in your efforts, as long as you remain committed and patient.
With a bit of careful planning and understanding of how leafhoppers feed and damage your plants, you will have all the skills you need to know how to get rid of leafhoppers whenever they appear.
If you want to learn more about the most common grow room pests and diseases you may encounter, check out our complete guide!