Usually we think of spring as the time when wildlife is conducting their courtship rituals. Not so with grasshoppers and crickets! As the summer winds down, you will hear the the mating calls of the males trying to attract a female get louder! And if you are finding ragged holes chewed in the leaves of your plants it is probably grasshoppers. To lessen the population next year, now is the time to address this issue!
The sound they make is produced by rubbing the sharp edge of one wing over the ridges on the underside of the other wing, kind of like a bow on a violin. This may be why in many folk tales the grasshoppers are shown playing the fiddle!
Once a female has been successfully wooed she will deposit about 100-200 eggs in a mass in dry soil. These eggs will winter over and hatch out next spring. Keeping your garden heavily mulched is one way to deter the females from laying their eggs and it also makes it harder for newly hatched nymphs to emerge.
The first nymphs are white but look like tiny wingless grasshoppers. They will molt through 5 to 6 stages before they mature and develop wings. These baby grasshoppers love the well-watered, lush greenery in our gardens and can go unnoticed for a while until they get larger and the damage they do is more pronounced. If you are finding ragged holes chewed in the leaves of your plants it is probably grasshoppers.
This grasshopper must not be hungry enough to chew through the row cover.
Keeping Grasshoppers Out of the Garden
Some of the grasshopper's favorite foods are lettuce, carrots, raspberries, beans, corn, onions, and flowers. The only veg they don't seem to like are the leaves of squash, tomato, and peas. They are also not fond of ornamentals including lilacs, forsythia, crepe myrtle, verbena, dianthus, portulaca, salvia, lantana, or artemisia. If the hoppers are hungry they will even chew right through some row covers.
So, if your hoppers are really bad, consider what plants you grow.
You can also try making cones out of metal screening to protect your most precious plants.
Another way to keep the hoppers out of your garden is to mow a buffer around the outside of it and let the grass grow tall and lush on the other side, far away from the garden as a trap crop.
As said above, refreshing your mulch with a nice layer of coverage near grasshopper season deters females from laying eggs in the garden or babies from emerging right in the middle of your leafy crop!
You can also try repellents. Dusting plants with flour supposedly gums up their mouths or dust with diatomaceous earth which will cut into their exoskeleton and dry them out.
Many gardeners have success spraying plants they want to protect with hot pepper and garlic concoctions.
Others swear that by planting cilantro around the perimeter of the garden the grasshoppers stay away!
These two are feasting on an annual China aster.
Luckily for us, grasshoppers have many natural predators. Birds gobble up lots of the nymphs and adults; chickens and guinea hens find them irresistible. Snakes, toads, wasps, ground beetles, centipedes, and praying mantises also dine on them. Their eggs are eaten by mites, parasitic wasps, and beetle larvae. So, let those "good" bugs go at it!
Population numbers can vary widely from year to year. Sometimes there are very few grasshoppers but in years when there are more hoppers than food, they go into survival mode and swarms of them will migrate to new areas to feed. Then they are called locusts and major migrations of them are like something out of a horror movie! They can fly 15 miles or more in a day eating everything in sight. In 1875 there was a locust swarm in the west that reportedly had 3.5 trillion of them! Truly a biblical plague!
This brown grasshopper has a white band on its wings that can only be seen when in flight.
Lessen the Population of Grasshoppers
To lessen the population in your yard next year, now is the time to catch and dispatch those breeding couples. Grasshoppers like to sleep in so go on a hopper hunt early in the morning when they are less active and easier to catch. Pick 'em and plop 'em into a bucket of soapy water.
You can make a trap by standing a pane of clear glass in a dish pan of soapy water. They will fly into the glass, slide down the pane and end up in the drink. Leaving the dead ones in the water will attract others to the scene since grasshoppers are cannibals.
Another kind of trap made from a 2-liter soda bottle lures them in with lush greenery. Cut the top off the bottle, put freshly cut grass or plant leaves in the base. turn the top around and stick it back into the bottle upside down to make a funnel. The hoppers will crawl in for lunch but have a hard time finding their way out. Check it daily.
Early next spring you can spread a biological control called Nosema locustae before the grasshoppers start to hatch. It is a microbe that infects the young ones with a fatal disease. It only kills grasshoppers and doesn't affect birds. It can be slow acting and may take a year or so for you to see any reduction in population.
If all else fails, learn to love them! Grasshoppers are considered a delicacy in many cultures. Deep fried they are supposed to be a delicious, nutritious crunchy snack!