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Pesky Treehoppers: Controlling Leafhopper Infestations

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As your garden sprouts and grows, if you’re like me, you’re monitoring each little sprout, rejoicing in the possibilities. Unfortunately, there are bugs that are doing the same thing. Like those sneaky leafhoppers.

If you’re into natural pest control, check out these tips!

green leaf hoppers

I’ve had a long-standing battle with leafhoppers over the years. It looks like that battle will continue here in Hawaii. Leafhoppers vary by location (some are green, some are brown, and some are reddish) but they live in pretty much every region of the world. I’ve also heard them called planthoppers. These pests suck plant sap from the stems and can introduce pathogens as they do so.

What I have here seem to be treehoppers. Treehopper nymphs don’t move much at all. While adult treehoppers are fast, the nymphs don’t fly or move quickly. Identifying leafhoppers at this stage allows me to kill them easily, targeting them before they do more damage or reproduce.

leafhopper nymphs and adults on a tomato branch

Leafhoppers — damage to plants

Notice the brown stems in the photo above. That’s damage from treehoppers. This damage doesn’t kill the plants immediately, but it does weaken them.  My aim is to reduce the population enough to prevent total devastation to the plants.

Sometimes gardeners don’t identify an infestation until it’s quite advanced. At that point, you’ll notice that disturbing a plant causes adult treehoppers to fly up in a cloud of little bugs, hopping from leaf to leaf. Upon closer inspection, you’ll see the beginning of damage on plants.

Those adults will spread out amongst your vegetable plants and procreate, so ideally you want to remove them before that can happen. Which means finding leafhoppers at the egg or nymph stage.

leafhopper nymphs on tomato stems

Manual control of leaf hopper bugs

Adult leafhoppers or treehoppers are difficult to catch, but they are a signal that you’ve got trouble. If you see adult treehoppers, keep an eye on your vegetable plants for eggs and nymphs. Check the underside of leaves for eggs. The nymphs will be visible on thick plant stems. I find that nightshade plants are particularly desirable to the treehoppers we have here.

If you’ve got the time, you can reduce the risk of leafhopper damage by keeping an eye on the underside of your plants’ leaves for tiny white eggs.

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If you find them, carefully brush them off, making sure to smash them. I do this with my fingers; it’s too hard to be gentle while wearing gloves. I’ve eradicated a large number of eggs from young seedlings.

To kill leafhopper nymphs, I use gloved hands, smashing them between my thumb and forefinger. (Bare hands can work, but the nymphs are a bit thorny and can hurt tender fingers.) This method has been the most successful.

Black, spiny nymphs of leafhoppers and a green stem

A good dusting of diatomaceous earth as soon as I suspect trouble is always my first line of defense for natural pest controlSpraying the plants with water and insecticidal soap is another option.

Are you dealing with any sort of insect problems in your garden yet? How are you handling the problem?

leaf hoppers

Originally published in May 2011; this post has been updated.

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Meet the Author

Kris Bordessa

Kris Bordessa founded Attainable Sustainable as a resource for revitalizing vintage skills. Her book, Attainable Sustainable: The Lost Art of Self-Reliant Living (National Geographic) offers a collection of projects and recipes to help readers who are working their way to a more fulfilling DIY lifestyle.

8 comments… add one
  • Alexandra May 18, 2011, 3:02 pm

    Not enough sun here yet for anything to grow! I’m confused though about leafhoppers. I thought they were beneficial insects. How does one tell the difference with the green bugs that are featured in gardening magazines??

  • Living Large May 19, 2011, 12:25 pm

    I’ve had problems with these too, just since moving here.

    • Kris Bordessa May 20, 2011, 6:01 am

      Aren’t they frustrating??

  • Erin Jan 12, 2019, 3:03 pm

    Do you sprinkle the diatomaceous earth on the leaves too, or just the top soil?
    Thanks!!

    • Kris Bordessa Jan 13, 2019, 8:25 am

      On the leaves, too!

  • Elaine Loftus Jul 1, 2019, 11:54 pm

    Will diatomaceous earth or insecticidal soap poison monarch caterpillars feeding on swamp milkweed?

    • Kris Bordessa Jul 2, 2019, 7:36 am

      Yes. It’s an indiscriminate killer, so use caution on plants where monarch caterpillars feed.

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