Grasshoppers in the Garden? What to Do, When, Why and How

An obscure event in the annals of American history is the Grasshopper Plague of 1874 – when, like something straight from a nightmare, hordes of frenzied locusts descended upon the Great Plains, laying waste to agrarian fields of barley, wheat and corn.

Then, in the summer of 1877, a freak April snowstorm that many have attributed to divine intervention crashed through, decimating many of their eggs, which finally caused the population to dwindle. 

What most people don’t know is that under population pressures, harmless grasshoppers will transform into a swarm of voracious locusts. The trigger? Serotonin, a chemical compound that plays a role in everything from sleep to aggression. If you’ve ever experienced the urge to witness a man being torn apart in the lion pit when you’re with the circus crowd, then you know the feeling (or maybe you don’t). 

Below, a list of the most frequently asked questions about grasshoppers.

When should I consider eradicating grasshoppers? 

Grasshoppers only proliferate under certain environmental conditions, and for the casual gardener, they are unlikely to pose much of a threat. Unlike stunted beetles and other noxious pests, it seems a pity to murder these curious winged-creatures, a source of amusement for many youths.

The short answer is that while a couple of hoppers is not cause for concern, once they reach biblical proportions, you should consider taking defensive measures. Gnawed, ragged leaves and the presence of adult insects are all signs of an impending infestation – grasshoppers are indiscriminate eaters and will target a variety of crops including:

  • Ornamental plants such as roses
  • Tender vegetables such as lettuce, carrots, onions, and beans 
  • Grasses, legumes, and flowers 

Under what conditions do grasshoppers thrive?

Dry conditions seem to be breeding grounds for sinister creatures – the cold-blooded desert asp, the poisonous scorpion – and yes, grasshoppers.

Drought and grasshoppers go hand in hand, and it’s no surprise that the worst grasshopper outbreaks in recent years are correlated with surging temperatures.

Drought not only heralds scorching weather, but serves as ground zero for grasshopper breeding grounds. In the hot sun, the parasites that prey on their eggs are eliminated, and grasshopper populations thrive, their hunger stoked by the hot weather until they become famished.

The best time to implement pest controls is during early summer, when the nymphs are just hatching and cannot yet take flight.  

Does flour really help?

An unusual folk remedy calls for the use of all-purpose flour (self-rising can contain salts that damage plants) dusted onto plant leaves, and there’s evidence that it works. Allegedly, it starves the grasshoppers by clogging up their jaws. 

Can I eat grasshoppers? 

The imagery of grown farmers scouring the thickets for grasshoppers seems humorous, and it begets one question: can grasshoppers be eaten?

A spate of articles has come out touting the benefits of insects as ‘extra protein,’ though this idea has yet to find resonance within the Western World. Unless you’re a hardcore survivalist stranded in the forest or an intrepid epicurean armed with expert guidance, it’s not recommended that you taste test grasshoppers. While most are not poisonous, a few brightly colored specimens can prove fatal to the bite. 

7 natural ways to manage grasshoppers

Organic controls: Garlic spray, row covers, all-purpose flour, food-grade diatomaceous earth (DE), chickens 

Biological controls: Neem oil, Nolo bait 

  1. Encourage natural predators: Predators such as praying mantises and swallows naturally help curb the grasshopper’s appetite by way of devourment. Chickens and cats will also feed on grasshoppers, so don’t be afraid to let them loose in the garden. To integrate holistic pest management practices, refer to this article on how you can incorporate beneficial insects in the garden. 
  2. Cover your plants: A pest-guard cover will protect your plants from an onslaught of grasshoppers, though a severe enough infestation may necessitate the use of several methods. Designed to be used in conjunction with Vego Garden raised beds, these modularly made mesh nets are pliable, durable, and reliant, keeping your plants safe from even the most vehement of pests.
  3. Grow crops in raised beds for a no-till solution: Common solutions call for the tilling of soil from mid-to-late summer, which disrupts their eggs and prevents them from hatching. But what if you don’t have to? An elevated structure such as a rolling container can eliminate potential breeding grounds while also deterring weeds from your garden soil – the very culprits conducive to grasshopper growth. 
  4. Feed them poison: Nosema locustae is a specific pathogen that infects and slowly kills grasshoppers with a debilitating disease. It is available as Nolo bait, a dry, flaky substance that systematically destroys grasshopper-type insects. Apply it early in the season, ideally near grasshopper eggs. And because it targets grasshoppers specifically, you won’t run the risk of harming insects and other beneficial wildlife. A caveat is that they only work well on nymphs; adults are far more immune to the poison. 
  5. Neem oil can also be an effective solution when mixed in with water and soap (1.5 teaspoons neem oil per quart of water) and sprayed onto plants. Avoid pesticides with the addition of pyrethroids, a synthetic substance that renders them inorganic and often toxic.
  6. Distract them with barrier plants: A hedge of tall grasses and lush plants around the perimeter, intended to be used as a sacrificial crop, can distract grasshoppers from your main endeavor. Alternatively, a selection of repellant plants (basil, rosemary, and calendula) can repel them from the garden, though there is only anecdotal evidence to support this claim. 
  7. Handpick insects: Another recommended approach is that you sprinkle DE (or all-purpose flour) on your plants, but if you want to go the free route, you are welcome to simply pluck them from the surrounding foliage.

While not the most leisurely approach, it can suffice in situations where there are only a handful. 

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