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Gardening with Laurie: Grasshoppers common garden pests

June 29, 2010 at 1:29 a.m.
Updated July 1, 2010 at 2:01 a.m.

Laurie Garretson

Editor's note: Laurie Garretson's column, which normally runs in Thursday's Home&Garden section, was inadvertently left out on Thursday, July 1. Here is her column.

By Laurie Garretson

To garden is to know insects.

I just made that saying up, but it is so true. We gardeners face many obstacles.

One of the biggest pest complaints I hear from gardeners right now would probably be grasshoppers. They seem to be much worse this summer than in the past few years.

Severe outbreaks will usually precede several years of hot, dry summers, followed by warm winters and the past couple of years were two of the hottest and driest summers on record.

There are more than 20,000 species of grasshoppers in the world today. More than 1,000 of these species exist in the U.S., with about 150 species making their homes in Texas. Grasshoppers are strong jumpers, which you well know if you've tried to catch one. And they can fly.

All grasshoppers lay their eggs in the soil, usually toward the end of summer and into fall, depending on the weather.

Under favorable conditions, females can lay up to 400 eggs. The eggs are laid in football shaped clusters that are encased in a liquid substance that protects the eggs from moisture and cold temperatures. They then lie dormant through the winter, and the young emerge the following spring.

Young grasshoppers look like the adults, but are not yet able to fly. They molt several times during the next few weeks and reach adulthood by late summer.

Male grasshoppers use sound to court females, although both sexes use this sound for a variety reasons.

Grasshoppers are capable of doing massive damage to all types of plants, but they usually prefer flowers and garden vegetables.

When their populations are high, they tend to eat all types of plants, as well as other things. They will even eat paper, fence posts, window caulking and house paint.

Gardeners who have had a problem with grasshoppers for several years means there is a local population that keeps breeding and needs to be eliminated.

Treating early in the spring will usually be the best time to break their life cycle.

Young grasshoppers are easier to get rid of than the adults. Young grasshoppers can be killed off with baits such as Semaspore or Nolo Bait. Unfortunately, adults are not as easy to deal with.

Summer weed control, especially in grassy areas, will help with prevention. Keeping all weeds and grasses cut down as low as possible will not be favorable sites for female grasshoppers wanting to lay eggs.

Females that are looking for sites to lay eggs will not be attracted to these areas. Any eggs that might already be lain in this area will not have a food source, so they will die.

Spraying plants with preventative solutions can help to prevent damage. Make a slurry solution of Diatomaceous Earth, or kaolin clay, and water. One cup of D.E., or kaolin clay, plus a couple of tablespoons of dish soap, added to one gallon of water and sprayed on the plants' foliage, will be less appealing to these pests. Keep plants sprayed with this solution for a few weeks and the grasshoppers will likely move on.

Guineas and turkeys would love grasshoppers for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I've also read that coyotes love to eat them.

Most likely, most of you aren't able to depend on these resources, but I thought I'd let you know. If nothing else, keep in mind that grasshoppers make great fishing bait. Of course, you have to catch them first.

Until next time, let's try to garden with nature, not against it, and maybe all our weeds will become wildflowers.

Laurie Garretson is a Victoria gardener and nursery owner. Send your gardening questions to laurie@vicad.com or in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77902.

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