Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Western Mountains and High Plains
September, 2011
Regional Report

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This sneaky two-striped grasshopper feeds on my crop of romaine lettuce.

Grasshoppers Begone

Lurking among the fine crop of romaine lettuce is the nemesis of gardener and farmer alike. He or she has no regard for all the hard work I've put in to nurturing the garden through the seasons -- it's just an all-you-can eat buffet that's open twenty-four/seven. Even the crop of grass hay and alfalfa is a grazing ground.

I'm talking about the two-striped grasshopper (Melanoplus bivittatus). This pest is among the most common grasshopper species found munching on vegetables, flowers, roses, and just about everything else in the landscape and around the farmstead. The mature females can lay hundreds of eggs before the ground freezes, leaving a lineage of offspring to seek out and destroy crops another year.

Luckily, there are several natural enemies of grasshoppers that help keep these voracious pests at bay. Wild birds, blister beetles, robber flies, spiders, snakes, praying mantises, even skunks and other rodents, will feed on grasshoppers. Guinea hens, chickens, and turkeys will dine on grasshoppers if the poultry is free-range. Just keep in mind that poultry can also harm some garden plantings.

One of my favorite natural methods of control is when grasshoppers ingest the eggs of hairworm eggs that have been deposited on plant foliage. Like a science fiction movie, these horsehair worms will kill the hoppers as they force their way through the hopper's body walls. Hairworms are long, slender, whitish worms that live inside the grasshopper. Feeding on their living hosts, hairworms render the females sterile. So keeping your garden organic and natural is one of the elements of keeping the garden in balance.

Grasshopper bait that contains the protozoan Nosema locustae is a biological control you can purchase. The limitation with Nosema is that only young grasshoppers are susceptible. As hoppers approach adult stages and begin migration, it is not as effective. The baits are also perishable and are best kept refrigerated until set out and used before their expiration date.

As the garden season winds down, turn your attention to controlling next year's infestations. Once the garden is cleaned up, be sure to till the soil, leaving it in a rough state to expose the tightly clustered pods of eggs that have been laid by the females. A good core aeration of the lawn is also recommended. Exposed eggs will generally not survive the cold temperatures. Though these efforts might seem futile, you are getting rid of some of egg pods. Plus, your soil will benefit from the cultivation to capture winter moisture.

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