They’re chewing holes in my big, beautiful chard leaves, leaving tiny dark pellets of digested foliage to mark their conquests. They jump aside as I walk through the knee-high grass in our field. Until I moved to Colorado I had idea how plentiful grasshoppers are (we’re home to over a hundred different species!), or how much frustration they can cause a gardener.
Think one little grasshopper can’t do that much damage? According to an article by Colorado State University Extension, “A grasshopper will eat its own weight in green food in about 16 hours. In fact, seven grasshoppers per square yard over 10 acres will eat the same ration as one cow.” And they don’t even give milk!
Not all grasshoppers are pests. A few actually eat weeds. But there are enough of the “bad guys” that gardeners need to be well- informed. The best way to beat these bugs is to outsmart them.
The problem with trying to control grasshoppers is they hop. Their powerful hind legs enable them to jump over twenty times their body length. You can use an insecticide in one spot, and they just move on down the line to the next plant. Since one of the main reasons I grow my own veggies is to avoid toxic chemicals, I certainly don’t want to spray my entire garden.
True to their name, grasshoppers mostly prefer to live in un-mown grass. So, step one is to cut down any tall weeds around your garden. You’ll see plenty of irate hoppers as you eliminate their favorite hiding places. Now the trick is to keep them away from your plants.
Probably the most important aspect for homeowners to consider is that plants are very tolerant to defoliation. Perennials usually produce new foliage following grasshopper consumption and although growth is slowed, death is unusual. Annual crops such as peas, tomatoes and squash are less favored by grasshoppers than lettuce, spinach and onions. Gardeners may want to be selective in their planting during grasshopper outbreak years. It is not possible to have cosmetically perfect plants in the face of grasshopper invasion.
I used to think that it’s possible to have beautiful cabbage, lettuce, etc. with nary a grasshopper bite marring the leaves. Spun polyester row covers (aka Reemay) or other screening that physically excludes the insects should solve the problem. Then I learned that grasshoppers can chew through fabric. Oh well. At least it slows them down.
I finally came to terms with the grasshoppers around my garden. I do my best to keep them out by mowing the weeds outside the fence, using row covers on leafy crops, and keeping the garden mulched and watered. The high humidity encourages grasshopper parasites, which help keep the population down. And if I find a grasshopper munching my plants, I make the best of the situation. I grab my camera and have some fun taking pictures of it!
Grasshoppers, from top: Redlegged Grasshopper (2 pictures), Twostriped Grasshopper in my garden, and this last one I haven’t yet identified, but I love how it matches the red granite rocks at Castlewood Canyon State Park!