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How to counter a grasshopper offensive

Grasshoppers have build up strong defenses since developing in the Triassic period 250 million years ago. (Adobe Stock image)
Try enlisting an enemy to control the ancient foe

The grasshopper is one of the summer pests than exasperate gardeners as they can level plants in record time. Dating to the early Triassic period, about 250 million years ago, they’ve become strong survivors and can be difficult to control or eliminate.

Gail Vanik

If you are looking for an organic way to control them, try attracting birds, snakes, or praying mantids, all of which feed on grasshoppers. Since grasshopper eggs spend winter in soil, you can till your soil in midsummer and the fall and early spring to help eliminate eggs.

Keep weeds at bay to limit the supply of available food. If your garden is close to a pasture or meadow, try mowing or tilling a strip about 6 feet wide around it to keep grasshoppers at length. If you have ever thought about keeping chickens, now would be a good time to start because chickens, ducks and geese love eating grasshoppers. As few as two or three birds will work well to effectively control grasshopper populations.

Unfortunately the best product, Nolo Bait, isn’t available this year. The M&R factory in Durango burned down a couple of years ago, and the company is working to rebuild its supplies. Nolo Bait is a biological insecticide containing a naturally occurring spore called Nosema locustae that infects grasshoppers. Young grasshoppers are attracted to wheat bran flakes, so they use that as the carrier. Once ingested, the disease that the spores carries is activated and works to kill them, thereby suppressing the population. It’s especially effective when used on young grasshoppers, which is why it’s important to get it out early in the season before they grow into adults. Keep this product in the back of your mind when it’s available next year.

The next best line of defense is a product called Eight. Eight is Bonide’s answer to the gardener’s old friend Sevin, and it’s available as either a dust or in a granular form.

The active ingredient is different in each product. Eight dust’s active ingredient is permethrin, but Eight granules’ active ingredient is bifenthrin. Both are part of the pyrethroid family of insecticides, which are synthetic pesticides formulated to copy pyrethrins that are a naturally occurring pesticide chemical found in chrysanthemum flowers. So what’s the difference?

Permethrin acts faster on grasshoppers, and insects that come in contact with this dust will show signs of paralysis quickly. Permethrin’s effects are shorter term, and it only remains active for up to about 30 days in your garden as sunlight and soil microorganisms work to break it down. So, if you want an immediate kill but are willing to reapply it more often, choose the dust.

If you use the Eight granules that contain bifenthrin as their active ingredient, it will take a bit longer for you to see any noticeable effect on baby insects and even longer for the adults. However, Bifenthrin has a far longer residual effect and can be effective for up to 90 days in your yard and garden. If you don’t care about how quickly it acts but don’t want to have to be out reapplying it through the summer months, choose the granules.

Plagues of locusts were mentioned in Biblical times as causing famines then, so take heart because you aren’t the only one that’s ever had to deal with these pests. The trick is to get them under control quickly before these voracious little green plant eating critters destroy your garden and crops.

Gail Vanik can be reached at 970-565-8274 or by email at fourseasons@animas.net.