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  • Krystal Schmidt

Organic Options: The Autumn Plague

Krystal Schmidt

Rose Society of Tucson

The calendar says that summer is gone, although the thermostat differs. There is a noticeable difference in the morning breeze and the fall blooms are starting to bud. I’d like to sit back and enjoy the pleasures of fall, be able to relax on my back porch with a glass of wine and enjoy the fall beauty of my garden. But something is eating it. This happens every year as the weather dips back down to the double digits. Leaves are missing from plants, having been chewed down to the petiole. The culprit does try to hide itself, but camouflage only gets you so far, especially when there are so many. The grasshoppers are back. Spring has aphids, summer gets spider mites and autumn brings in the grasshoppers.

Grasshoppers feasting on roses, photo Krystal Schmidt

Don’t let the name fool you. Grasshoppers will eat more than grass and they don’t just hop. They’ll eat almost any plant they land on and can fly. And they don’t shy away from roses. Obviously, this is an unwanted guest in the garden. So how to we save our roses from this plague? The typical hosing off that cleans off aphids and other small insects is not enough. Grasshoppers, even immature ones, are physically too large for a sharp spray of water to be effective. So, what options do we have to deal with these pests?

  • Garlic. The smell of garlic is a deterrent to many pests. A spray can be purchased or made at home and sprayed around the garden to keep grasshoppers away. To make your own garlic spray crush some garlic and mix with water and let sit overnight. Strain the liquid into a spray bottle to use. How much garlic and water you use depends on how strong and how much you want. Some people add hot sauce, dish soap or oil to the mix as well to treat a wider array of pests.

  • Trap plants. By planting plants that grasshoppers prefer over roses you save your bushes by sacrificing something else. Examples include long grass, clover, grains (buckwheat, oats etc.). In my garden the grasshoppers have taken a preference to my mint plants. Make sure the trap plants are taken care of as well, so the grasshoppers stay attracted to them and not the roses.

  • Parasites. This is my favorite option on this list. There is a protozoan parasite called Nosema locustae that ONLY infects grasshoppers and crickets. Sold under the name “Nolo Bait” and “Semaspore”, this parasite is ingested by the grasshoppers. The sick grasshoppers die from the infection and are then eaten by other grasshoppers. Infected females will pass the parasite on to their eggs. These grasshoppers are then infected with the protozoa and the cycle continues, wiping out the grasshopper population. Since the parasite is host specific there is absolutely no danger to anything else that comes in contact with or eats it.

  • Manual removal. This is probably the most labor-intensive option and means you go through your garden and pick the grasshoppers off your plants. You can then put them in a bucket of soapy water. This is the method I use a lot but instead of dunking them in water I feed them to my pet box turtle, Rossi. They can be tricky to catch but practice helps. If you have pet chickens you can employ their help in grasshopper control as well, since chickens do eat bugs.

As with anything else, a multi-pronged approach to this pest control will yield better results. There are chemical pesticides that can be used to treat for grasshoppers as well, if you prefer that method. For more information, or to purchase some of the products mentioned above visit:

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