Crickets & Grasshoppers

grasshopperMany gardeners experience the nuisance of crickets and/or grasshoppers in and around their homes every summer. If you have bugs indoors, you likely call an exterminator. If you have a garden to maintain, the problem can be somewhat more complicated, as these critters will feast on our hard work. However, fear not, we have solutions to get rid of the chirping invaders.

First things first, let’s identify our bugs. While crickets and grasshoppers are related, they are not the same insect and are often confused for one another. Thankfully, many of their treatment and prevention methods are similar.

Crickets are not usually considered a “pest”, in the sense of pest control and maintenance. While both of these bugs can produce similarly loud noises, have large back legs that allow them to jump very high or very far, crickets are much smaller and are not known for the huge population spikes of the grasshopper, which can become problematic in some areas. Furthermore, crickets have antennae while grasshoppers do not, and primarily feed on dead or dying insects, which can render them a nuisance. Generally speaking, one or two crickets are not considered an issue. A huge number of grasshoppers is another story.

The United States is home to more than 1000 of the over 20,000 grasshopper species present worldwide. The lifecycle of the grasshopper includes between four and five phases, each of which resembles an adult grasshopper, just slightly increasing in size with each phase. During these phases, called “instars”, the insects will feed on your plants, though some species will only eat grass. After each phase, an exoskeleton is shed. Eggs are laid in bunches numbering up to 100 eggs each, typically in August through October. These eggs will hatch the following May. Infestations occur every 3-7 years and can last for up to five years each time.

Most Common In…

  • Grasshoppers: May-October
    • Infestations occur every 3-7 years, last up to five years
    • Huge populations can be problematic; Usually only eat certain plants (species-specific), but when there are so many, they will eat nearly anything.
  • Crickets: Timeframe varies
    • Common chirping noise is usually field cricket
    • Not usually considered a “pest”; can become a “nuisance” by feeding on decaying insects, but generally only 1-2 crickets found at a time.

Dealing with a Cricket or Grasshopper Problem

Simply put, crickets and grasshoppers are voracious insects that eat our plants. Furthermore, their “singing” may very well be keeping you up all night. How rude! Thankfully, these unwelcome visitors do not have to stay long. Make sure you’re inspecting your garden regularly to stay on top of any crop damage, including and especially damage to the leaves. Often, this is the first sign of an infestation. This is also where the eggs for next season’s baby crickets or grasshoppers could be found. Vigilance is key when it comes to prevention.

Crickets and grasshoppers both are known to chow down on all types of grass and crops. Crickets are also mostly known to feast on dead and dying insects. Yum-my. For many species of grasshopper, there are specific types of plants they prefer to eat – like lettuce, or tall grass – and the insects will stick to that unless or until they experience a population boom. When this happens, the grasshoppers consume all vegetation, as their species is simply outnumbering the available food supply, which can become crippling to the region’s crop supply. This is why prevention is a necessity. In the interim, planting trap crops of tall grass or wheat is an excellent way to draw the grasshoppers away from the garden.

Types of Problems Caused:

  • Feasting on vegetation
  • Laying eggs on leaves
    • Grasshopper population boom can be devastating
  • “Chirping” (bothersome to some)

Getting Rid of Crickets and Grasshoppers

As with other types of insects, one of the best ways to prevent or treat a cricket or grasshopper infestation in your garden is to encourage their natural predators. This means allowing birds and lizards into your area, along with introducing spiders, mantids, and possibly a few rodents if they are not already present.

Another method is early season treatment around the garden area with spinosad. Remember to use caution applying spinosad around flowering plants during the growing season. If you would prefer, you can also treat your garden with diatomaceous earth (DE) – a finely ground substance that will destroy the insect’s exoskeleton. The only drawbacks of DE are that the bugs must crawl through the powder and that it must be reapplied after coming into contact with moisture, so reapplications are necessary after watering or rain. A third option for cricket and grasshopper prevention is garlic. The insects are repelled by the smell, and it is generally widely available and safe. A garden barrier may be planted, or the bulbs may be crushed, boiled with water, and the resulting solution applied around the soil and sprayed onto the plants for additional protection.

Crickets and grasshoppers will also be attracted to grain crops and tall grasses. Planting a trap crop a suitable distance from your garden is another excellent way to prevent the bugs from feasting on your crops. Be sure to plant the trap crop early enough in the season for it to be ready, and keep it healthy throughout, so that it is always a favorable meal for your pests.

Of course, if you are already finding evidence of damage to your crops and adult crickets and grasshoppers around your garden, the fastest and best method for immediate removal is physical handpicking of the insects (and eggs!) and placement into soapy water. Be sure to check underneath all leaves for egg clusters. After removal, begin utilizing another method of pest prevention immediately.

Methods for Removal:

  • Encourage natural predators
    • Remove any barriers preventing birds and/or lizards
    • Introduce spiders, mantids, rodents
  • Apply Spinosad early in the season (affiliate link)
  • Apply Diatomaceous Earth (DE) (affiliate link)
  • Plant garlic or apply garlic to soil and plants.
  • Plant trap crops
  • Handpick insects and eggs and trap in some soapy water

Here on the farm, we have to contend with our fair share of pests, and we have certainly had to deal with crickets and grasshoppers! One final thing we want to mention was the most fun way we discovered to deal with these bugs – Chickens! Our chickens eat them right up, and provide a lot of other benefits to our farm, as well. If you want a hand – foot? – helping you out with the pest problem, consider adding a chicken to your garden soon.

Happy Gardening!