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John Fulton

John Fulton
Former County Extension Director

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In The Backyard

Horticulture columns and tips done on a timely basis
Potato leafhopper
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Posted by John Fulton -

Insects are plentiful this year. I don't think we can blame it on the mild winter, but they have great systems of survival. One insect of note with the wet weather is the earwig. Earwigs tend to be in high organic areas, as they feed primarily on dead insects and plant material. However, they can and do eat live plant material such as marigolds, zinnias, strawberries, and others. They may be a prime suspect if you notice damage, but never see any insects during the day. Control can be obtained with insecticides such as bifenthrin or permethrin.

The inconspicuous potato leafhopper has been a problem for the past few weeks. This is the small wedge-shaped, light green insect that seems to just fog around security and patio lights. They are also small enough to come in through screens after dark. They are not only a nuisance, but they can cause damage to a wide variety of plants.

Potatoes are the first plant that comes to mind when we talk about potato leafhoppers (must be something about the name), but many other plants ranging from beans to trees can be affected. You may be wondering what kind of damage a few little leafhoppers can do, especially since they suck sap from plants and aren't that big in size.

Leafhoppers suck sap and then inject a toxin back into the plant. Along the same lines as humans getting a mosquito bite - it's the extra that's injected back in that causes the injury. Symptoms of leafhopper damage start as yellow "v" shaped areas on the tips of leaves. These areas turn brown or black and then fall out leaving a "v" shaped hole on the tip of the leaf. This is a symptom, but not the only injury. Large numbers of leafhoppers can kill potato and other plants.

Controls for leafhoppers are warranted with very low numbers. In alfalfa fields, it is recommended to treat when 2 leafhoppers are caught in a sweep net in alfalfa over a foot tall. Garden treatment options for potatoes include Sevin, bifenthrin, permethrin, and rotenone as common insecticide choices available to homeowners. Most trees and shrubs can be treated with Sevin, permethrin, or bifenthrin.

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