How to Get Rid of Leafhoppers in the Garden


This is the first year I started to notice my plants developing tiny, light-colored speckles all over the leaves. Because I generally practice IPM (Integrated Pest Management) in my garden, I wasn’t jumping for a spray or solution right away. Eventually I observed tiny little green bugs hopping amongst the leaves of my plants—leafhoppers! While the good news is that leafhopper damage is rarely fatal, there are still many reasons to get rid of leafhoppers in the garden.

I first noticed these tiny bugs whenever I’d disturb foliage. For example, I’d brush by a calendula plant and see tiny, light green bugs hop around. These light green, lightning-fast insects are leafhoppers (see photos). Truthfully, you will most likely observe leafhopper damage before you ever see a leafhopper. It’s very important to know the type of insect or pest you are dealing with prior to taking action. This is part of dealing with garden pests organically and using the building blocks of Integrated Pest Management (IPM). 

What is Integrated Pest Management (IPM)? According to the UC statewide IPM program: “IPM is an ecosystem-based strategy that focuses on long-term prevention of pests or their damage through a combination of techniques such as biological control, habitat manipulation, modification of cultural practices, and use of resistant varieties….Pest control materials are selected and applied in a manner that minimizes risks to human health, beneficial and nontarget organisms, and the environment.”

Whew! I know that’s a mouthful, but basically my pest prevention strategy is to try trapping, companion planting, and creating a healthy ecosystem for beneficial insects before trying any sort of chemical sprays or pesticides to kill pests. Furthermore, I will only use treatments approved for organic gardening.

scarlet runner bean foliage with leafhopper damage

I had a huge scarlet runner vine one Summer with lots of leafhopper damage. This is one example. In the end, the damage was purely aesthetic, and the plant went on to produce just fine.

Will Leafhoppers Kill My Plants?

Before we talk about how to get rid of leafhoppers, let’s start with how concerned you should be. I’m happy to say that, most of the time, leafhoppers will not kill your plants. The damage caused by leafhoppers is simply annoying to see and not visually appealing. The picture above is a scarlet runner bean leaf with leafhopper damage. As you can see, there are tiny white dots that look like areas where the plant has be scraped of it’s green juices. Despite the damage, this scarlet runner bean plant is just fine and is over 6 feet tall!

What are leafhoppers and why are they bad for plants?

Leafhoppers are insects that feed on plant sap and juices. The adult leafhoppers actually lay their eggs inside plant tissue, and when their nymphs hatch, they continue to feast on your plants. Leafhoppers can also transmit diseases from plant to plant as they bite into the plant tissue.

What I have noticed is that the removal of plant juices often shows in the form of speckles or light spots all over the leaves. See the photo above for a picture of what leafhopper damage looks like. Leafhopper damage can become so severe, that it affects a plant’s ability to properly photosynthesize and will inhibit the growth of the plant. For mature plants, leafhopper damage is mostly aesthetic and won’t kill your plant, but I have noticed that my younger seedlings are severely stunted (and sometimes deformed) due to the damage from these tiny plant suckers.

Special note: leafhopper damage can be confused with spidermite damage. They do look very similar in regards to a speckled or mottled appearance on the leaves. Try and spot actual leafhoppers on your plants, or turn the leaves over and look for tiny red mites to get a more accurate ID. Spidermites are worse, and the process to control them is much different than for leafhoppers. Hopefully I’ll have an article on spidermites soon.

dahlia leaf showing white spots on leaf indicative of leafhopper damage

Here is another example of leafhopper damage in the garden. This is a dahlia leaf that has little dots or speckles on it where the leafhoppers have sucked out the plant juices.

How can I get rid of leafhoppers?

If you decide you need to get rid of the leafhoppers, the best solution for me so far has been sticky traps! I found sticky traps when I was battling fungus gnats in my garden. They worked so well for fungus gnats, I asked myself “would sticky traps work for leafhoppers?” I am excited to say that the sticky traps worked wonderfully well! See the photo below for the leafhoppers in the trap!

Where to attach the traps? Make sure you place the traps where leafhoppers will accidentally land on it instead of the leaves—so somewhat in the middle of plant foliage or right next to it. The idea is for the trap to be an extension of the plant because that’s where the leafhoppers will be roaming.

IMPORTANT note: sticky traps will catch ANY insect that comes across them. Therefore, you do run the risk of catching bees or other beneficial insects on accident.

Natural Predators

Leafhoppers do have some natural predators in the garden, which is one reason why action is not always necessary on our part. Other beneficial insects like ladybugs, lacewings, spiders, etc. will also devour leafhoppers. In fact, I’ve seen leafhoppers caught in spider webs! Just another reason to keep creating a home for beneficial bugs of all kinds!

Manual Removal

Squishing leafhoppers with your fingers is also an option for getting rid of leafhoppers, but these guys are fast! Still worth a try if you want to get rid of them for free without any chemicals or products. Sprays don’t really work for the adults because they hop everywhere, and there is little evidence to support that organic sprays (like neem oil) are effective at targeting the eggs that are laid inside plant tissue.

Final Note

If your plants are mature and don’t seem negatively affected by the leafhoppers, I would simply leave them alone. If your plants are small, stunted, and you would like to take action towards getting rid of leafhoppers, start with the sticky traps. Since the traps seem to work for leafhoppers, fungus gnats, and even pesky flies, I simply consider them a part of my organic garden pest control “toolkit”.

If you found this post helpful, please share it, pin for later, or leave a comment! Happy Growing!

Meet Randi

Urban gardening is my jam. I’m Randi, California girl who obsessively gardens to grow food and flowers around my urban home. Seasonal, simple living is what inspires me~ I hope it will inspire you too. Join me in crafting a life and home connected to the garden Read More>>>>

For Growers & Gardeners from High Mowing Organic Seeds