Jumping flies on leaves (Leafhoppers and what to do)

Leafhoppers are funny pests. But even if I call them funny, trust me, they will kill your plant unless you take action.

Leafhoppers are sap-sucking, small, winged insects known for their voracious appetite, and the feeding damage they cause often leave a stippling pattern on leaves.

Stippling on leaf from leafhopper feeding
Leaf stippling from leafhoppers

But the good news is that they are relatively easy to control – especially if you catch the leafhopper infestation early.

I have said this before, prevention is of course best, but early detection comes in as a close second. Spend a few minutes looking at your plants each morning and evening—or at least once a day. Early detection makes all the difference.

This article was started almost a year ago, but it was not until this spring that I got some usable photos of leafhoppers in my garden. As it happened, all I had to do was to plant some eggplants in one of my raised garden beds.

Getting rid of Leafhoppers (or know your enemy)

This guide is about how to get rid of leafhoppers as a home gardener. I will not describe the insect itself in detail, but to learn more about leafhoppers, the insect, check out this website [1].

However, you must know a bit about the leafhopper’s life cycle. But I will keep it brief.

The leafhopper lifecycle (know your enemy)

The lifecycle of leafhoppers is most easily described as eggs to nymphs and then adult leafhoppers.

Eggs are tiny and are placed inside the plant or underneath the leaves. Once the eggs hatch, nymphs emerge and begin feeding on the plants. Nymphs are often found underneath the leaves, where they are more protected from predators.

White colored leafhopper
Leafhoppers come in many different colors

The nymphs are sometimes mottled, can be green, brown, yellow, or white, and are less mobile than the adult leafhopper.

This means that if your leafhoppers are jumping away when you touch your plants, you have adult leafhoppers.

The adult leafhoppers also come in different colors and are good jumpers or will use their wings to fly away if disturbed. Leafhoppers do not live for long and can go through several generations in one year.

How leafhoppers damage your plants

Leafhoppers are sap-sucking insects and leave a stippling pattern of white spots on the leaves. Leaf curl, yellowing leaves, and drying leaves are other examples of the feeding damage leafhoppers cause.

Leaf damage from leafhoppers
Leaf damage caused by leafhoppers

Some species of leafhoppers can spread pathogens as they feed on the leaves.

Other forms of damage include leaf burn, whitening almost paper-thin leaves, leaf curl, and stunted growth. To make a long story short, you want them gone.

Detecting leafhoppers

I was lucky this year as my bright green leafhoppers were easy to spot against the darker-coloured leaves.

But as leafhoppers come in many different and sometimes more camouflaged colors, they are easier to catch when they are in motion – jumping from one plant to another.

I cannot see how it is possible to detect the actual eggs. And even catching the nymphs can be tricky unless you have eagle eyes and regularly turn over all your leaves.

But the adult leafhoppers are pretty easy to spot, regardless of color.

Visit your plants mid-morning or early afternoon. Approach your plants slowly and then, using slow motions, gently disturb or brush against your plants and watch for any insects flying or jumping away.

Leafhoppers often fly or jump smaller distances than other flies that will fly away, circle, and then return when the coast is clear.

The movement is almost like that of a caterpillar, with short spurts of movement.

Ok, so now you know you are up against leafhoppers. Let’s look at how we can get rid of them and what to do to prevent them from returning.

A practical guide to getting rid of Leafhoppers

Getting rid of leafhopper infestation is relatively easy if started early. Below I list the methods I use and some others that are effective but that I have chosen not to use.

Manual removal

Yes, leafhoppers are fast and will flee if disturbed, but it is not impossible to catch and squash them between two fingers.

As you inspect your plants and see a leafhopper, approach the plant gently from underneath and squash it between your index finger and thumb.

Manual removal of leafhoppers
Leafhopper removed manually

Manual removal can be effective with leafhoppers as they are not always present in great numbers. And catching a couple each evening may allow you to keep the situation under control.

But often, I combine it with my own homemade insecticidal soaps or Neem oil solutions.

Insecticidal soaps or Neem oil

Spaying your plants with insecticidal soap or a Neem oil and water solution is an effective way to curb a beginning leafhopper infestation.

Use a regular or manual pressure spray bottle and apply early morning or late afternoon to avoid exposing the treated plant to direct sunlight.

There are many recipes for insecticidal soap; here’s mine if you need inspiration: Mix one tablespoon of natural eco-friendly liquid dish soap with 1 liter of room temperature water.

My Neem oil recipe is as follows:

  • 5 ml 100% pure, unrefined organic cold-pressed Neem oil
  • 5 ml organic soap
  • 1 liter of warm water

Related: How to use Neem oil on tomatoes (and other plants)

Companion planting

Not a quick fix, but I firmly believe home gardeners should give something back to the pollinators that work tirelessly for us every year.

Let some herbs bolt and flower, and plant some marigolds and nasturtiums to attract pollinators and beneficial insects like ladybugs that act as predators and eat unwanted pests and insects. As a bonus, marigolds and nasturtiums deter pests like whiteflies and keep your garden looking ever so pretty.

Ladybugs are one of many beneficial insects
Ladybugs are welcome in my garden

Sticky traps (not recommended)

I use sticky traps to control fungus gnats in my greenhouses and indoors. But never outdoors, as they are indiscriminate and catch everything.

Still, they are effective but do use with care, if at all.

How to prevent leafhoppers from returning (or appearing at all)

No one wants to hear about prevention when seeking answers to eliminate leafhoppers.

But, when you have gone through the steps above to eliminate your leafhopper infestation, implement the measures below to stop them from returning.

Control weeds

Remove weeds regularly, as they can provide a hiding place and breeding ground for pests like leafhoppers.

Most weeds grow close to the ground, and as we water, they get wet and act as a moist incubator for all kinds of potential pests and soil-borne diseases.

Use floating row covers or insect nets

Row covers and insect nets are brilliant in all their simplicity. Drape the lightweight, breathable fabric over your plants and secure the edges while ensuring you allow for enough material for plant growth. You do not want plants to be weighed down and stunted in their development by a row cover.

Covering your plants will keep pests away but remember that it will also keep pollinators and other beneficial insects at bay.

Row covers and insect nets are great when the plants are young and developing but should be removed as the plants enter the flower and fruit stages.

Relocate spiders from indoors

I do not particularly like spiders, but I would never kill them. And as it happens, it has fallen on me to manually remove spiders from our house using the all-too-familiar glass-and-paper method.

Spiders eat pests and unwelcome insects
Spiders – the organic gardener’s best friend

And in spring and summer, all spiders that relocate from our house find a new home in one of our vegetable gardens or greenhouses.

And judging from the beautiful webs they build between support stakes and amongst plants, they do a great job catching pests.

And yes, it is better for the spiders, as our indoor cat Daisy is a master at catching spiders if we let her.

Plant removal (or when all is lost)

Sometimes, all that is left is to remove and destroy a plant.

A plant with no healthy leaves is unlikely to recover, and by keeping it, you are unnecessarily exposing your other plants to pests and disease.

I have my own 3-step method for removing diseased and pest-infested plants:

  1. Remove the plant with the root system and all, and for good measure, dig out some of the soil as well.
  2. Replace with fresh soil, water and leave the spot open for a week.
  3. Then and only then, plant another vegetable or herb in that same spot and observe.

I never plant the same vegetable type when removing an infested plant. Many herbs, like rosemary and sage, work well, as do, for example, F1 disease-resistant tomato plants.

Related: Learn how to Turn 1 tomato plant into 2 high-yielding tomato plants (how to guide)

Diatomaceous Earth (DE)

If you suffer from a severe leafhopper infestation and cannot bring yourself to destroy the plant, Diatomaceous Earth could be a good alternative.

Even though Diatomaceous Earth is more of a pest preventer than a pest fighter, it is effective.

Diatomaceous Earth is 100% natural and is made from the fossilized remains of diatoms, or freshwater algae.

Spread the white powder liberally around the base of the plant. When the powder comes in contact with and pierces the insect’s exoskeleton [2], the insect dries out and dies.

Two caveats:

  1. Diatomaceous Earth is indiscriminate; it will kill pests, pollinators, and beneficial insects. Keep this in mind and only use it around the base of the plant.
  2. All powders are harmful if inhaled or used incorrectly; read the instructions carefully.

Summary: Getting rid of leafhoppers

Leafhoppers are common, and as a home gardener, you can choose to live with them, try to control them, or set out to eliminate the population.

Leafhoppers are not always present in abundance. And living with leafhoppers can be an option if you catch the infestation early, inspect your plants daily, and practice manual removal and prevention methods like floating row covers, companion planting, and regular weeding.

Controlling leafhoppers can work if the infestation is light and you use the prevention methods listed above coupled with applying insecticidal soap or a Neem oil and water solution. This is the most common approach among home gardeners.

Eliminating the entire leafhopper population is challenging as leafhoppers reproduce quickly and easily spread from one part of the garden to another.

And if you ask me, I prefer trying to control the leafhopper infestation. I accept that leafhoppers may cause some damage to my plants, even with preventative measures. But compared to snails and slugs that will devour an entire row of kale or lettuce, the damage is acceptable to me as my plants survive and yield a good harvest.

Helpful resources:

[1] https://www.britannica.com/animal/leafhopper

[2] https://genent.cals.ncsu.edu/bug-bytes/exoskeleton/

Mattias Magnusson: Hello, I'm Mattias, a passionate and experienced gardening enthusiast. I am the creator of MattMagnusson.com, your guide to year-round herb and veggie growing. Let's simplify green living, no matter your space or location.