Dry heat a sign of hoppers to come

There are three certainties about summers in Kansas: It will be hot. It will be dry. There will be grasshoppers.

With the past week’s weather being a precursor of what’s to come, now is the time to get a jump on controlling the hoppers. Here’s what you need to know about grasshoppers – and protecting your flowers and vegetables from their never-ending hunger:

Kansas is home to some 115 different species of grasshoppers. Of those, however, only five are considered serious pests to flower beds and vegetable gardens. Those include redlegged, migratory, Packard, differential and two-striped. The latter two are the ones most encountered by home gardeners and vegetable growers.

Grasshoppers overwinter as eggs in small banana-shaped pods deposited underground in the fall. When the temperatures warm in the spring, the eggs hatch and tiny immature grasshoppers emerge and begin feeding. There are generally only one generation of hoppers per year.

Most grasshoppers feed on a wide range of plant material. Some feed primarily on different grass species, while others prefer broadleaf plants. Yet others will eat just about anything – including each other. Grasshoppers normally stay in the hatching areas as long as host plants provide an acceptable food source. When the food is all eaten or dries up, adult grasshoppers can set out in search of new food sources. Areas of high moisture are usually attractive to the foraging adults. That is why in years of drought, hoppers can invade your irrigated flowerbeds and vegetable gardens seemingly overnight.

The secret to minimizing the damage caused by grasshoppers is to begin control strategies early in the season. The more mature they become, the more difficult they are to control and the more damage they cause. Likewise, center your efforts on their breeding grounds.

These are usually dry, undisturbed areas of the garden or flowerbed. Products such as Sevin, esfenvalerate, malathion, acephate (Orthene) and permethrin are all labeled for grasshopper control. Use Sevin and permethrin in vegetable gardens. But remember: These chemicals can and will kill off target insects as well. So be careful when spraying the butterfly garden and other gardens with desired insect species. Last but not least, always read and follow label directions.