Leafhoppers (Family Cicadellidae) represent a large family of insects which are usually more of a nuisance than injurious pests of turf.

Description and Life History

Leafhopper adults are wedge-shaped and vary in color from green to brown. They range from 1/8 to 3/8 inches in length. Immature leafhoppers are elongate, soft-bodied and move rapidly, often sideways, over leaf blades and stems.

While many leafhopper species overwinter as adults or eggs in and around the turf area, others such as the potato leafhopper annually migrate from southern states to the Northern Great Plains in May and June. Depending on the species, there may be from 2 to 3 leafhopper generations during the season. In general, leafhoppers reach their highest population levels from mid-summer through early fall.

General Symptoms of Leafhopper Damage to Turfgrass

Leafhoppers feed by withdrawing juices from turfgrass leaves and stems. Initial injury appears as light-colored stippled areas on infested leaf blades. During the feeding process, the plant's vascular system is disrupted, which interferes with the translocation of water and nutrients and causes plant tissues to discolor and wilt.

Early leafhopper damage often appears as a graying or silvering of infested turf areas. As feeding and injury continues, the turf begins to dry out and gradually turns from yellow to brown. At very high infestation levels, leafhopper feeding can result in severe thinning or even death of the turf stand. Damage is usually the heaviest in sunny locations during hot, dry periods and is often mistaken for drought stress.

Sampling Techniques

Leafhoppers can be detected through visual observation or by sampling the suspected infestation with an insect sweeping net. When walking through the grass, look for the presence of flying adults. Also, an abundance of lady beetles, big-eyed bugs, parasitic wasps and other natural enemies may indicate a leafhopper infestation.

Management Strategies

There are no established treatment threshold levels for leafhoppers on turfgrass. However, if leafhoppers are present in large enough numbers to be a nuisance, or if injury appears, an insecticide application may be warranted. Apply a liquid insecticide to the infested area (thorough coverage is important) and do not irrigate for at least 24 hours after treatment. Multiple applications may be needed throughout the season because of continuous reinfestation from adjacent turf or outlying areas.