Have you ever noticed little black insects with red stripes hopping around your lawn? You may also notice a white, foamy substance covering parts of your grass, trees or other plants. If so, these little guys are called spittlebugs, and given the opportunity, they can cause significant damage to your grass. Found predominantly in centipede grass, spittlebugs, also referred to as froghoppers, are garden and turf insects that feed on the fluids found in your grass and ornamentals. Overtime, this can cause grass to turn yellow or brown and die.
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What is a Spittlebug
Spittlebugs are some of the most common turfgrass insects that can be found across the continental United States on almost any type of plant including roses, chrysanthemums, clover, grasses and other lawn and garden plants.
Spittlebug nymphs in particular are the most damaging for plants because they hatch and begin sucking the juices out of grass. Nymphs are usually a light brown or light green color with red eyes. Adult spittlebugs are about a quarter of an inch long and can be found in various colors such as black, brown or yellow. The adults feature big, round red eyes and sometimes have distinct red, yellow or orange stripes across their wings. The color and pattern found on spittlebugs depends on the species.
Eggs are usually laid in the late summer and survive on plant debris over the winter season. They begin hatching in early to mid-spring. Nymphs quickly locate host plants to attach themselves to and begin feeding. This is when they create a frothy, white substance, also called spittle. Spittle protects the spittlebug nymphs from predators. They finally reach adulthood in late spring or early summer and no longer require the protection from the froth.
Signs of a Spittlebug Infestation
There are a couple of ways to notice or detect a spittlebug infestation. An easy way to tell is by simply walking through your lawn and observing if any spittlebugs start hopping around. By walking through the grass, you are disturbing the spittlebugs and they will begin hopping out of the way.
You may be able to notice spittlebug lawn damage as well. If you start seeing brown or discolored grass, this could potentially be a result of spittlebugs. Spittlebug nymphs pierce the plants and suck out the plant juices. This will stunt plant growth, leaving the grass or plants weakened and vulnerable to other environmental stressors. However, brown or yellow spots could also serve as indications of disease, chinch bugs or other insects, drought or heat damage.
Lastly, a telltale sign of detecting a spittlebug infestation is by the presence of the previously mentioned white, frothy substance in the blades of grass or on garden ornamentals. These look like masses of sticky bubbles and they’re produced by spittlebug nymphs hiding from other predators.
Spittlebug Prevention and Treatment
There are a few various ways to prevent and treat a spittlebug infestation. These methods range from cultural, non-chemical control solutions and chemical products you can purchase to prevent and remove spittlebugs when infestations become severe.
Natural Methods for Prevention and Treatment
Having as healthy of a lawn as possible is the best way to fight against current or future spittlebug problems. A lawn that can fight back against environmental stressors such as insect infestations is your first line of defense. Maintain a healthy lawn by following our maintenance calendar for your specific grass type. This includes a proper fertility program, appropriate mowing heights, preventive applications of control products for insects, disease or weeds and a proper irrigation schedule. Ultimately, a lawn that is well maintained reduces the impact spittlebugs may have. Learn more in How to Thicken Your Lawn.
According to Home Depot, another method is to remove them by hand if you are able to spot the areas where the white frothy substance is located. Wipe off the foam with a cloth or paper towel and pick up any larvae that you may spot. If you see larvae, drop them into a bucket of soapy water.
A final non-chemical solution is to spray down your lawn and plants with a garden hose to rinse away any spittlebug nymphs, adults or eggs. You may need to do this several times a week for effective results.
Chemical Method for Prevention and Treatment
When it absolutely comes down to preventing and treating spittlebugs with chemical solutions, the best active ingredient found in insect control products is Bifenthrin found in Bifen XTS. Bifen XTS requires mixing in a hose-end spray tank. Other over-the-counter products include Spectracide Triazicide and Spectracide Immunox, which are simple sprayers that attach to the end of your garden hose. Be sure to read the product labels for a full set of application instructions before application.
- Coverage: One bottle covers 2,500 sq. ft.
- Active Ingredient(s): Gamma Cyhalothrin 0.08%.
- Ease of Use: Hooks up to the end of your garden hose for even spray application.
- Best Used On/For: Outdoor general insect control.
- Coverage: One bottle covers 2,500 sq. ft.
- Active Ingredient(s): Propiconazole 1.45% and Lamda-cyhalothrin 0.08%.
- Ease of Use: Hooks up to your garden hose for even spray application.
- Best Used On/For: Outdoor topical/contact fungus and general insect control.
Bifen XTS – 1 Quart$52.95
- Coverage: One quart covers between 106,000–458,000 sq. ft.
- Active Ingredient: Bifenthrin 25.1%.
- Ease of Use: Requires tank mixing and spray application.
- Best Used On/For: Pre- and post-construction termite treatments, turf and ornamentals and outdoor perimeter pest control.
Although fertilizer doesn’t treat infestations, a proper fertilizer schedule will help your lawn remain strong and endure stress a little better. You might want to consider a fertility program such as Lawnifi®. Lawnifi is a fertilizer program designed to give your lawn the nutrients it needs when it needs them with nutrients powered by Catalyst TechnologyTM that can be immediately absorbed into the plant. Subscribe to receive seasonal Lawnifi fertilizer boxes throughout the year, or purchase each seasonal box individually. Lawnifi also offers a granular formulation called Lawnifi Foundation for those who prefer traditional granular fertilizer. You can learn more about Lawnifi at lawnifi.com or by reading Why Use Lawnifi Fertilizer?.
In the future, be sure to keep your lawn clean and tidy. Like overgrown grass, items for insects to hide in such as rotting wood, dead plants, outdoor statues, toys or tools that aren’t properly stored in a storage shed will provide insects with places to burrow and hide in. If you spot other bugs in your sod or garden but aren’t sure what kind of insects they are, be sure to take a look at our Insect Identification blog.