Pest to watch (out for): Spittlebug.

I haven’t whined about it for a little while now (and I’m sure you’re grateful!), but up until this morning, when that unfamiliar yellow ball in the sky finally graced us with its presence, the rains have fallen on Calgary pretty much non-stop since the end of May.  According to the Government of Canada’s National Climate Data, we’ve actually only had four days this month without precipitation, and we’ve gotten a whopping 138.6 mm of rain so far (we usually average about 75 mm or so in June, our wettest month).  All this humidity has brought some pretty interesting plant pests to the garden, and one of them is the spittlebug.

I’ve seen this creature’s work before, but only once in my garden, last June in a mat of ‘Flashing Lights’ dianthus.   Usually, I’ve come across it on wildflowers while I’ve been out hiking.   This year, the evidence is everywhere, however:  gobs of white frothy stuff wedged in the stems of various perennials in my garden.

I’ve never bothered to identify the source of the yucky substance until now, but a quick glance inside the book Garden Bugs of Alberta (by Ken Fry, Doug Macaulay and Don Williamson – 2008, Lone Pine Publishing) tells me that my garden flowers have a case of Philaenus spumarius (meadow spittlebug).  Spittlebugs like to make Slurpees out of plant fluids, which they do by piercing holes in the stems of the victims.  (Apparently they really go after strawberries and peas; I do grow alpine strawberries but I haven’t seen any signs of the bugs on them so far).  The goopy white froth is made by the pests while they are in nymphal stage:  it’s an appetizing combo of plant fluid, air bubbles, and bug mucus (is it breakfast-time as you read this?  If so, I apologize).  The froth is used as a protective blanket over the nymph so they can eat in comfort.

To combat my spittlebug issues, I went outside and spritzed the froth with a diluted mixture of dishsoap and H2O.  You don’t really need to go the whole insecticidal route with them, as the goal is to remove the spittle and the eggs that the creatures may have laid, and blasting them with a jet of plain water will do the trick nicely.  The adult spittlebugs will feed on your plants after emerging and their eggs are capable of withstanding our cold winters, so eliminating the eggs is very important.

Have you ever had spittlebugs in your garden?  What did you do to combat them? 

10 thoughts on “Pest to watch (out for): Spittlebug.

  1. you do a great job of describing the froathy foamy mess, i often wondered what it was, instinctively knew it wasn’t good and would take it off the plant, plant and all, (like deadheading the plant) and put it in the garbage.
    f we wash them to the ground, do they continue to survive, to hatch and come after our special plants again?! if not then I will wash them as you do.

    • Most of the literature I’ve looked at (including Garden Bugs of Alberta) suggest that no insecticide is necessary, as once the nymphs become adults, they usually move off onto other host plants…that being said, the new host plants may or may not be others in your garden (plus there are eggs involved!), so you may want to use some dish soap and water as I did, to kill the nymphs, instead of just using a jet blast of pure water. Or use both, for good measure! 🙂 Spittlebugs rarely do so much damage that they will actually kill a plant – they can successfully deform the stems and perhaps stunt the plant, however. A little concoction of soap and water should do the trick for you. My plants appear spittlebug-free this week, after only one application.

  2. Pingback: Spittlebugs « Gardora.net

  3. Good information. I came across some this morning while working in the garden. I use dishsoap and water too.

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