Yuk! I have Spit On My Plants!

You’ll be out in the garden in early to mid spring admiring all of your fall planting work in its emerging beauty. Then, you’ll see something odd…

You’ll see white globs of foamy stuff on some of your plants. You’ll think “yuk, I have spit on my plants”. Who spit on my plants?…will be the question on your mind. What’s this stuff anyway?

That’s not SpitSpittle Bug Foam Drip

It’s not spit at all. It’s a foam created by Spittle Bug Nymphs. In Latin they are called Philaenus spumarius.

At this point the nymphs are in the early stage of developing into the adult Froghopper insect. Their faces look a bit like a frogs face, hence the name.

So the stuff you see is not actually spit, but air being mixed with a liquid that is excreted from this bugs anus. (ew yuk)

The result is a foamy protective covering for the nymphs to hide in. The foam is visual cover and also tastes bad to predators if they attempt to eat them. 

They hide under the foam to pierce the stems of your plant and drink the sap. This causes the stem above the glob of foam to suffer. If the infestation is severe then the leaves and stem will shrivel and die.

Spittle bugs will be black, green or orange depending on your region. In the Pacific Northwest/Lower Mainland of BC they are green.

Simple Spit Bug RemedyWater Hose is the Best Solution

There are a couple of options to try before general pesticide use to get rid of these guys.

For many years as a new gardener, I didn’t know what this was on my plants, so I just washed it off with the hose and didn’t spend another minute on it. I had no idea there was a bug under the foam.

Hosing off the foam with just plain water turned out to be the best remedy for the problem. 

Why? When you wash off the foam, the nymph is exposed to predators such as ladybugs and lacewings. The spittle bugs become easy dinner for these beneficial insects.

Spittlebug Foam on RubeckiaThe hosing off method works well because the nymph was using the “spit” as visual protection from predators and physical protection against the elements. 

Without the foam to hide under, all of their protection is gone so they either get eaten by a beneficial insect or the bug just dries up and dies.

Severe Infestation

If you have a severe problem, like in the image below, then you need to take it another step. You will likely need to use a pesticide if it’s this bad. 

The product called “Sevin” with the active ingredient of “Carbaryl” will do the trick quickly. If you prefer to stay away from chemical pesticides, then use this recipe:



Garlic Pepper Spray Recipe for Spit BugsSevere Spittle Bug Damage

1/2 cup hot peppers, chopped
6 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped (or pressed) 
2 cups water
2 teaspoons standard liquid dish soap

Bring all ingredients (except the dish soap) to a boil and then let sit it for 24 hours. Strain it in a sieve and then mix in the liquid soap. Put this liquid in a 1 liter spray bottle and fill with water. 

Wash the existing foam off the plant and then completely saturate the plant with this mixture.

Dish soap has been used for many years as a multi-purpose insecticide as it cuts through the membranes of soft slimy insects. This causes them to die from dehydration.

This garlic or pepper liquid will rot so make small batches and use it all at once. You can also choose to freeze the remainder until it’s needed again. Just make sure it’s labelled properly in the freezer.

Protection

Another good step you can take to prevent this pest from taking up residency in your garden is use a fine mesh fabric and make tents over your containers and plants.

Use 3 bamboo sticks secured together at one end to create tripods that the fabric can be draped over. Adjust your structure and make it any shape necessary to fit your container. Sometimes it’s easier to cover several plants at once rather than cover each plant individually. 

The most important step is to secure the fabric on all sides and make sure there are no gaps for the bugs to get in. Use twine to tie the fabric snugly around the outer edge of the container.

This should be enough to keep your basil plants and other plants safely protected from the Spittle bugs looking to devour your garden.  This is a very effective method for protecting your plants from many insects and pests.

Have you seen this pest in your garden? Leave a comment and tell me your experience with it.



Clip Art sourced from Pam’s Clip Art

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One thought on “Yuk! I have Spit On My Plants!

  1. Pat Garrison

    May 26, 2018 at 8:05am

    i ALWAYS THOUGHT THEY WERE APHIDS. mATTERS NOT BECAUSE i SPRAYED THEM WITG INSECTICIDE ANYWAY. gET A FEW EVERY YEAR BUT NO BIG EXPLOSION.

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    • Author

      Stacy

      May 31, 2018 at 9:13pm

      That’ll do it!

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  2. Robin

    May 25, 2018 at 4:16am

    Thanks for this post! I knew they were a pest from my green thumb mom, and removed one spit nest from my blueberry plant before, but I figured it would be best to find out WHAT I was dealing with this time. I’m spraying them off with water at the moment, and if worse comes to worse, I’ll use the dish soap method! Thanks! (only two spits in three weeks so far, so fingers crossed!)

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    • Author

      Stacy

      May 26, 2018 at 8:02am

      Well done! It sounds like you are conquering the problem quite nicely. Thank you for the comment and I’m glad you found the information helpful!

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  3. Kay

    July 19, 2017 at 6:49am

    I saw a few blobs on my mums yesterday, read about them last night, and went out this morning to wash them off. But they aren’t there. What does that mean and what should I do?

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    • Stacy

      July 20, 2017 at 6:41am

      If the blobs are gone then I would think that the spit bug either got eaten or has moved on to a new location. I’m not sure why else the bubbles would go away. I recommend keeping an eye out for them to return. If they do and it seems like the water spraying isn’t enough, then choose a commercial pesticide or make an organic one yourself, I’ll post a recipe.

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  4. Angela Holland

    August 3, 2016 at 10:11am

    Once you wash it off is it ok to eat? They are on my basil leaves.

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    • Stacy

      August 8, 2016 at 7:51am

      If the leaves look healthy and undamaged for the most part, I think it’s fine to eat. I would!

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    • s. nicol

      August 19, 2016 at 10:02am

      I just found them on all my basil plants this morning! Yuck! I’m not touching them again – they can all just be ornamental at this point. Gross!

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      • Stacy

        August 20, 2016 at 6:08am

        I understand, at least they make nice ornamentals as well! Depending on when your winter usually starts, you might have time to get in another crop of basil seeds this year.

        If you decide to do that then get some fine mesh fabric (like this kind) and make a tent over the plants. Hold the fabric up with sticks in a tripod or A-frame type shape. Secure the fabric around the container with twine, make sure there are no gaps. If you grow them protected in this way you should have no issues with spit bugs in the future.

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  5. Brad lewis

    June 8, 2016 at 9:36pm

    Brilliant info, just went out washed off the spit, saw the little critters and destroyed them…

    Permalink  ⋅ Reply
    • Stacy

      June 14, 2016 at 4:59am

      That’s awesome! I’m so glad you found the critters and killed them and that the info helped when it was needed.

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  6. Joy

    May 14, 2016 at 3:01pm

    Thank you for this great info! I Googled the minute I saw that weird foam. Google is amazing
    because of people like you who share your knowledge and readers who share their experiences. Thank you all so much!

    Permalink  ⋅ Reply
    • Stacy

      May 16, 2016 at 2:36pm

      You’re most welcome. I’m really glad my info helped you! I have to agree, Google is awesome! I’m happy that the events in my humble little garden are helping other people in their own gardens. Thank you to all the people who have commented and shared their experiences!

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  7. Tereza Ferreira

    May 10, 2016 at 12:18pm

    This spray really worked!!! My cat wasn’t very impressed but I’ve got rid of several bugs on my herbs and parsley. Thank you so much.
    I thought it was some sort of spider. My neighbour’s said it is “cuckoo bird spit”, I didn’t believe them. Thank heavens for Google 😂😂😂😂😂😘😘😘

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    • Stacy

      May 11, 2016 at 6:12pm

      That’s great! You’re most welcome, I’m glad it worked that well for you! My apologies to your cat lol.
      I agree, Google is awesome! I’m glad it clarified where the spit was coming from (no cuckoo birds were involved) and you were able to find a remedy for it.
      I know Google has sure provided me with good answers to some crazy odd questions over the years!

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  8. Michele

    May 10, 2016 at 9:42am

    For spit bugs I just pick off the spit by hand and squish the little bug inside. I don’t have many so this works well for me.

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    • Stacy

      May 11, 2016 at 6:03pm

      That’s a very effective way to go after them as well, good job! I’m glad that it works for you and keeps them under control. Thank you for sharing your method 🙂

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  9. Stacey Collins

    April 11, 2016 at 8:40am

    My Dad and Grandma always told me it was “snake spit”! LOL Guess they were needing to instill in my young mind that you needed to be on lookout and aware of your surroundings when picking fresh blackberries (i.e….Watch for SNAKES!!:) Good to finally know the truth however:). Thanks!

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    • Stacy

      April 13, 2016 at 2:14pm

      That’s great…I love it! Snake spit, it makes perfect sense! I agree, the underlying lesson from your Dad and Grandma was probably to be aware of your surroundings. It’s certainly a good lesson and very important. It’s a wise thing to teach kids and could easily save them from a bucket full of trouble.

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      • pj909

        May 7, 2017 at 9:41am

        I thought it was snake spit. lol

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        • Stacy

          May 11, 2017 at 9:17am

          Lol…that’s awesome! It sounds logical if you don’t know what it is though.

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  10. Denise Westlake

    June 29, 2015 at 1:20pm

    Yes… I brought this home with a new parsley purchase. First I washed off with water, believing it to be merely spit.. what the heck?! But now, more spit AND I already have a few good sized black swallowtail caterpillars dining on this plant.. I guess I’ll try to transfer them to another parsley and retreat as you’ve recommended. Drat.

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    • Stacy

      July 12, 2015 at 7:02am

      That’s upsetting! How’s it going now? Do you have any parsley plant left?

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  11. jeannette

    May 31, 2015 at 10:30pm

    Thank you – I have sprayed the part of the plant where the spittle is, with water, and hopefully it will work. Easier that having to break off the part where the insects are.

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    • Stacy

      June 4, 2015 at 8:00pm

      That should work just fine, rinsing the spit off with the hose is very effective if it’s done consistently as soon as the globs appear. In moderate cases it shouldn’t be necessary to cut off the affected parts of the plant, but when there is extreme damage it may be better for the plant to do so.

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  12. Levergne Rayhon

    August 20, 2014 at 7:54am

    These Spittle bugs seem to love my steava. I now wash them off every day.
    I live in southern De. and my plants are next the house on the south side. I don’t want to use sevin on these plants.

    Thanks for the info.
    Levergne

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    • Stacy

      August 22, 2014 at 7:51am

      Hi Levergne

      I’m glad you found the information helpful.
      The Spittle bugs probably love it for the same reason we do…it’s so nice and sweet!

      It’s great that washing the Spittle bugs off works so well and it’s such an easy way to avoid using pesticides on the problem.

      Thanks for the comment 🙂

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  13. Neil Krshna

    March 15, 2013 at 8:03am

    Was wondering what that white foam was for a long time myself.

    I am amazed at the ingenious ways of nature; how even the tiniest of bugs have the best safety mechanisms in place 🙂

    Thanks for this informative post
    Neil

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    • Stacy

      March 19, 2013 at 7:06pm

      Thank you, I’m glad the information helped. I agree, it’s very interesting the way nature works and the way some bugs have found the best method to survive and hide themselves. I’m just glad they are generally easy to get rid of. 🙂

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