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 Spit
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.
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.
The 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.
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 Bugs
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.
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