Spittlebugs in home gardens
Spittlebugs are commonly found in and around Minnesota gardens; however they usually do not cause enough damage to be considered a problem. They are primarily known because of the frothy spittle mass that the nymphs produce while feeding on their host plants.
There are approximately 54 spittlebug species described in Minnesota, but the most commonly encountered species is the meadow spittlebug, Philaenus spumarius. Additional species you may find in your garden are the prairie spittlebug, Philaenarcys bilineata and Aphrophora spp.
Adult spittlebugs, also referred to as froghoppers, have enlarged hind legs for jumping. They are similar in form to leafhoppers but are less slender. Adult meadow spittlebugs are ¼ inch long and vary in color, often tan to brown, but could also be gray or mottled. Meadow spittlebug nymphs are orange at first, but as they progress through four molts they change from yellow to pale green. Large red eyes are apparent on the side of the nymphs head.
Spittlebugs overwinter as eggs in leaf litter. Nymphs emerge in late April or early May and start feeding at the base of the plants, but continue to move up, preferring tender foliage and blossom tissues. As the nymphs feed they pump bubbles into fluid that they excrete as a foamy substance. This frothy mass protects spittlebugs from predators and from drying out. The nymphs mature in five to eight weeks. As adults, they migrate to nearby grassy areas, pastures or areas with broadleaf weeds. The females return in September and October and lay clusters of eggs amongst plant debris or in leaves and stems. There is only one generation per year.
Spittlebugs feed on a wide variety of herbaceous plants including ornamental grasses, roses, chrysanthemums, clover, strawberries, herbs, and many other garden plants. Spittlebug nymphs pierce the plant stems and suck plant juices. In most cases, especially on annuals and perennials, spittlebug feeding is not damaging to plants. If large populations are present, feeding can cause leaves to become distorted, and in the case of strawberries, the berries may be smaller.
In most cases, management of spittlebugs is unnecessary as their numbers are typically small, their presence is short-lived, and the damage they cause is minimal. Management options, if they are desired, are limited.
Remove weeds that are near your gardens. This eliminates plants that could be a food source for spittlebugs.
Physically remove the spittlebugs by hand when it is practical. Another option is to spray the spittlebugs with a strong blast of water; this can dislodge nymphs from the plants.
Insecticides are not effective against spittlebugs; the nymphs are protected inside their spittle masses from any insecticide sprays.