Jerry Brust, IPM Vegetable Specialist, University of Maryland; firstname.lastname@example.org
Potato leafhoppers Empoasca fabae started out showing up early in the season in our area in unexpected numbers and now they are showing up again in vegetables (eggplant and potato) fruit crops (raspberries) and hops where they are causing some problems (Figures 1, 2, 3). Unlike earlier in the season when most of the leafhoppers were adults most of the ones found now are nymphs (Fig. 4). Potato leafhoppers (PLH) prefer warm, dry conditions and are commonplace in southern states where they overwinter; leafhoppers do not overwinter in our area, but the milder the winter the better able they can overwinter close to us. PLH are generally first seen in late April or early May but are arriving on average 7-10 days earlier in our area than just 20-30 years ago. Females lay 2-4 eggs per day in the leaf stems or veins of plants. In 7 to 10 days nymphs emerge. Nymphs undergo five instars and reach maturity in about 2 weeks. The newly emerged nymph is nearly colorless with red spots that fade. Nymphs then become yellow, finally changing to pale green in the third and later instars. There are 3-4 generations each summer. Leafhoppers are capable of very rapid population increases so scouting is important to control the pest to avoid damage to crops. Alfalfa and a few other forage legumes are the primary hosts for the potato leafhopper and once the first cutting of the forage is done, PLH will move into other susceptible crops.
The most obvious symptom of potato leafhopper feeding is hopper burn. Hopper burn is the yellowing of the leaf margin (Figures 1-3). This damage is followed by leaf curling and necrosis. Hopper burn occurs because potato leafhoppers feed by sucking the juices out of leaf veins and blocking the veins with a toxin in their saliva. Once hopper-burn is seen the plant has been damaged, which will either reduce yield or the quality of fruit.
Monitoring and Management
Because potato leafhoppers can have very rapid population surges, it is important to scout and control them before major damage can occur. While there is no agreed upon threshold for leafhoppers in several of our crops, such as eggplant, raspberry or hops, most recommendations have a threshold at 2-3 PLH per leaf. Fields should be scouted weekly by checking the undersides of 5-10 leaves per 10–20 plants. If the average number of leafhoppers per leaf is at or above the threshold, then a control is needed. Because hops are a newer crop in our area states may differ in what they allow to be used, so be sure to check the label to see what your state will allow to be used on hops for PLH control. In general, neonicotinoids, pyrethroids, or spinosyns could be used. Organic growers could use spinosad or pyrethrins that are OMRI approved for potato leafhopper management. If PLH are more of a consistent problem for you one suggestion is to plant red clover in drive rows (do not mow) as potato leafhoppers prefer to feed on the red clover than most of our vegetables.
Figure 1. Hopper burn on eggplant
Figure 2. Hopper burn on raspberries
Figure 3. Hopper burn on hops
Figure 4. Leafhopper nymphs (arrows)