Have you ever spotted this type of damage on your fruit? Wondered whether it could be caused by grasshoppers?

The answer is yes, or it might even be caused by locusts.

In some seasons they can become quite a problem from about mid-summer onwards.

A locust on the window of our packing shed
A locust on the window of our packing shed

Grasshoppers can damage fruit, but they can also devastate whole trees.

Here’s a little plum tree in our orchard that was badly attacked.

Grasshopper damage to leaves on a plum tree
Grasshopper damage to leaves on a plum tree

As bad as it looks, a tree can survive this sort of damage, if it happens late in the season.

That’s because the tree has already done most of its growing for the year.

This is what this little plum tree looked like in the following spring. Since then, it’s continued to grow and become very productive.

Plum tree recovered after grasshopper damage
Plum tree recovered after grasshopper damage

However, severe damage can kill really young trees. Damage early in the season can also be a death knell if the trees are completely stripped of their leaves.

Can you prevent the damage?

One way to combat them seems to be keeping the grass cut (or eaten down by animals) under the trees. This removes some of the habitat and protection from predators that they rely on.

But honestly? It can have limited success.

Busy chickens on bug-eating duty on the farm
Busy chickens on earnest bug-eating duty on the farm

The two methods that really work

The first (and probably best) method is to use some animal friends to do what they do best.

Chickens and other poultry just LOVE to eat grasshoppers. But there’s a couple of keys to making this technique actually work:

  1. You need to have enough birds to cope with the scale of the problem. There’s only so many grasshoppers a chicken can eat, so don’t have unrealistic ideas of how well, or how quickly, they’ll solve your grasshopper problem;
  2. If chickens are allowed to free-range over a wide area, the grasshoppers may not come to their attention. Try to confine the chickens around the affected fruit trees for a brief time;
  3. Consider limiting access to their other food while they’re on grasshopper duty. Obviously, this needs to be short-term and well managed. Don’t run the risk of starving your chickens! (Find some simple guidelines about what to feed your chickens here). But they’re more likely to be keenly hunting if their bellies aren’t already full when they start their shift.

Done properly, poultry can help to clear up a grasshopper problem very quickly. This is a great example of the many fabulous ways that animals can be key partners in your organic food production. You’ll find others in the Fruit Tree Care for Animal Lovers short course.

And the last grasshopper control method…

The last method is netting.

Regular bird netting won’t work, because the holes are generally too big.

In Victoria it’s mandated (from late 2021) that all fruit tree netting must have holes smaller than 5mm diameter. This will probably be small enough to exclude most grasshoppers.

And if you’re already netting for fruit fly, which has smaller holes again, then you’ll never be bothered by grasshoppers eating your fruit, or your fruit trees.

A grasshopper sitting on wood
Grasshoppers won’t be a problem if you’re already netting your fruit trees