Agriculture: Floriculture and Ornamental Nurseries Pest Management Guidelines

Leafhoppers and Sharpshooters

  • Aster leafhopper: Macrosteles quadrilineatus (=M. fascifrons)
  • Blue-green sharpshooter: Graphocephala atropunctata
  • Glassy-winged sharpshooter: Homalodisca vitripennis (=H. coagulata)
  • Two-spotted leafhopper: Sophonia rufofascia
  • Description of the Pest

    Leafhoppers, including a subgroup called sharpshooters, are in the family Cicadellidae. All have mouthparts that allow them to pierce the plant tissue and feed on plant juices. Most leafhoppers are about 0.25 inch long and slender. Species may be brightly colored or similar in color to the host plant. They often jump away or move sideways when disturbed. Pale cast skins may be found on leaf surfaces. Leafhoppers have incomplete metamorphosis. Immatures (nymphs) are similar in structure to adults, but are smaller, wingless, and may differ in color.

    Glassy-winged sharpshooter

    Adult glassy-winged sharpshooters are about 0.5 inches long and dark brown in color. Wings are membranous and translucent, with reddish veins. The insects overwinter as adults and begin to lay egg masses about late February. There appear to be two generations of glassy-winged sharpshooters per year in California. Eggs are laid under the surface of the leaf epidermis. The gray-colored nymphs are smaller than the adults and wingless. There are 5 immature stages. As they feed on xylem tissue, they excrete a large amount of liquid substance that drops to the leaves or the ground below. The glassy-winged sharpshooter has a broad host range that includes many ornamental plant species.

    Aster leafhopper

    The aster leafhopper is also called the six-spotted leafhopper because it has three pairs of black spots on its head. The adults are small (about 0.12 inch long) and usually light green to yellow, with black marking on the thorax and abdomen. Their wings are transparent. Nymphs are usually dark green.

    Blue-green sharpshooter

    The blue-green sharpshooter has green to bright blue wings, head, and thorax, and yellow legs and abdomen, which are visible on the underside. It is about 0.4 inches long. There is one generation a year in most of California and a second generation in some southern areas of the state. Adults become active in late winter/early spring. They can become abundant in ornamental landscaping around homes. They also feed on numerous weeds mostly along stream banks or in ravines or canyons where there is dense vegetative growth. As natural vegetation dries up, adults disperse into crops and irrigated plantings. Eggs hatch from May through July with some of the nymphs becoming adults by mid-June.

    Two-spotted leafhopper

    Adults are about 0.25 inches long and pale yellow with a dark stripe down the center of the back. On the end of the wings are two prominent eye spots that make it appear that the leafhopper is walking backwards. This leafhopper feeds on a wide range of ornamental plants. Feeding may cause chlorosis of leaves in some species.


    Leafhoppers are pests primarily because some are vectors of plant pathogens. The glassy-winged sharpshooter and the blue-green sharpshooter transmit a bacterial pathogen Xylella fastidiosa that grows in the xylem, or water-conducting tissue, of certain plant species. Xylella fastidiosa can cause a number of plant diseases in a variety of hosts. Thus far, strains of X. fastidiosa that cause oleander leaf scorch, Pierce's disease of grapevines, almond leaf scorch, and alfalfa dwarf have been identified in California. The strains of the pathogen that infect oleander do not appear to infect grape and are genetically distinct from the other strains. The aster leafhopper is one of several leafhoppers that can transmit the phytoplasma pathogens that cause aster yellows disease in many plant hosts.

    In addition to the transmission of pathogens, leafhopper feeding can cause leaves to appear stippled, pale, or brown, and shoots may curl and die. Excrement exuded during feeding can serve as a substrate for the growth of sooty mold, or discolor leaves with a white chalky film.

    Glassy-winged sharpshooter is under quarantine in California and shipment from infested to noninfested areas requires specific treatments.


    Management of leafhoppers and sharpshooters in nursery crops is focused primarily on exclusion techniques. Plants can be protected from these pests and the transmission of pathogens with the use of row covers and screening; reflective mulches may also be useful. Good weed management is important in areas surrounding nurseries to prevent the buildup of populations and migration into the nursery when the surrounding vegetation dries. In nurseries that have had past problems with glassy-winged sharpshooters, a quarantine pest, preventive insecticide treatments are advisable. Otherwise, monitor these pests to detect an influx of populations into the nursery.

    Biological Control

    There are no commercial sources of biological control agents for leafhoppers currently available; however, there is a fairly high level of naturally occurring egg parasitism of glassy-winged sharpshooters late in the season. For more information, see BIOLOGICAL CONTROL.

    Cultural Control

    Leafhoppers can be excluded from growing areas using screening or row covers. Identify potential sources of pathogens that are near growing areas. Remove weeds to eliminate sources of leafhoppers or pathogens near growing areas. If such sources cannot be removed, avoid planting crops susceptible to disease near these alternate hosts.

    For open field flower or nursery production, silver reflective plastic mulches may be of value. Reflective mulches have been shown to repel leafhoppers in another crop (corn), thus reducing pest numbers in and around the plant canopies. In addition, Xylella transmission by the leafhopper vectors was greatly reduced, thus reducing corn stunt disease incidence. For best results, apply reflective mulches at the time of planting or transplanting the crop. Apart from reducing leafhopper and pathogen incidence, silver reflective mulch may increase cut-flower production and reduce the crop requirement for irrigation, water and fertilizer. Row covers, screening, and mulching are acceptable practices for organic production.

    Monitoring and Treatment Decisions

    Leafhoppers are dormant through the winter months and will require little attention. Activity and egg laying begin in early spring. Begin monitoring in February/March and continue through September. For nurseries with chronic glassy-winged sharpshooter problems, apply preventive treatments when adults are first detected. Otherwise, monitor nursery borders to detect the influx of leafhopper/sharpshooters and treat if necessary.

    Place yellow sticky traps around the nursery border and throughout the nursery at canopy height (4 cards per acre) to detect migration of sharpshooters and leafhoppers into the nursery. Check cards at least once a week for adult sharpshooters. Treat if any adult glassy-winged sharpshooters are detected in the traps. If glassy-winged sharpshooters are not present but five to ten leafhoppers or other sharpshooters are being caught in sticky traps, a treatment may be necessary to stem the influx of these other species. A major management consideration is that economic damage caused by the leafhopper should equal or exceed the cost of any necessary management. For more information, see MONITORING WITH STICKY TRAPS.

    Other monitoring methods, including beating samples and visual counts, can be used to detect the presence of leafhoppers and sharpshooters. Beat or sweep sampling for nymphs and adults is most effective when temperatures are cool (less than 60°F). At warmer temperatures the insects will fly away before they can be counted. To conduct a beat sample, place a 2-foot square sheet of white material underneath the canopy to be sampled. Strike the canopy with a stick or shake it vigorously to dislodge insects, and count the number on the sheet. A sweep net may be also used to sample foliage for the presence of adults and nymphs. Visual inspection of leaves, stems, and branches is perhaps the best method for detecting all stages. Insects may try to move to the far side of the stem to avoid detection. Placing a hand close behind the stem being observed will make the insects move to the front where they can be seen. (Glassy-winged sharpshooter egg masses can be easily detected by inspecting the undersides of leaves against a sunny sky.)

    For information on making treatment decisions, see ESTABLISHING ACTION THRESHOLDS.

    Quarantine Requirements. Nurseries are considered infested if 5 or more glassy-winged sharpshooters are collected on sticky cards that are within a 300-yard radius of each other (not less than one card per half acre). Shipment of nursery stock from glassy-winged sharpshooter-infested areas to noninfested areas within and outside of California requires additional treatments. Contact your county Agricultural Commissioner's office for more information.


    Selected Materials Registered for Use on Greenhouse or Nursery Ornamentals

    Read and follow the instructions on the label before using any pesticide. Before using a pesticide for the first time or on a new crop or cultivar, treat a few plants and check for phytotoxicity. Also consider pesticide resistance management and environmental impact.

    Class   Pesticide
    (commercial name)
    Manufacturer REI1 Mode of action2 Comments
    botanical A. pyrethrin/PBO3
    (PT Pyrethrum TR)
    Whitmire MicroGen 12 3/— An aerosol.
    carbamate A. carbaryl*
    (Sevin SL)
    Bayer 12 1A May be applied through sprinkler irrigation systems only.
    insect growth regulator A. azadirachtin
    (Azatin XL)
    OHP 4 un Must contact insect. Repeat applications as necessary. Aphid suppression only. Label permits low-volume application.
    B. azadirachtin
    (Ornazin 3%EC)
    SePRO 12 un Do not exceed 22.5 oz/acre/application.
    C. s-kinoprene
    (Enstar II)
    Wellmark 4 7A Apply prebloom. Also labeled for low volume use.
    neonicotinoid A. acetamiprid
    (TriStar 70WSP)
    Cleary 12 4A  
    B. Imidacloprid
    (Marathon 1G)
    (Marathon II)
    OHP 12 4A Not to be used more than once every 16 weeks. Do not apply to soils that are water logged or saturated. Do not apply to bedding plants intended to be used as food crops.
    C. Imidacloprid
    (Marathon 60 WP)
    OHP 12 4A As above, but apply only as a drench.
    oil4 A. clarified hydrophobic extract of neem oil# (Triact 70) OHP 4 un Do not spray plants under stress. Target pest must be completely covered with spray—this material may not effectively control melon aphid because it is often on the underside of lower leaves. Check label for list of plants that can be treated. May cause injury to flowers.
    B. horticultural oil5
    (Ultra-Fine Oil)

    (JMS Stylet Oil)


    JMS Farms



    Use as above for neem oil. Also, do not use with sulfur fungicides; check label for tank mix restrictions.
    organophosphate A. acephate
    (Acephate 97UP)
    24 1B  
    B. acephate
    (Orthene T, T&O
    Valent 24 1B A number of chrysanthemum varieties have exhibited phytotoxic reactions. Only labeled for use on anthurium, cacti, carnation, rose, orchids, some foliage plants, young poinsettia and some varieties of chrysanthemum. Can stunt new growth in roses.
    C. acephate
    (PT 1300 Orthene TR)
    24 1B An aerosol that is only for greenhouse use.
    pyrethroid A. bifenthrin*
    (Talstar Professional)
    FMC 12 3 Label permits low-volume application.
    B. cyfluthrin
    (Decathlon 20 WP)
    OHP 12 3 Label permits low-volume application.
    C. deltamethrin
    (DeltaGard T&O)
    Aventis 12 3 For outdoor use only.
    D. fenpropathrin*
    (Tame 2.4 EC)
    Valent 24 3 Label permits low-volume application.
    E. fluvalinate
    (Mavrik Aquaflow)
    Wellmark 12 3 Label permits low-volume application. Also labeled as a cutting dip at 5 fl oz/100 gal.
    F. lambda-cyhalothrin*
    (Scimitar GC)
    Syngenta 24 3 For greenhouse and nursery use. Apply at 7-day intervals. Do not apply more than 52.4 fl oz of concentrate/acre/year. Do not mix with EC formulations or oils.
    G. permethrin
    FMC 12 3 Direct application to blooms may cause browning of petals. Marginal leaf burn may occur on salvia, diffenbachia and pteris fern. Label permits low-volume application. Do not apply more than 2 lb a.i./acre/year.
    soap4 A. potash soap#
    Dow Agro
    12 Must contact insect, so thorough coverage is important. Repeat weekly as needed up to 3 times. Test for phytotoxicity. Do not spray new transplants or newly rooted cuttings. Do not add adjuvants.
    1 Restricted entry interval (REI) is the number of hours (unless otherwise noted) from treatment until the treated area can be safely entered without protective clothing.
    2 Rotate chemicals with a different mode-of-action Group number, and do not use products with the same mode-of-action Group number more than twice per season to help prevent development of resistance. For example, the organophosphates have a Group number of 1B; chemicals with a 1B Group number should be alternated with chemicals that have a Group number other than 1B. Mode of action Group numbers are assigned by IRAC (Insecticide Resistance Action Committee).
    3 PBO = piperonyl butoxide
    4 Note that single doses of soaps or oils can be used at anytime in a pesticide rotation scheme without negatively impacting resistance management programs.
    5 Check with certifier to determine which products are organically acceptable.
    * Restricted use material. Permit required for purchase or use.
    # Acceptable for use on organically grown ornamentals.
    Text Updated: 05/10
    Treatment Table Updated: 05/10