Lawn Insects – a Summer Problem

You are mowing the lawn and you notice a brown, dry patch of grass.

So after you finish mowing, you grab the garden hose and water down the patch of dry, brown grass, figuring it needs some moisture. Days go by and the spot doesn’t get any better.

Stumped over this brown spot, you ask your neighbor for help and don’t like what you hear: “It could be grubs.”

Sound familiar? It happens every summer — insects killing a beautiful lawn.

In the South, the problem with lawn insects is worse than it is in other parts of the country. Ask any homeowner in the South who has had to deal with fire ants, chinch bugs, or mole crickets and you are sure to get some real horror stories. Like grubs, chinch bugs and mole crickets can destroy an entire lawn. On the other hand, fire ants are just a plain nuisance – their bites are painful and they can be difficult to keep out of the yard.

For lawns in the Northwest, the problems occur with European crane flies. In the Southeast, it is billbugs. Other lawn damaging insects include armyworms, weevils, sod webworms and scale. Then there are nuisance insects like ants, fleas, ticks, chiggers, mites, and earwigs. But it isn’t just lawns. Agricultural crops, livestock and home foundations can all be seriously damaged by insects.

For the serious lawn owner, or for anyone who wishes to maintain a nice-looking lawn, controlling insects is an annual battle. It is just as important to a nice lawn as fertilizing, watering, weeding and mowing.

However, discovering an insect problem in your lawn usually happens after it is too late and the damage has already been done. Take grubs for example. Grubs are the larvae of Japanese beetles, and they eat at the roots of the grass (below the surface). They go undetected until their damage [see image left] shows up in the spring or summer, even though they gorged on the grass’ roots in the fall. Obviously, by the time the damage shows up, it’s too late!

Chinch bugs don’t hide below the surface like grubs do, but they are so small that you have to get down on your hands and knees to see them, and even then they might go unnoticed. They thrive in lush grass because they suck the moisture right out of the grass blade. The infected area looks similar to drought damage. And like grubs, the damage to the grass is so severe that new grass must be grown to replace the damaged area.

And if your lawn becomes infected with fleas, ticks or chiggers, then you have a different problem on your hands. That beautiful lawn of yours will be difficult to enjoy thanks to these nuisance insects bothering you, your family and your pets.

Why not just prevent these critters from entering your lawn in the first place?

The best defense a homeowner has against insects is to use preventative measures. Here are some tips to keep those lawn-damaging insects at bay:

  • routinely inspect your lawn for insects. That may require getting down on the ground and looking in the grass. To check for chinch bugs and mole crickets, mix 2 fluid ounces of lemon scented dishwashing soap in a 2 gallon sprinkling can, thoroughly wet a 4 sq. ft area with the solution and watch the area closely. Chinch bugs and mole crickets will surface if they are present in the lawn. Another option is the can test. Remove both ends of a metal can, push it a couple of inches in the ground, fill it with water and watch to see if chinch bugs float to the surface.
  • look for chewed, off-color blades, which may be a sign of sod webworms or armyworms.
  • use the “tug method” to inspect for grubs or billbugs. If you notice a brown patch of grass, tug on it and if it lifts up like a piece of carpet, then you may have a grub or billbug problem. Sift though the soil, and if you see more than six grubs per square foot, then treat the area with an insecticide, in the fall when grubs are near the surface.
  • minimize thatch. Thatch is a layer of dead, decaying grass and roots just above the soil. Insects love to make their homes in thatch. Plus, thatch minimizes the effectiveness of insecticides. A thatch-free lawn is better prepared to fight off insect invasions. – mow at the proper height for your lawn. Doing so will help promote healthy grass and thick roots.
  • apply a grub prevention treatment in the late spring or early summer. This will prevent future infestations of grubs in the lawn. It is the surest way to prevent grubs from destroying your turf.
  • make sure your lawn is vibrant and healthy by giving it at least 1/2″ of water per week.

We also recommends that you apply a pesticide as part of your Annual Lawn Care Program. You can apply a combination product  (for Southern lawns). It will feed your lawn and control insects at the same time, and is guaranteed not to burn your lawn.

You can protect your home from insects too. Simply apply it around the foundation, windows and door frames of your home to keep insects outside.

Remember to read and follow label directions carefully before applying any insecticides to your yard. Also, you should be certain that you have an insect problem before applying any insecticide products.

Consult with your local county extension office if you have any concerns or questions about controlling insects.