Lawn Pests

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Lawn Pests

Lawn pests are like diseases and are sometimes even mistaken for such. You usually don’t even know that you have them until that patch of dead grass next to the driveway or under a tree shows up. Was it really caused by insects though? The first step with any lawn problem is to diagnose the cause so that you can determine the proper solution to implement. Most insects in your lawn do very little damage and there are even beneficial insects that prey on pests that do damage your lawn.

Just like lawn diseases, lawn pests flock to certain conditions in a lawn. Warm weather is inevitable, but you can prevent the impact of increasing insect populations by cultivating a thick and healthy lawn. This helps by making it less attractive to pests, but it also ensures that the grass is more resilient against the imminent foraging of insects. You can also choose grass types having cultivars with endophytic fungi that either repel or kill insects that attempt to eat them. You also want to avoid over-fertilizing your lawn because this can cause fast, weak growth that is attractive to pests. Another line of defense is encouraging the presence of beneficial insect predators in your yard.

In our modern world, we are doing more and more to encourage good stewardship of our environment. A good lawn requires a certain level of harmonious ecosystem to flourish. Introducing poisons into this environment, while they do kill pests, can disrupt and weaken this ecosystem. That is why it is important to pursue the Integrated Pest Management concept because of its ecological soundness. The goal is to avoid using toxic methods to keep insects, weeds, and diseases at bay. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 70 million pounds of pesticides are put out on lawns every single year.

How to Spot Insects

Most insects in your lawn are going to be visible enough to see, so it is important that you look for the problem before your grass starts to die. The magnifying glass can be your friend when necessary allowing you to locate chewing or sucking insect spots. Persistence is a virtue when it comes to lawn pests. Don’t be fanatical either – a few bugs are nothing to worry about. Some of the destructive bugs you will be looking for include sod webworms, chinch bugs, fall armyworms, white grubs, green aphids, leafhoppers, billbugs, and mole crickets.

  • sod webwormsSod Webworms – these bugs usual feed at nighttime and are rarely noticed until it is too late. These small, green caterpillars feed on grass roots, leaves, and crowns. If you see an adult whitish, gray, brown moth zipping around the lawn, then you probably have a webworm problem.
  • chinch bugChinch Bugs – this bug is a real pest to St. Augustine grass lawns and some other warmer season grasses. These pests live in the thatch layer where their eggs are laid along the root line. They grow up to be winged, black, and 1/5” long.
  • fall armywormsFall Armyworms – are striped and brownish green. They are usually 1.5 to 2” long and also feed in the nighttime. This is mostly a southern insect which chew bare, circular areas into your lawn.
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  • white grubsWhite Grubs – these are also known as the scarab beetle. They are root-eating larvae. The Japanese beetle larvae are usually considered the most damaging pest in the United States. They are usually whitish gray and c-shaped with brown heads.
  • green aphidsGreen Aphids – a tiny pear-shaped insect which feeds on the juices of blades of grass. It injects a salivary toxin which can cause some serious damage to lawns – especially Kentucky bluegrass.
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  • leafhoppersLeafhoppers – these flying bugs are wedge-shaped and small. They also inject toxins into the grass blades and suck sap from the leaves. They don’t damage lawns nearly as much as some of the other insects.
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  • billbugsBillbugs – a c-shaped larva found in northern states which feed on stems, roots, and crowns. Their favored type of grass is Kentucky bluegrass. They cause irregular dry, white patches in the lawn usually around midsummer.

 

  • mole cricketsMole Crickets – these are large crickets that feed on grass roots while tunneling through root zones. They have short and stout forelegs which are damaging in light, sandy soils of the southern and Gulf plains. Bahiagrass is a mole cricket favorite, but they will feed on anything that is available.

Now What?

You should attempt your best effort at keeping pest populations restrained by the most benign efforts of grass selection, competition from beneficial insects, and proper cultivation practices. If these don’t work, you might have to resort to using an insecticidal soap, botanical insecticide, or a biological insecticide.

  • Insecticidal Soap – these are made from fatty acids and potassium salts. This solution works by breaking down the structure and permeability of insects cell membranes. This is most effective on soft-body insects and has the benefit of not impacting ladybugs and parasitic wasps. However, the soap is ineffective after it dries.
  • Botanical Insecticides – this method is usually best as a last resort because it will kill beneficial insects as well. Make sure to handle this toxic with care and don’t worry about any long term effects on the environment. It only has short term effects.
  • Biological Insecticides – also known as microbial insecticides, this solution has the advantage of being only harmful to specific targeted pests. They are not dangerous to other wildlife or humans, but still handle them with care due to the possible allergic reactions that some people can have when in contact.

Beneficial Insects

Enlisting the help of beneficial insects can make an environment that is quite hostile to pests. Most of them are either predators or parasites to pest populations. You can encourage these insects by having a non-toxic and attractive, healthy environment which will keep these bugs from wandering. Some of these beneficial insects include ground beetles, lady beetles, mantids, big-eyed bugs, lacewings, spined soldier bugs, and braconid wasps.

  • Ground Beetles – these are most known for hunting caterpillars. They really move quickly against army-worms, cut worms, beetle grubs, and caterpillars during the nocturnal hunt.
  • Lady Beetles – mostly known as ladybugs, the insect feeds on aphids and other small insect pests. They are recognizable from their oval, brightly colored, red, backs often accompanied with spots.
  • Mantids – large, green, brownish insects that are most famously known as the “praying mantis.” They are voracious predators that usually even eat their own young. Unfortunately, they can be counterproductive by eating other beneficial insects as well.
  • Big-eyed Bugs – these insects are great with chinch bugs and also eat aphids, leafhoppers, and caterpillars. They will sometimes take a bite out of your plants too, but not enough to get in a big fuss over!
  • Lacewings – these are delicate, short insects which can be identified by their clear and highly veined wings that are spread up like a tent. They really go after the aphids even garnering the nickname “aphid lion.”
  • Spined Soldier Bugs – insects that look very much like stinkbugs. They love to prey on fall armyworms, grubs, and caterpillars. It has a shield-shaped body with pointed shoulders and a black mark on the wing.
  • Braconid wasps – these parasites deposit their eggs into a host prey or pupal cocoons. They parasitize aphids, caterpillars, beetles, and other insects.

If you have tried all the other methods of pest removal, you may have to make a last resort with synthetic toxins. It is beneficial to check with your local Cooperative Extension Service to get a recommendation on which type of synthetic chemical product to use. Take great care when handling these products.

Another type of lawn pest is the four-footed varmint kind – moles. You will notice these creatures when there are soft, raised hills all over your lawn. Moles are really difficult to get rid of and take extreme persistence. The most effective method is trapping in the main tunnel system. Moles don’t eat grass roots, but they do disrupt them which can cause them to dry out and die. They also have a tendency of eating those wonderful earthworms in your soil. Did you know that earthworms aerate soil and feed your grass with their castings? Most people consider ten earthworms per ten square feet a good number to have. Don’t let those moles impede this number! Good luck with your endeavors of managing lawn pests to insure a beautiful and prosperous lawn.

Author Bio

Matt Morrison is a lawn expert, homeowner, and website hobbyist from Texas. He enjoys working on his own lawn and helping others make their lawn the best it can be. You can read more of his articles here.


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2 comments

  1. Ironic how I search Ant Control and I found this article, I’m going to continue visiting here.

  2. George Mathews

    I work in the state of Qatar for a landscaping Company.We have 12 Ha of paspalum grass planted along side the express way.The most common pest seen in summer is the army worm.The larvae devours the roots,leaves of grass and brown patches develop.What is the best chemical method to control this pest.

    Regards

    George Mathews

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