East Texas Ag News: Identifying and dealing with lawn insects

East Texas Ag News: Identifying and dealing with lawn insects
There are a number of insects that can wreak havoc on turfgrass and cause it to be unsightly. (Source: Pexels.com Matthias Cooper)

LUFKIN, Texas (KTRE) -I am not the guy that fusses over his lawn. As long as it is short and green and relatively free from pests, then I’m satisfied. But we do have a number of insects that can wreak havoc on turfgrass and cause it to be unsightly.

Grubs, also known as grubworms, armyworms, chinch bugs, and mole crickets are insects that commonly cause the most damage to lawns in our area.

Grubs are the larval stage of the June beetle. It is commonly known as the “June Bug” and is the pestering brown bug that we see in late April and May. After they eat leaves and pester you around your porch lights at night, they’ll mate, lay eggs in the ground, and then larva hatch to eat your lawn’s roots during the summer.

As they eat up roots, your lawn looks splotchy and doesn’t have a good root system to hold it to the ground. One diagnostic tool is to grab the sod and lift. If you find that you can lift the turfgrass up like you could lift a shag carpet off the subfloor, you may well have grubs. A closer inspection with a shovel will readily confirm their presence.

Grubs are easier to control when they are small. If you wait until they are fully grown, they are nearly impossible to control.

Armyworms are caterpillars that are well known by hay producers and stockmen with high quality pastures. They’ll march across a pasture or lawn and eat up the grassy vegetation. Armyworm caterpillars are easy to see earlier in the day as they munch their way across the front yard. Later in the heat of the day, they’ll drop down to avoid the warmer temperatures.

Armyworms are the larva of a nocturnal grey moth that you’d hardly ever notice. While there are more than one kind of armyworm, the Fall armyworm typically shows up in our area in the mid-summer and can stay until late fall. Probably the easiest to get rid of, there are several insecticides that work if you simply spray them on the caterpillar.

Chinch bugs are harder to find. Though we confuse their damage with that of lawn fungus problems, they are a frequent pest. These are sucking insects that feed on the crowns of grasses, injecting toxic saliva that can cause wilting and death of turfgrass. Chinch bug infestations often are spotty and may be restricted to certain lawns or parts of lawns.

The southern chinch bug is a pest of St. Augustine grass, particularly during periods of hot, dry weather common in July and August. You may have heard about the coffee-can “floating method” to locate them. I prefer to simply crouch down with my shadow cast behind me, and quickly part the lawn with my hands. Do this several times in the afflicted area of your yard. If you notice several small brown to black insects scurrying around, you’ve found your problem.

Mole crickets are not as well known around here. Named for the way they look, imagine a dull brown cricket, nearly 1-1/2 inches long, with enlarged front legs that are shovel-like and modified for digging. They don’t feed on plants but (like the regular mole) they damage roots as they push through the soil looking for food. The southern mole cricket feeds primarily on other insects and earthworms as nymphs and adults. Their prey-searching activities involve digging shallow tunnels in soil, resembling mole runs.

For each of the insect pests listed above, there are a number of products that will target them. Always read the label and follow the instructions.

I know that the label is written with impossibly small font. Put on your reading glasses and take some time to look it over and you will find an abundance of information to help you rid your lawn of these problematic insects.

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