Turf Damage and Insects

By Sean Burgess - seanb@landings.org
Interim Public Works Director

With the onset of summer, it is important to remember to inspect your turf on a regular basis for insect activity. The Landings Association’s Public Works staff have noticed an increase in insect activity in the irrigated turfed areas of the community.

The primary insects causing this damage are mole crickets and chinch bugs. As summer sets in, we also will start to see an increase in fall armyworms. A successful turf management program requires regular inspections of your yard to address these insects before they can do large amounts of damage.

Chinch bugs are a combination of three different species within the Lygaeidae family. They have piercing-sucking mouthparts, and they feed on the sap of grass plants. They reside in the thatch area of the turf grass stand and prefer to feed on the lower leaf sheath and crown area of the plant. The chinch bug can be a major insect pest on home lawns throughout the country.

Mole crickets are insects that are specially adapted to tunnel under the ground and destroy the root systems of your turf. They will begin to appear in our area in June and are prevalent through the end of October. These crickets are nocturnal. Therefore, most of their tunneling and feeding will occur at night.

There is an easy way to check your yard for mole crickets. Add two ounces of liquid dishwashing soap to two gallons of water and apply to a four-square-foot section of damaged turf. This will cause any mole crickets in the soil to surface. If you see two to four crickets within three minutes, then an insecticidal application is needed.

The Fall Armyworm is part of the order of Lepidoptera and is the catepillar life stage of a moth. It is regarded as a pest and can wreak havoc with turf grass if left to multiply. Its name is derived from its feeding habits. These insects will eat everything in an area, and once the food supply is exhausted, the entire “army” will move to the next available food source.

The armyworm’s diet consists mainly of grasses and small grain crops. An infestation is hard to detect, as the caterpillars migrate to new feeding areas in the cool of the night. As the caterpillars near maturity, they can lay waste to an entire yard in just a few days.

Chinch bugs, mole crickets, and Fall Armyworms can affect all types of warm season turf, including St. Augustine, Centipede, Zoysia, and Bermuda grass. Visual indicators of insect damage include thinning of turf, yellowing of leaf blades, tunneling, and loosely rooted turf.

With the current increase in insect damage, it is important to be vigilant in inspecting your turf for these visual indicators. Control of damage and insects can be obtained by using properly timed applications of a broad-spectrum insecticide which is readily available at your local gardening supply stores.