By Jim Colman
With our mild winter and early spring, we are seeing insect problems earlier than usual this year. In particular, mole crickets and chinch bug are already active and causing damage in the Lowcountry. Brown patch fungus is also active now, exacerbated by cooler damp nights.
Here is a little information about the most common pests that affect our Lowcountry turf.
Mole crickets: Mole crickets are insects that damage grass by feeding on the roots and above-ground parts of the plant, and by tunneling activity that disturbs the grass roots. These activities often result in death of the plant due to drying of the roots. Mole crickets are active right now!
Mole crickets often present themselves as dry, spongy spots in the lawn. Young nymph mole crickets are generally present beginning in June. You can test for their presence by making a detergent flush (2 tablespoons of dishwashing detergent in 1 gallon of water). Pour the mixture over a 1’ x 2’ area where activity is suspected. The mole crickets will surface within a few minutes. It is best to perform the flush in early morning or late afternoon.
A general purpose insecticide labeled for mole crickets should be applied once you’ve determined they are present. Follow all label instructions. If your property has a history of mole cricket activity, you may want to consider applying a preventative application around the first of June each year as part of your regular fertilization/pest management program.
Remember, left untreated, mole crickets can destroy your lawn. If you have problems, or are having problems controlling the problems, consider consulting a landscape professional before the turf is damaged beyond repair.
Chinch bugs: Chinch bugs are tiny black bugs, nearly impossible to see. In a really bad case, you could drop a white glove or piece of paper in an area of suspected activity, and the chinch bug would look like pepper on the white background.
Chinch bugs often enter St. Augustine lawns in the hottest spot of the yard. They then spread out from there. Left untreated they’ll eat the entire lawn by sucking sap from the grass blades. They are most often present in lawns with lush, over fertilized lawns with a thick thatch layer.
You can detect chinch bugs by monitoring your grass. When chinch bugs are present, the affected areas look similar to dried up straw or hay (as the chinch suck the life out of the blades and runners of the grass). As soon as you notice activity, apply an insecticide labeled for control of chinch bug. As always, read the label carefully and apply only as directed.
White grubs: These pests can damage any warm season grass. They feed below ground on the root system of the grass. If turf is yellow and generally non-responsive to fertilizer treatments, you should inspect for grubs. Cut back a small area of the grass to the root/soil level and look for the presence of grubs. If you find more than six to eight in a square foot, treat with a pesticide labeled for grubs.
Brown Patch Fungus. Warm season grasses are afflicted by a fungus called brown patch this time of year. The fungus grows when nights are cool and damp, and is exacerbated by over-watering and over-fertilizing.
The fungus is often recognizable because it usually grows in distinct circular patterns. To combat: decrease or stop watering; water early in the day (never at night); consider less nitrogen in your fertilizer mix; and apply a fungicide labeled for brown patch. You may need to apply more than once to ensure fungus eradication. If the disease persists, you may want to consider contacting a lawn care professional.
Irrigation System Settings: Now is a good time to double check your irrigation system settings. While each property has its own set of specific circumstances, as a rule of thumb it is better to water less frequently, but for longer periods of time. This allows deeper, more vigorous root growth. Gear drive rotor zones generally need about 45 minutes to provide thorough watering of their area. Pop-up sprinkler zones generally need about 10-15 minutes as they put out almost as much water per sprinkler, but over a much smaller area. Usually 3 waterings per week should suffice.
And finally, always read and follow pesticide labels carefully, keep them out of reach of children, and when in doubt, contact a professional.
For more information, call Jim Colman at Lawn Solutions, 522-9578, or www.lawnsolutions.us.
By Jim Colman