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Mites and mole crickets are emerging

Posted: April 29, 2012 - 12:11am

Every spring, I get questions about mole crickets and clover mites. Mole crickets can destroy lawns and are hard to control, while clover mites feed on a range of plants and can be a nuisance when they invade our homes. When clover mites move in, there can be thousands of them at a time. I have seen brick walls covered with the tiny red mites.

Mole crickets damage turf by tunneling through the sod, and the Southern mole cricket eats the roots of turfgrass. The tawny mole cricket is a predator and eats other insects, but does a great deal of damage by tunneling.

Mole crickets have one generation per year. The adults emerge in April and take their mating flights. The female lays her eggs in the turf, then the male and female die. The eggs hatch in June and early July in this area. The young mole crickets become adults by September.

A soap flush is used to determine if mole crickets are present in a lawn. A soap flush is a mixture of 1 or 2 tablespoons of dishwashing liquid in 3 to 5 gallons of water. This mixture is poured out over an area 3 feet by 3 feet. If mole crickets are present, they will come out of the ground because the soap irritates the insect. If a lawn had mole crickets in the spring, there is a very good chance the lawn will have mole crickets hatching in June and July.

For homeowners, there is only one product, bifenthrin, that can be used to control mole crickets. To get the best results, a treatment is needed in mid-June and again in mid-July. The mole crickets are just beginning to hatch, and that is when they are easiest to kill.

Mole crickets move around on top of the grass at night. If the pesticide is applied as late as possible before dark, the insecticide will be at full strength when the mole crickets appear. To get better control, water the lawn 24 hours before applying the insecticide.

The mole crickets are in the adult stage now and are very hard to control. If there are mole crickets present in a lawn and the lawn is showing a little damage, then I would wait until June to treat. If the lawn is showing a lot of damage, then I would treat now.

There is a biological control option that seems to be working in South Georgia. According to Dr. Will Hudson, entomologist at the University of Georgia, a wasp that is a predator of mole crickets was released a few years ago. Also, there is a parasitic nematode that attacks mole crickets. Between these two predators, the mole cricket population in pastures and hay fields has been reduced to the point where farmers don’t have to treat for them anymore. The wasp has been found in areas up to the fall line in Georgia.

Clover mites are active in the spring for about three to four weeks, then we don’t see them until next spring.

Clover-mite control is usually not very difficult. If possible, remove grasses and weeds from around the foundation of the structure, leaving a bare strip about 18 inches wide. This strip can be filled with pea gravel or with plants that are not appealing to clover mites, such as marigold, zinnia, rose, chrysanthemum, petunia, or other flowering plants. Entry points that allow mites to come into the structure, like cracks, crevices, doorways or windowsills, should be caulked or sealed with weather-stripping.

If they do come into the house, use a damp cloth to remove them, but do not crush them. Remember, clover mites can stain walls, flooring and fabrics permanently. Vacuuming is effective for removal, but the vacuum bag should be placed in the outside trash, because the mites could escape.

Chemical control should be necessary only with heavy infestations. Using a labeled miticide or insecticide, spray grassy areas around the house where the mites can enter. Spray trunks of trees and shrubs that might harbor mites. The majority of insecticides used in the landscape will control these mites.

Charles Phillips is a retired Columbia County Extension Service agent and operates Hort Consulting. He can be reached at cphillipshort@comcast.net, or at (706) 836-2152.

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