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Quick action needed to fight pests

Posted: Sunday, June 20, 2010

Record high temperatures are stressing us and our plants.


But this weather is just right for some members of the insect world. I saw more woolly aphids last week than in years past. These insects can cause some damage to plants, but not like other insects can, such as chinch bugs and mole crickets. These are two pests of turfgrass that show up this time of year.

Chinch bugs are the main insect pest on St. Augustine grass. They are small, about an eighth of an inch long, and black, with whitish-colored wings on their back. Their small size makes them hard to see in the turf. The larva stage of the insect is reddish-orange, and there will be multiple generations in a summer.

The bugs live next to the soil surface in the thatch layer. You can find them by using a gallon can with both ends cut out and inserted into the ground deep enough that it will hold water. Fill the can with water and wait. It will take about five minutes for the chinch bugs to float to the top. Another way is to part the grass and look for chinch bugs as they move about.

They damage the grass by sucking the juice out of the stems and runners. St. Augustine infected with chinch bugs will turn yellow and then brown. In years past, July and August were the months when we had to worry about chinch bugs, but lately they have started in May and last until November. They like hot, dry conditions, so they will show up next to hard surfaces -- roads, driveways and sidewalks.

The best control options for homeowners are insecticides that contain cyfluthrin or bifenthrin. Cyfluthrin can be found in Bayer Advanced products such as Bayer Advanced Complete Insect Killer or Carpenter Ant and Termite Killer. Bifenthrin can be found in Ortho Max Bug-B-Gon.

The key to control is to find the infestation as early as possible and treat when chinch bugs are first seen. There have been reports that chinch bugs are building up resistance to these chemicals. To keep this from happening, these insecticides need to be rotated.

The other insect to be on the lookout for is the mole cricket.

Mole crickets were introduced into this country in 1918 from South America. There are two main species that affect turfgrass -- the Southern mole cricket and the Tawny mole cricket. Another mole cricket in our area, the Northern mole cricket, is a native and doesn't cause problems to turfgrass.

Mole crickets damage turf by tunneling through the sod. 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. Once mating occurs, the female lays her eggs in the turf. Then both the male and female die. The eggs will hatch in June and early July. The young mole crickets will become adults by September.

The smaller the mole cricket, the easier it is to control. A soap flush -- 1 to 2 tablespoons of dishwashing liquid in 3 to 5 gallons of water -- can determine if mole crickets are present in a lawn. This mixture is poured out over a 3-foot-by-3-foot area, and if mole crickets are present, they will come out of the ground because the soap irritates them. If a lawn had mole crickets in the spring, there is very good chance that the lawn will have mole crickets hatching in June and July.

There are two good options for control of mole crickets. The first is to treat with a fast-acting product. To get the best results, a treatment is needed in mid-June and again in mid-July. The treatment needs to be applied as late in the day as possible. Mole crickets move around on top of the grass at night. If the pesticide is applied as late as possible before dark, the insecticide is at full strength when the mole crickets appear. The product to use for this is bifenthrin (such as Ortho Max Bug-B-Gon).

The other option is to treat with a longer-lasting insecticide, such as imidacloprid or fipronil. The imidacloprid (Bayer Advance Lawn Product) will give control for up to three months. Fipronil (Chipco Choice or Top Choice) will give season-long control. Fipronil can be found where commercial lawn care professionals purchase pesticides, or you can hire a professional to apply it.

Apply either of these products in early June to get control with one application.

With either of these insects, early detection is critical to controlling them.

Charles Phillips is a retired Columbia County Extension Service agent and operates Hort Consulting. He can be reached at cphillipshort@


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