The key to common lawn pest control is identification. Once you have properly identified the pest, you can choose the best method or appropriate measure of control.
Chinch or Cinch Bugs
These nasty things will eat away at your grass sucking the juice right out of it then they leave behind a poison that kills it. They are most common in the South, East and Midwest. They love St. Augustine grass, Kentucky Bluegrass and Bent grass. They also like highly fertilized grass, and this is another reason I say too much fertilizing can be harmful.
Well, here's a way you can test and verify if these pests have invaded. Take a teaspoon of liquid detergent, dish or laundry, and mix it with a quart of water. Then remove both ends of a tin can to give you a tin tube. Push one end of the tin tube into the ground, about 2-3 inches. Then pour about 1 cup of the solution into the can. Wait about 5-10 minutes and watch for anything climbing or floating to the surface. You may be surprised at what you see coming up.
They tend to infest when there is a thick thatch, poor nitrogen content and lack of water. They usually appear during dry spells. They'll colonize in the hottest and dryest parts of your lawn. It may be difficult to distinguish drought damage from chinch bugs, but the can test will tell the tale. - see mowing techniques
Make your own insecticidal soap; also known as "cinch bug removal" procedure
Drop 2 TSP of dishwashing liquid into 1 gallon of water preferably in a watering can with a sprinkler head, for even distribution.
Pour the soapy insecticide over the suspected or rather infected area.
Then place a white cloth, something close to flannel or terri, over the area you just saturated.
Wait about 15 minutes. The chinch bugs will come to surface and cling to the cloth.
Grab the cloth and dump it into a bucket of soapy water. Then hose down the area with water to dilute the soapy insecticide.
Another option would be to make the insecticidal soap we mentioned above and add 4 teaspoons of isopropyl rubbing alcohol. (This step helps in penetration.) Pour it into a spray bottle that you have labeled explicitly and spray the infected areas every 3 days for 2 weeks. This should take care of the little pests.
Commercial insecticidal soaps are much safer to use than the homemade recipes. The commercial products are made to kill certain and specific insects while not harming beneficial insects. They are biodegradable and they break down within a week or two so as not to harm plants or the environment. Scott's Ortho makes a Bug-B-Gone insect killer for lawns that will work great; just follow the instructions.
To follow up and keep them from returning make sure your thatch layer never gets thicker than 1/4 inch, keep your lawn moist and well watered and try to avoid over fertilizing.
Keep this in mind; once a year is really all that's necessary. More on fertilizing lawns and ferti'izing tips.
In the early spring, this tonic will knock out pests who are just beginning to wake from a long winter's sleep.
3 Tbsp of baking soda
2 Tbsp of Murphy's oil soap
2 Tbsp of vegetable oil
2 Tbsp of vinegar
2 Gallons of warm water
Mix all of these ingredients together in a handheld sprayer and mist-spray your plants until they are dripping wet. Apply early in spring, just when bugs are beginning to become active.
J. Baker-Master Gardener
Fire Ant Mounds in the Lawn
Southern states have been reporting unusual incidences of fire ant colonies. There are ways to manage their infestation but they cannot be totally eliminated. Their biological make-up makes it impossible. But don't be discouraged The best way to rid yourself of fire ants is the broadcast bait method. In most scenarios the broadcast bait method is the easiest, most effective and least expensive way to deal with fire ants. Broadcast bait means to spread it conservatively over an area, eliminating the need to locate and treat specific areas or mounds.
Amdro or even Over 'N Out made by Garden Tech are a couple of broadcast bait treatments we recommend and you can find in your local garden supply stores. The best time to apply these pest controller's is in the mid to late summer when ants are most active in seeking bait.
And if you're ever bitten by them, apply a 50/50 mixture of bleach and water to the injured area. Keep a solution handy if you work around them often. This will keep the swelling down and ease the pain. If the pain is unbearable and if it spreads beyond the bitten area, get to an emergency room.
White Grubs Often Give Brown Dead Spots of Grass
May or June Beetle
Common here in Ohio is the May/June Beetle, among a few other scarabs. If you see these June Bugs, as they're often referred to, you can bet that there are white grubs or larvae present as well. This is most likely to occur in newly constructed homes where the lawn was previously a field or pasture. Seldom do we see a large infestation of grubs in well-established lawns.
Identification is the key, so you'll know how to combat them. If you were to pull up on the dead grass chances are the roots will come up easily and you'll find the culprits right along with it. They are easy to spot. They have chubby little bodies and tend to curl up into a "U" shape. They start feeding in early spring and the damage they cause can be noticed the entire growing season. A few here and there aren't all that bad but when they are overcrowding your lawn you'll really begin to see some damage.
The "can" test mentioned in the chinch bug article above is a good way to find their population.
Take a teaspoon of liquid detergent, dish or laundry, and mix it with a quart of water. Then remove both ends of a tin can to give you a tin tube. Push one end of the tin tube into the ground, about 2-3 inches. Then pour about 1 cup of the solution into the can. Wait about 5-10 minutes and watch for anything climbing or floating to the surface. You may be surprised at what you see coming up.
Do this about every 12 square feet apart. If you bring up 6 - 8 grubs per can you shouldn't be worried. The critters and crows can take care of those numbers. Anything more then you need to engage a full assault.
If you see moles, black crows or raccoons nearby, this is another sign you may have grubs. To them these are tasty treats.
The best time to launch an attack is when the grubs are young. When you see June bugs active around your porch lights then you know they're gettin' busy. There will soon be little larvae everywhere.
David J. Shetlar the Extension Landscape Entomologist of Ohio State University says, "By noticing when the first adults arrive on a property, you can pick off and destroy these scouts that attract additional pests. The adults are less active in the early morning or late evening. They can be destroyed by dropping into a container of soapy water."
The adults can be controlled by spraying susceptible plants with insecticides. Over-the-counter pesticides available for this include: acephate (Orthene), carbaryl (Sevin), and several pyrethroids - bifenthrin, cyfluthrin, deltamethrin, lambda-cyhalothrin, permethrin, and others. Applications of imidacloprid (=Bayer Advanced Tree & Shrub Concentrate) generally need to be made 20 days before anticipated Japanese beetle adult activity. During the heavy adult activity periods, sprays may be needed every 5 to 10 days.
The best times to apply insecticides are in late June, July and August. This is when they are smaller and actively feeding.
An organic method can be applying insect parasitic "nematodes. They're available in most garden centers. These microscopic worms burrow into the grubs, reproduce and spread a bacteria that kills the grubs; if you must know the "hows." Results vary and a second application may be necessary. Be sure to water before and after if you use nematodes.
To fight them chemically you can find grub killer in your local garden center. Read the labels and look for things like, imidacloprid and isofenphos in the active ingredients.
To keep them under control, hand pick the June bugs whenever you see them active. Dump them in a bucket of soapy water. Encourage birds and toads, if you can support these natural predators. If you hang out traps you may just end up essentially inviting all the beetles in the neighborhood over for a feast. Only if your neighbors use the trap method will this be effective. Lawn pest control is an ongoing battle, so be prepared and stay vigilant.