LAWN-DESTROYING INSECTS IN THE CAROLINAS
By Miki Miller
The tantalizing aroma of fresh, green grass is hard to resist, especially after you’ve spent hours caring for the lawn.
When insects start chewing on your lawn in the Carolinas lawn, the damage can be insurmountable. Knowing what to look for is the first step to keeping bugs off the grass.
Grass Class 101
Chances are your Carolina lawn has one or more of these types of grass seed blends:
Kentucky bluegrass (KBG), tall and fine fescues, and perennial ryegrass. Cool-season grasses thrive in average temperatures of 60 to 75 degrees F.
Bermuda, Zoysia, centipede, and St. Augustine. Warm-season grasses adapt to temperatures from 80-95 degrees.
Because North Carolina’s climate has low winter temps that average in the low 30s and summer highs in the upper 80s, the grass type growing in your yard depends on where you live; the Piedmont, mountains, or coastal plain area.
When it comes to lawn-killing insects, the most deadly grass pests are pearl bugs (also called ground pearls). These small, pearly-white-and-tan insects are common in coastal areas. Ground pearls chew on the sod in small circular motions that expand, as long as the food holds out. Replanting turf in the same soil isn’t effective because the grass usually dies within a year.
Ground pearl infections can look like chemical fertilizer pellets. If you find what looks like pearl bugs in the lawn, dig into the soil about 3 to 4 inches deep around the edges. With your hands, sift through the soil to get a closer look. Ground pearls bugs gather in clusters, so check several areas of the grass to be sure of what’s there. Large infestations are difficult to control. Thus, it’s best to pull out the sod, cultivate the soil, and start over.
Among the worst lawn pests in North Carolina, lawn grubs are the larvae of many types of beetles. Junebug and Japanese beetles are the worst, as the adults appear in late May and June. Spongy grass is an indication they’ve infested your lawn, and there will be brown spots that won’t turn green after watering. Severely damaged turf can be easily pulled up. Hungry birds will flock to grub-infested sod, and wildlife will also dig up the lawn looking for food.
Chinch bugs enjoy chewing on both cool-season and warm-season grasses. They snip grass stems and blades, sucking out the juice. As chinch bugs pierce the grass, they secrete a toxin that eventually turns the lawn brown. If you have brown splotches on your lawn, it’s possible that chinch bugs are doing their thing.
Fire ants are in most residential areas of the Carolinas. The reddish-brown ants build underground tunnels and large dirt mounds above the ground. If you see dirt mounds on the driveway, walkway or areas of the lawn, you may have a fire ant invasion. Ant colonies can spread to a half-acre or so with thousands of insects. If you suspect red fire ants have invaded your lawn, keep children and pets away from the grass. These little buggers have a nasty bite! They often attack in droves and can be deadly for people who are allergic.
Mole crickets dig through the lawn, much like ground pearl bugs do, but grass damaged from mole crickets can recover. Dying blades seem to have a halo — an outer edge colored in red or yellow. Hot summer temperatures slow down the insects to allow infected areas to recover, but the damage is most noticeable in late summer and autumn.
Pest control in your lawn can be a challenge, especially if you prefer to use strictly organic products. To avoid spending money on what could be the wrong type of pesticide, consult a professional exterminator before going to the garden store.
Miki Miller writes and blogs about gardening, landscaping, and pest control. She loves pugs and pizza, oh, and her husband, too.