Most people in Florida have, or have had in the past, St. Augustine grass in their yard. And, if you’ve had St. Augustine grass, then you’ve probably had problems with chinch bugs. These tiny beasties are barely larger than a flea and yet they cause millions of dollars of damage each year. In fact, in Florida they are generally regarded as one of the most devastating and costly pests around. Chinch bugs have been a pain to homeowners for years and they seem to thrive in the Florida climate, especially during the wet summer months.
Chinch bugs & your lawn
So why are they so damaging to lawns? Basically chinch bugs eat grass. Both the adult and young chinch bugs (known as nymphs) gather at the base of a grass plant and start to feed. As they feed, they drain the sap from the grass and continue feeding and draining the sap until the grass dies. Then they all move as a group to the next grass plant and start over. Suddenly our luscious green lawn is covered in brown patches of dead grass and we have to hold our heads just a little lower when we talk to the neighbors over the fence.
Protect your lawn
Now we know what chinch bugs do but what can we do to protect or save our lawns? Well, the first thing to do is make sure that we are actually dealing with chinch bugs. Just because there are brown patches on a lawn does not mean there are chinch bugs lurking in the grass. Lack of irrigation can result in lawns drying out and dying off, leaving (you’ve guessed it) brown patches of dead grass. To know for sure, it’s probably easiest to call in a pest control specialist, that way you can make certain you are definitely dealing with chinch bugs. Treating your lawn for a pest that’s not even present will not do your grass, or your wallet, any good.
Once you know it’s chinch bugs that are causing the problem, you have a few choices.
- The most direct and possibly the most effective solution is the application of insecticides to the infected areas. This method does require several treatments due to the resilient nature of the chinch bug and the fact that some of them have developed a resistance to certain insecticides. It can be a time consuming and costly process but it is still the most effective way to eliminate the problem.
- The other method of controlling chinch bug populations is to introduce one of their natural predators to the area. These include the bigeyed bug and the striped earwig but this method is generally considered far less effective than chemical controls.
- Of course the best approach is to avoid getting chinch bugs in the first place. Chinch bugs tend to target stressed lawns: ones that are under-fed, under-watered, or cut too short. The recommended way to care for your lawn and avoid a chinch bug infestation, and other problems too, is through Integrated Pest Management (IPM). This is a coordinated approach which incorporates fertilization, irrigation, careful mowing and pest control.
Integrated pest management
Cutting your St. Augustine grass to a height between three and four inches will help maintain a healthy root system and increase the resilience of your turf to an infestation. Using a sharp bladed mower will make sure the grass is cut cleanly, without tearing, which further improves the health of your lawn.
Fertilize your lawn carefully in accordance with local regulations and the instructions on the label. Over-fertilizing may seem like a good idea to boost your lawn but rapid grass growth can lead to increased susceptibility to chinch bug infestations.
Turf that is water-stressed is generally where we see chinch bug problems and irrigation is crucial to maintaining a healthy lawn. If your grass appears wilted and you see the edges of the leaves beginning to curl then your lawns needs watering. However, it is just as important not to over-water your grass. This can also lead to problems such as heavy thatch which creates a perfect environment for chinch bugs.
In general, if you have St. Augustine grass then there is a chance that you will encounter chinch bugs at some point in the life of your lawn. Once these miniature monsters start feeding on your lawn and killing your grass then it’s simply a case of how much damage they will do. The sooner you act, the better chance you have of saving your lawn.