Treat Chinch Bugs with a Shop Vac!

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Welcome to the Wonderful World of Weed Man!  After a week hiatus for the holiday, we are back!  This is the time of year that we see the largest amount of lawn damage.  More often than not it is due to improper watering, either too much or too little.  This is generally easy to fix and a change in watering will yield results within a few days.  But what happens when you see a yellow spot on your lawn and a change in watering is not resolving the issue?  The lawn damage might be a result of insects feasting upon your lawn.

This brings us to this week’s topic!  Bugs!  In fact, this week will start us off on a new series about lawn bugs.  Earlier in the year, our first article series, “The Grass IS Greener Over There!” touched on lawn insects briefly.  Our new series will spin off of the article: “I Found an Alien in My Lawn!”  unpacking everything you need to know about lawn bugs.

I will start us a bit out of order, because I wanted to write about Chinch Bugs first.  Chinch Bugs are significantly a lesser known lawn insect in our area, but are becoming a rising star in the infamous lawn damaging insect arena.  For years in our area, it was a rare occasion for us to see chinch bugs on the lawn.  However, in the last 3-4 years we have been seeing significant increases in chinch bug activity.  It is now the 2nd most common lawn pest we encounter in the area.

So what is a chinch bug?  Chinch are a very small plant eating bug.  They are very difficult to see due to their size and speed.  When you do see them, however, they are easily identifiable.  Generally, the adult chinch is about 1/5” long with black bodies.  They will have white wings folded across their backs, forming a unique ‘X’ shape.  Nymphs (younger insects) have the same shape but lack wings and can have red or orange markings.

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If you ever encounter chinch bugs it will be on your lawn most likely.  They will feast on grasses such as Kentucky bluegrass, fescues, perennial rye grass, and bent-grass – all of which are common to our area.  Before lawns were a commonplace, chinch bugs were a big problem for farmers.  They have originally been a pest for wheat and oat crops, and eventually corn.

They are some of the oldest known insect pests native to North America.  Ohio State University Extension put out a fact sheet detailing that the first records of damage to crops are from the 1780’s.   I found an article from the archives of the Chicago Tribune from 1934: “Spread of Chinch Bugs is Worst in State Since 1860”.   The article details the concern over chinch spreading into the cornfields of Illinois.  This just highlights that even though chinch bugs are a newer problem for lawns in our area, it is not necessarily a new problem overall.

Chinch bug damage closely resembles drought damage more than any other insect damage.  Typically, grub larva damage will produce sporadic yellow spots.  Chinch will produce a yellow/brown spot that looks more like the lawn is suffering from drought.  It will begin as sporadic areas where they are actively feeding.  In many ways it is suffering from drought due to the way the chinch feeds on the lawn.

chinch damage

Chinch bugs will feed on the plant by sucking out the plant sap.  They have a piercing – sucking mouth-part that treats the grass blade like a giant straw.  As it is drawing out plant sap, it deposits through its saliva an anticoagulant into the plant.  This will clog up the grass vascular system blocking water resulting in a withered grass blade.  In its simplest term, the lawn will become drought stressed – it’s just caused by bugs.

The lifecycle of chinch bugs is similar grubs in that it can have multiple generations within a year.  Chinch usually have two generations occur each year, though a longer than normal summer will allow for a 3rd generation sometimes.  Adults from the last generation of the previous year will overwinter until spring temps come up to 50°F.  The adults will then venture out to mate and lay eggs. An adult female can produce 300-500 eggs!  The eggs will hatch after a couple of weeks.  The new adults will lay begin to lay their eggs in mid-July.  The 1st generation chinch offspring will usually die off when it gets too cold, but the 2nd generation offspring complete their development through October and will overwinter for the next year.

As you can see you can have active chinch bugs on your lawn anytime from May through October.

If you are having issues on your lawn and you suspect insect damage, you want to begin with the damaged area and evaluate what is causing it.  If a change in watering is not helping that it may be insects.  The easiest way to tell is to visually inspect that damaged area of the lawn.  You want to find the border between the damaged grass and the healthy grass.  Gently part the grass blades downward so you can see the soil level of the lawn.  Fast moving adults and nymphs will be seen scurrying about the base of the grass stems in groups.  They do move very fast and blend in with the thatch so, you may have to try a few times to catch them.

You can also do a coffee can test.  Take a metal coffee can and cut out the bottom so you can make a tube/pipe.  Insert one end into the ground on the border.  Fill the can up with water.  Within about 5 minutes, if present, chinch bugs will begin to float to the top.

So how do you deal with chinch bugs?

Watering and mowing correctly – I know, I know, you have heard it a million times from us.  “Mow high and water deep” Well we say it because the practice is true and it works.  We will say it a million more.  So if you are not doing it already, do it!

Chinch thrive in hot and dry conditions.  I would suggest just stick to a recommended watering plan to make sure your lawn is at its healthiest.  Mowing high and watering deep helps keep the moisture in your lawn.  This will help keep your lawn from becoming an ideal setting for their buffet.  This will also help resist damage in the first place, and will help recovery from damage after the problem has been resolved.

How you water is important.  In fact, if you look at historical agricultural documents – many farmers reported having chinch bug issues on crops and hoping for a good rain to help eliminate the issue.  Flood irrigation or a good deep rain will damage the small nymphs.  You may have noticed that with the coffee can test some of the smaller chinch began to float – with enough water, you could wash some of them away!

Chinch Resistant Grasses – This may not help you on your current lawn.  However, if you are developing a new lawn or reseeding small areas, there are endophyte-enhanced grass types that can repel chinch bugs.  Rye-grass, tall fescues, or fine fescues are examples of this.

Biological Methods –  Insect predators – chinch bugs are food for Big-eyed bugs. Lady bugs, lacewings, ants, ground beetles and parasitic wasps will also feed on chinch.  I like the idea of lady bugs, because who doesn’t mind them being around?

Other biological methods include introducing a healthy fungus into your lawn – Beauferia bassiana is a naturally occurring parasitic fungus that will attack chinch –
Mechanical Methods – Shop Vac – I’m not kidding – There are those in the industry that recommend this, however I imagine it to be very time consuming, even if caught at the early stages.  Ideally you would suck up the buggers when you find their hotspots.  For those who are loathe to apply chemicals to your lawn, this is a viable option!Elektron_vacuum_cleaner_1916

Chemical Methods – If you have a small infestation you can use the soap/sheet trap method.  You can use 1 oz of dishwashing soap per gallon of water and drench small areas of the lawn where the chinch bugs are.  The chinch will begin to crawl to the surface of the grass to escape the soap.  Lay down a flannel sheet over the treated areas and in about ten minutes the bugs will crawl onto the sheet and their feet become trapped to the flannel.  They can then be vacuumed off or drowned in a bucket.

For those of you who have a larger area to treat or just don’t feel this is feasible for you to do, you can treat with insecticides.  There are several options you can find in a hardware store to help you.  Most insecticides are safe when applied CORRECTLY.  If you are not sure about how to use insecticides safely, please contact a professional for assistance.

There has been a lot of concern about safety when it comes to insecticides.  We take safety very seriously when applying treatments on the lawn.  Weed Man uses only products for use on home lawns. They are most safely applied in the capable hands of a trained professional like Weed Man.  If you have an issue with chinch bugs, and would like help, please give us a call!  www.weedmanboise.com 208-888-9911 #wecareforyourlawn

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