Beyond the dangers of molds, fungus, and other plant diseases, pest insects can also do a lot of damage to your lawn. The longer they’re allowed to stick around, the harder it’s
going to be to get rid of them, so the following tips are designed to help you identify the most common insect pests in northwest Florida, understand what draws them to your lawn, how you can prevent their attacks, and what to do if they’ve already moved in.
While there are well over a dozen bugs that could potentially infect your Pensacola lawn, there are five that make up the majority of all pest-related lawn issues we face daily:
While it’s important to know what the bug itself looks like, it’s even more important to recognize signs in your lawn that insects are attacking it, since you’re much more likely to notice that first.
- Chinch bugs - Chinch bugs suck the sap from the base and stolons of the grass and inject a toxic substance that prevents the plant from transporting water, killing the grass. They like ready access to bright sunlight, so they tend to attack grass on the edges of the road, sidewalk, and driveway. Look for grass that appears to be suffering from drought: grass blades that are wilting, turning yellow-brown, drying out or dying.
- Sod webworms - Sod webworms are actually caterpillars (the larvae of the sod webworm moth) that are tan or green in color and hatch from moth eggs. The damage they do to your lawn is very similar to that caused bychinch bugs: brown or yellowing patches in the lawn in sunny areas and the areas directly adjacent to a driveway or roadway. You can tell sod webworm damage apart from chinch bug damage by paying attention to the presence of birds. Birds will often hang around and feed in and around the damaged portions of the lawn if there are webworms present.
- Mole crickets - Mole crickets can be anywhere from 1/8” to 2” long depending on their maturity, and both the tawny and southern mole cricket species exist in Florida. As burrowers, they tend to damage the grass roots through feeding when they are younger, and then harm the soil as they get larger and more mature. Much like chinch bugs or sod webworms, you’ll notice patches of turf that appear dry or dead when mole cricketsare present, as well as tiny, raised burrows and pencil-width holes in the topsoil.
- Aphids - Aphids are tiny, lime green bugs that will swarm plants and grass because they reproduce incredibly fast. Although one aphid seems to do almost nothing, a swarm of them can decimate a portion of lawn or an ornamental shrub fairly quickly without intervention.
- Spider mites - Spider mites are tiny, red arachnids about the size of a grain of pepper, making them difficult to spot with the naked eye. They eat sap from bottom of leaves, so if you notice yellowing, browning or dying leaves or plants, it’s time to find out if you are battling a spider mite infestation. To make sure that you are identifying the issue properly, hold a white piece of paper under the suspected plant and shake the branch. If you have spider mites, they should fall on the paper and look like little moving red dots.
One simple and effective method for identifying exactly which pest is causing damage to your lawn is to put two ounces of dishwashing liquid into two gallons of water and drench a small area of your lawn. This mixture will flush out bugs lurking below the surface and in the thatch within a few minutes and it will allow you to identify the pest to decide how to proceed.
While each pest has its own unique preferences, there are a few common issues that tend to draw them to your grass. These include maintaining a damp environment through too much watering, providing protection and shelter by mowing inconsistently, and letting too much thatch stay on the ground beneath your grass.
- Chinch bugs - Chinch bugs are especially drawn to St. Augustine grass, and they are warm weather pests who love the bright sunshine.
- Sod webworms - The sod webworm moth is prevalent in our area and they breed almost non-stop throughout the warm weather months, laying their eggs in the thousands on the undersides of leaves and grass blades. As the larvae hatch, they feed voraciously, doing the damage described above.
- Mole crickets - Mole crickets mate during early spring, and in the summer they lay their eggs, doing the most damage from August to October. Constantly moist soil makes their burrowing easier, and a thick layer of thatch provides plenty of protection for nymphs and adults alike.
- Aphids - Aphids are most likely to attack and harm plants that are already experiencing some sort of stress: not enough water, inadequate fertilizer, or poor mowing or pruning habits. Indiscriminate use of insecticides can be a cause as well, since aphids are among the first insect populations to re-establish after a treatment, leaving them free to attack your plants while other beneficial insects (that normally eat aphids) have not yet re-established.
- Spider mites - Spider mites gravitate toward dry, hot and dusty environments and usually are first found on trees or plants near dusty roadways or at borders of gardens. From June to September, spider mites are most active, attacking plants and shrubs like camellias, azaleas and junipers.
As noted above, some common issues can make your lawn particularly attractive to pest insects. Here’s how to solve those issues and help prevent infestations:
Many pests love a warm, damp environment. Here in Pensacola, this comes with the territory already, so it’s important not to exacerbate the issue by over-watering your lawn.
The longer your grass gets, the more shady it is down between the blades and at the roots, where where many pests are found. By keeping up a consistent mowing schedule, you can maintain the kind of sun and shade balance that’s best for the health of the plants and keep insects from getting too comfortable.
While a reasonable layer of thatch is important to retain soil moisture and protect the lawn’s root system, too much thatch can be an insect’s playground. It provides plenty of food, water, and protection from the elements and predators, meaning certain bugs won’t have a reason to leave your lawn anytime soon.
- Chinch bugs - One of the most important ways to minimize your risk for chinch bugs is by keeping thatch to a minimum. Thatch is the layer of dead plant material found between the green tops of the grass plant and the soil below. It provides a protective home for chinch bugs and makes it challenging for control methods like insecticides to work. Cut down on thatch build up by mowing often, up to once a week during the growing season.
- Sod webworms - Actually preventing sod webworms from making a home in your lawn is nearly impossible. The better bet is to maintain a strong, healthy lawn that can outlast their brief but significant period of feeding. Also, Assassin Bugs will mercilessly hunt down caterpillars like the sod webworm, so attracting them to your yard can help keep the population under control.
- Mole crickets - By making sure to avoid over-watering and removing excess thatch, you can make your lawn as inhospitable as possible for mole crickets.
- Aphids - Ladybugs and hoverflies are both beneficial insects who prey on aphids. If you can introduce them into your yard, you may never even notice an aphid problem. To protect ornamental plants, don’t just leave a soaker hose at their base. Instead, water the plants every 2-3 days by strategically spraying jets of water over and under the leaves, knocking aphids off before they have a chance to do much damage.
- Spider mites - Remember that the best way to prevent spider mites and improve pest control is to change their environment. Combat the problem with adequate irrigation, as spider mites look for water-stressed plants.
While prevention is always the better option, if you’re seeing signs of insect damage in your lawn, it’s probably already too late to rely on preventive measures. Here are some tips for going on the offensive with lawn pest control in Pensacola and treating the problem:
- Chinch bugs - The main reason chinch bugs cause damage to turfgrass is their activity makes it harder for the grass to benefit from water. Therefore, boosting the amount of water you provide on affected areas will sometimes be all it takes to undo that damage. De-thatching may also do the trick, as it alters the bug’s preferred environment. Targeted insecticide applications in problem areas may be necessary to control large chinch bug populations before they continue to spread throughout the lawn.
- Sod webworms - Though sod webworms are relatively easy to control, it has not yet been possible to achieve long-lasting benefits with insecticides. This is due to multiple hatchings, mowing insecticide off the leaf blades and sun exposure breaking down the insecticides. As a result, they tend to pop up multiple times in a season, and one season after another.
- Mole crickets - At Lawn Master, we use a preventative product aimed to treat mole crickets early, before they mature and start burrowing in your lawn. This treatment lasts up to six months, securing your lawn during the window where mole crickets lay eggs.
- Aphids - Once aphids are swarming your grass or plants, targeted insecticide treatments are the only way to regain control. It’s vital that this is handled by a professional, however, because incorrect application can eliminate beneficial insects, and aphids will always re-establish their population faster than their predators, so even bigger problems will result.
- Spider mites - If you can manage to lure Assassin Bugs to your lawn, they’re voracious predators of spider mites and can resolve an infestation quickly and painlessly for you. However, most homeowners opt for professional chemical treatments, especially if the spider mite problem is severe.
While managing an insect problem isn’t easy for most people, everyone in the Pensacola area can simplify the process dramatically by following through on one simple step: Work with local Northwest Florida professionals skilled in pest management!