16 Aug How to Manage a Chinch Bug Infestation
How to Manage a Chinch Bug Infestation
If you have spotted large dead spots in your lawn, it could be due to disease or insects. Chinch bugs are definitely capable of causing this kind of damage, however, determining a cause before spending money on a solution that may or may not resolve problems is important. So how do we know what a chinch bug problem looks like? What even is a chinch bug? Chinch bugs have been infamous for causing damage to lawns all across North America. The four most popular types chinch bugs people have issues with are the common chinch bug, the hairy chinch bug, the southern chinch bug, and the western chinch bug. The southern chinch bug is the most common one found throughout the Southeast. It will also be the focus of this particular Sod University blog although treatment usually remains consistent between differing varieties. Despite the fact that chinch bugs are tiny, they are fully capable of causing large areas of damage in your lawn. Read below for information on what a chinch bug is, how to detect a chinch bug infestation and discover recommendations on how to solve chinch bug issues.
What is a Chinch Bug?
Chinch bugs are a common type of insect that loves to damage zoysiagrasses and St. Augustine lawns, however they are also known to feed on centipedegrass. They suck on the blades of grass and then inject the grass blades with poison in their saliva that stops water movement within the blade. This causes the grass blade to turn yellow and die. As a result, the chinch bug moves on to another nearby grass blade. Over time, they move outward, forming a perimeter of large, dead patches in your lawn. Chinch bugs go through a gradual metamorphosis beginning as an egg, hatching as nymphs without wings, and then transforming into adults with the addition of wings. Although chinch bugs are a type of beetle, there is not a grub or larvae stage or a pupa/cocoon stage during the chinch bug lifecycle. Chinch bugs love lush, heavily fertilized grass and prefer grass that boasts a heavy thatch layer. They are not big fans of moisture.
Southern chinch bug lifecycle photo credit: https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/chinch-bug-in-turf
The youngest nymphs have a distinctive red/bright orange color with a white band across the middle. As adults, they become a darker red color and they grow to be the size of the very tip of a pen, or about four millimeters in length as seen in the image below. Adults are black with shiny white wings of varying sizes. The nymph stage of the lifecycle is when they inflict the most damage to lawns. They are the most active in the months of late June through early September, which is when they tend to do the most damage to lawns. Although the chinch bug life span of seven to eight weeks is relatively short, it allows for up to five generations of chinch bugs throughout the summer if you live in the hotter regions of the country. The southern variety of chinch bugs can be found in Florida and from Texas to North Carolina. If you take a look at the map below, you will see various locations the southern chinch bug frequently inhabits throughout the United States.
Signs of a Chinch Bug Infestation
Although it is possible to physically see a chinch bug in your lawn, it is difficult to spot one due to their tiny size. First signs of infestation are most often very spotty. Given time to flourish, however, chinch bugs will destroy large areas of grass quickly and decisively. If you want to try and look for chinch bugs, be sure to bring a magnifying lens with you as you spread the turf near the soil with your hand. They are harmless to humans, so don’t worry about being bitten. It may be easier to spot chinch bugs if you look towards the ends of your lawn where you may typically edge so that you can see part of the soil and where the grass is growing.
You can also detect chinch bugs by conducting a float test. Take an empty coffee canister or any can that may closely resemble this and make sure it is open on both sides so that it does not have a top or a bottom. You should be able to remove the top and the bottom of the can with a can opener the same way you would open a can of beans in the kitchen. Once you have removed the top and the bottom, stick the can three inches deep into the soil. You may have to force the end of the can into your lawn or dig a small hole prior to setting the can up. Fill up 3/4s of the can with water and let it sit for ten minutes. After the ten minutes are up, stir the water so that you agitate everything inside and see if any chinch bugs float to the top.
It is important to note that a chinch bug infestation is often confused with a water drought issue. As mentioned above, the chinch bugs inject a poison that stops all water movement within the grass blades. If the grass does not green up after watering it, or if you have been watering your grass on a habitual basis, you can determine you do not have a drought issue. A drought issue would more than likely cause consistent damage across your lawn whereas a chinch bug infestation portrays various patches of damage to your lawn. Early signs of chinch bug infestation shows yellowing grass as the grass begins to die. Once it is dead, it will turn brown.
Pictured above from left to right: Patchy chinch bug damage contrasting the appearance of drought damage.
Chinch Bug Prevention and Treatment
There are various actions you can make for chinch bug control—some expensive and others, not so much. These methods include:
1. Supplemented Watering
Since chinch bugs like hot, dry conditions for optimum feeding, it is helpful to irrigate your lawn during hot, dry weather periods. One inch of rainfall or irrigation a week is sufficient.
2. Use Chinch Bug Resistant Turfgrass
Perennial ryegrass, fine fescues, and tall fescues are highly resistant to chinch bugs. However, perennial ryegrass, fine fescues, and tall fescues do not flourish well in the south as they are bred for the northern climates. If you are looking to potentially replace your lawn or even use grass plugs to patch up damaged areas, we recommend EMPIRE Turf® Zoysia . EMPIRE has rhizomes, meaning the turf continues to branch off under the soil’s surface—chinch bugs are not able to access it. Even if the chinch bugs damage your lawn above the soil’s surface, the grass will continue to survive and grow. You will just need to invest in an insecticide to get rid of chinch bugs and prevent them in the future. You can read more about EMPIRE Turf Zoysia sod here, and EMPIRE Turf Zoysia grass plugs here.
3. Remove Thatch
Chinch bugs move into hibernation during the winter and occupy the soil’s surface. Use a rake to remove thatch from the top layer of your lawn to destroy hibernation sites or locations where eggs and nymphs may live.
4. Chemical Control
If your lawn damage is not manageable with cultural methods such as watering your lawn or removing thatch, you can use a chemical treatment. Insecticide treatments are usually required when populations reach 20–25 sq. ft. in a yard. There are an abundance of insecticides you can apply on your lawn for chinch bug treatment—granular or liquid. The chemicals you will need to look for are trichlorfon (this can be kind of harsh, so use it in extreme infestations), bifenthrin, and carbaryl. Bifenthrin is the most recommended chemical for homeowner usage. Be sure to read the label carefully before purchasing or applying the insecticide on your lawn. Check out some of our recommended chinch bug insecticides below.
Although fertilizer doesn’t treat infestations, a proper fertilizer schedule will help your lawn remain strong and endure stress a little better. You might want to consider a fertility program such as LawnifiTM. Lawnifi is a liquid fertilizer program designed to give your lawn the nutrients it needs when it needs them. Subscribe to receive seasonal Lawnifi fertilizer boxes throughout the year, or purchase each seasonal box individually. You can learn more about Lawnifi at lawnifi.com or by reading Why Use Lawnifi Fertilizer?.
Fortunately, certain brands of grasses have been engineered to be chinch bug resistant such as EMPIRE® Zoysia from Sod Solutions. If you think you have an insect problem in your lawn but don’t think it is a chinch bug problem, you can learn more about various insects commonly found in lawns here in our Insect Identification blog.
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