Has your lawn – or a neighbor’s – ever been reduced to a patchwork of yellow and brown spots peppered throughout the healthy, green sod? If so, that lawn had likely fallen victim to one of the most prevalent and damaging of lawn pests: the chinch bug.
There are several different species of chinch bugs, and together they threaten lawns across the entire continental United States. In the eastern third of the nation, a species known as the hairy chinch bug is the most prevalent.
Chinch bugs threaten your lawn with a double-whammy of damage:
1. Chinch bug nymphs use piercing mouthparts to puncture the stems of grass blades and suck out the sap.
2. During the process of feeding, chinch bugs inject a toxin into the grass that causes it to turn yellow, and then reddish-brown. The infected grass eventually dies.
The combination of the pests feeding upon the plants and injecting them with toxin results in the characteristic yellow and brown patches of a chinch bug infestation.
How to Tell if YOUR Lawn is Infested with Chinch Bugs
Chinch bug infestations are often mistaken for drought damage, and vice-versa. But if you suspect that your lawn might be infected with chinch bugs, there are a couple of methods you can use to confirm or allay your suspicions:
1. The Plastic Bag Method: Place a large chunk of your turf into a large, sealable, clear plastic bag (like a freezer bag). Make sure the bag is sealed tight, place it in a sunny location and leave it for several minutes.
As the temperature inside the bag rises, any chinch bugs that may be in the turf will crawl out in an attempt to escape the heat, and will collect on the inside of the bag. Count the total to estimate the severity of your lawn’s infestation. Fifteen to twenty chinch bugs per square foot of turf is considered a damaging infestation according to the University of Maryland.
2. The Flotation Method: Remove both ends from a can six-inches in diameter (many coffee cans are of this size). Push one end of the can into your turf, and fill the can with water. After ten minutes, count the number of chinch bugs floating on the surface of the water. Four to five chinch bugs per can is considered a damaging infestation.
Prevention May Be the Best Control
Left uncontrolled, chinch bugs are capable of quickly reducing a showpiece lawn into a thatchy, patchy, unsightly mess.
There are a number of chemical controls available for treating chinch bug infestations, but many homeowners these days are trying to avoid the use of noxious chemicals.
There are also some biological controls you can use to fight a chinch bug infestation. An insect known as the big-eyed bug, for example, is a voracious predator of chinch bugs, and may be at least somewhat effective at suppressing an infestation.
But perhaps the best defense against chinch bugs is to try to avoid an infestation from ever occurring. And one of the best ways to lessen your risk of ever having to deal with a chinch bug problem is to use your sprinkler system to keep your lawn well and evenly watered.
Chinch bugs love draughty spells. Their population can explode during extended dry periods. And lawns that are suffering from water-related stress are much more susceptible to the damage that results from chinch bug attacks. But too much water can also invite chinch bug problems.
So the benefits of your lawn sprinkler system – a lawn that is evenly and regularly watered – can also serve as a prime defense against chinch bug infestations.
Just one of the many fringe benefits realized by homeowners who install a lawn sprinkler system.