Gardening: With the rains come a pest

Identifying these insects is a ‘chinch’

The summer rains of June have begun early! Our gardens are about to grow at incredible speeds as they come out of the stressful dry spring months.

Lawns, shrubs, trees and weeds will seem to grow at uncontrollable rates.

Don’t panic! This rate will slow as the plants settle into their summer growth habits.

The recent rains may have been enough to break the drought and is a welcome relief for our parched lawns. While this rain will help to slow the damage caused by the drought it is also going to cause a population of chinch bugs to hatch and begin feeding along the borders of the damaged, brown areas.

Their presence will appear first as a yellowing of grass blades along the edges of any brown spots you may have or along sidewalks and driveways. The yellow areas will then turn brown causing the spot to spread with the edges of the area remaining yellow.

If you see yellowing starting to appear in your lawn, especially around the edges of your old dry spots, take action immediately or those spots will quickly double in size.

Get down on your hands and knees and at the edge of the damaged area you will see chinch bugs running around in the soil area and on the base of the grass blades. You may have to check several spots before you find them.

You can also cut the ends off any can and stick the can through the grass into the soil. Fill it with water and within a few minutes chinch bugs will float to the surface.

Chinch bugs are very small insects about the size of an ant. The young chinch bugs are orange-red specks. The red color changes to brown and then dark brown to black with white wings. They cause damage to St. Augustine grass with the injection of their salivary juices when they suck the sap from the grass.

Good cultural practices are helpful in the management of chinch bugs.

Certain practices can drastically reduce the need for pesticide applications. Rapid growth from frequent applications of highly soluble inorganic nitrogen fertilizers increases the chance of chinch bug attack.

These attacks can be greatly reduced with minimum applications of slow release nitrogen fertilizers.

Prolonged periods of moisture stress like just experienced here on Marco Island can also encourage chinch bug problems. When your lawn begins to turn a bluish-grey color or the grass blades start curling, water immediately. Improper mowing and excessive water or fertilizer can cause St. Augustine lawns to develop a thick layer of thatch or dead material which provides a home for chinch bugs and also chemically ties up insecticides thereby reducing control. A little known fact is that when St. Augustine lawns are cut at a higher depth, 4 to 5 inches, the blades put out an enzyme which is toxic to chinch bugs. So stop cutting your lawns so short! You’ll save money on both water and pest control.

Monitor your lawn on a regular basis, especially if the tell-tale yellowish areas appear. You can expect to see this damage begin in the next week or two. Try spot treatments when infestations are first noticed. Treat the off color area and a buffer zone of 10 feet surrounding it. This will help save the beneficial insects which may be present in your lawn. Two of the most helpful predators of chinch bugs are the black big-eyed bug, which looks like a chinch bug but is more robust and has larger eyes, and the earwig with its pincer on its posterior. These predators can be the first line of defense against polluting our environment.

Remember chinch bugs can do a lot of damage in a short period of time so don’t hesitate to act as soon you suspect a problem.

Eileen Ward and her husband, Peter, own and operate Greensward of Marco Inc., a lawn maintenance and landscaping company. Besides completing horticultural courses from the University of Florida, she has a commercial maintenance spray license and is a registered dealer in agricultural products in Florida.

© 2009 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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