There probably isn’t a lawn in the world that isn’t home to a population of insects, bugs and a host of other pests. While a healthy lawn will be reasonably resistant to pests and to the many diseases that can damage grass, no lawn can ever be totally safeguarded against every possible problem.
The first rule in terms of both pests and plant diseases is to identify them early on and to take immediate action. This means that you need to know what the possibilities are and how what can be done to solve the various problems. That is the only way you can eradicate the problems before any serious damage is done.
Common lawn pests
Common lawn pests come in all shapes and sizes. The damage they do will depend on the pest. Although many people consider moles to be a lawn pest, these creatures don’t actually eat the grass or the grass roots, but they do make numerous tunnels that can cause the lawn to collapse. These tunnels are also used by other pests that do eat and otherwise destroy the grass.
In basic terms there are pests that live in the soil under the lawn, and those that live in the thatch. Those in the soil tend to cause grass to die, although you may be able to save it if you pick up the problem when the grass is still just wilting. Thatch inhabitants do sometimes cause the if you pay attention, you can see how the grass is being nibbled away.
These are some common lawn pests:
- Various crickets feed on grass and tunnel through lawn, throwing up small mounds of earth. Light brown mole crickets lay their eggs underground in spring. They live deep in the ground for most of their short lives, often feeding on the grass just under the surface of the soil. If left unchallenged, mole crickets will eventually completely destroy the grass and leave only bare ground.
- Greenish-brown to fleshy white lawn caterpillars attack the grass just above the thatch layer, which results in yellow or brown patches on the lawn.
- Fleshy white, C-shaped white grubs have three pairs of legs, a bluish abdomen and a distinctive brown head. The larvae of scarab beetles (sometimes called chafers), these grubs live in both the soil and thatch just below the surface of the lawn feeding on humus and grass roots. These grubs live for anything from several months to three years and they destroy the grass roots, leaving the blades to wither and die.
- Spittlebugs are less than ½ inch long and they have distinctive orange stripes across their wings. They lay orange-colored eggs in hollow stems and in the thatch, and when the nymphs hatch, they start sucking the juice out of the grass. Then they cover themselves with a mass of frothy spittle – hence their name. When lawn is heavily infested with these bugs the lawn will feel squishy underfoot. They are attracted to centipede grass that is growing in shade.
- Chinch bugs are a lot smaller than spittlebugs and they infest a variety of grass they turn red. They also suck out the juices from the grass, but what they do is to release toxins that kill the grass. Chinch bugs love sunshine and they usually feed out in the open. This makes them difficult to control.
- Plump, grey, greasy cutworms grow up to about 2 inches in length. They live just below the surface of the ground, feeding at night by literally cutting off the blades or stems.
- Harvester termites build subterranean nests that can be identified by holes on the lawn’s surface, surrounded by small mounds of soil. They emerge from the holes at night or on cool winter days. These termites get their name from the fact that they cut off bits of grass and carry it away to their nests.
Common lawn diseases
Undernourished lawns are most likely to be attacked by disease. While there are some species that have better disease resistance to other species, a well-cared for lawn of any type will generally be resistant to attack. The other factor to remember is that different grasses are better suited to certain climatic conditions. Planting a species that isn’t really suitable is asking for trouble. Also, if the conditions for that particular grass are too moist then it will be susceptible to various types of fungal attack.
These are just a few of the common diseases that lawns suffer from:
- Dollar spot which leaves small, round areas of dead grass from 1 to 5 ins in diameter. Leaves seem to be wet and you can see fine, white fungal threads on them in the early morning.
- Fairy ring which results in darker green grass that spreads outwards in ever-increasing circles. It is caused by various mushroom-forming fungi, most of which are poisonous.
- Leaf spot which occurs on the blades, sheaths and stems of grass in the form of purple or brown spots. It weakens grass and can kill it.
- Leaf blotch attacks blades and sheath and looks like tiny purple-red spots. Seedlings are very susceptible, and if attacked usually wilt, turn brown and die.
- Powdery mildew which results in a grey-white powder forming on the blades. It usually starts in small, isolated patches and then spreads over much larger areas. When it gets really bad, the blades of the grass turn yellow.
- Rust starts in the form of tiny yellow spots on leaves and the grass stems that then form rusty pustules. It kills the blades of grass and threatens the lawn as a whole.
Environmentally friendly treatment tips
If you have problems with insect pests or diseases you need to evaluate exactly what the problem is so that you can treat it correctly.
Before you resort to herbicides and toxic pesticides, try a more environmentally friendly treatment. Here are some helpful tips:
- Mix 2 oz. of dishwashing liquid with a gallon of water and sprinkle over the surface of lawn you suspect has become infested with worms and bugs. Within 10 minutes they should come to the surface and you can remove them.
- Pour soapy water into holes made by crickets. This will usually force them out of the burrow and you can remove them by hand and get rid of them.
- Mole crickets have become resistant to many of the pesticides on the market (all of which are in any case toxic). But Jeyes Fluid, formulated for neutralizing odors, killing bacteria, and general disinfecting, can effectively control crickets if poured down the burrows.
- The best way to get rid of moles is to invade their tunnels. There are several ways to do this, from flooding them with water to bombarding them with moth balls. If you can bear the idea, you can also push dog pooh into the tunnels. This does work!
- Grass usually becomes diseased when it is undernourished. So fertilize regularly using a good, well-balanced product that contains nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, as well as trace elements and other nutrients.
- Most diseases that affect grasses can be beaten by generally improving growing conditions.
- Correct fertilization and watering as well as top dressing help to manage dollar spot.