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The homeowners of central Florida have something in common with lawn pests, they both enjoy the year round benefits of the peninsula's humid subtropical climate. Summer breezes and quick-moving afternoon storms moderate the sweltering heat, and many find it hard to complain about the winter weather. A routine granular pesticide treatment controls most harmful insects on a healthy lawn. However, missed pesticide applications, improper watering, mowing to low and a general lack of maintenance can create the perfect conditions that lead to a pest infestation requiring specialized treatment.
Many central Florida homeowners find that proper lawn maintenance limits pest damage to the point where the lawn only needs a non-specific pesticide treatment every three months. Many different types of turfgrass grow well in this region. Because each cultivar requires somewhat different maintenance techniques, a homeowner should identify the type of grass before applying fertilizer or mowing. For instance, using a weed-and-feed fertilizer designed for St.Augustine grass will damage a Bahiagrass dominated lawn. This same scenario applies to mowing height. Avoid setting the lawn mower blade height at too low of a position for the grass type. Mowing too low scalps the turfgrass, exposing the tender parts near the soil to harsh sunlight. This weakens the lawn, making insect damage more prevalent.
Many pests thrive in a heavily thatch layer. Thatch occurs on lawns were the grass clippings buildup on the soil faster than they can decompose. When new grass grows its roots and stems weave through the dead organic matter, forming an airy mat on the soil's surface. Remove last year's thatch with a yard rake or thatching tool before the growing season starts. This exposes the soil and makes room for new clippings. As the new clippings decompose they deposit nutrients into the soil.
Mosquitoes do not damage lawns, however, they reduce the enjoyment of being outside. Obviously removing items holding stagnate water greatly reduce mosquito populations. However, this task alone often fails to completely remove their breeding grounds. General yard maintenance, such as removing leaf piles and keeping the lawn mowed at the correct height, reduces the constantly moist areas where mosquitoes flourish.
Homeowners with Zoysia or St. Augustine grass should keep an eye out for chinch bugs living in the thatch layer. Chinch bugs range from 1/16 inch long as a nymph to 3/16 inch as an adult. Small nymphs look reddish-orange overall with a white band across the back. As the bugs age their bodies turn black with white patches on the wings. Chinch bugs suck fluids from the grass, turning the blades yellow or brown. In a healthy lawn the dead patches usually start near a hard surface, such as a sidewalk a driveways, before spreading toward the heart of the lawn. Chinch bug damage can show up anywhere on a water deprived lawn. Check the border between damaged and healthy grass for a concentration of chinch bug adults and nymphs.
Remove the thatch buildup the before starting treatment. This disturbs and exposes the layer that chinch bugs prefer to live in. Treat the entire lawn with a pesticide designed specifically for chinch bugs; the actual pesticide brand does not matter. Lightly water the yard after applying the insecticide. Unfortunately most consumer-grade pesticides fail to kill chinch bug eggs before they hatch. To stop the chinch bug life cycle, apply a second pesticide about six weeks later. After bringing the chinch bugs under control, resume regular treatments with a generic granular lawn pesticide. Some homeowners choose non-chemical treatments such as soapy water or nematode introduction.
Three species of mole crickets damage lawns in Florida: the tawny, southern, and short-winged mole cricket. The adults grow to 1-1/2 inch long. Mole crickets spend the majority of their life underground and become most active during the night after the lawn received afternoon rain or irrigation. They use their enlarged forelegs to tunnel through the soil. The tunneling cuts roots and pushes up on the soil, dislodging strips of grass that dry out and die. This slow death often does not become apparent until late in the summer. To make maters worse, armadillos dig holes searching for mole crickets.
To confirm a mole cricket infestation, combine liquid detergent and water in a bucket, using a ratio of about 1 tablespoon detergent per gallon of water. Pour the mixture on a small section of the lawn. Wait about 10 minutes, then look for mole crickets.
An insecticide treatment in the early spring reduces adult mole cricket tunneling and nesting. They normally lay their eggs in April and May. When the eggs hatch the nymphs migrate toward the surface. A followup treatment in the early summer kills the nymphs before they age and start to dig deeper tunnels. Deeply water the yard after applying the insecticide.
To control future mole cricket generations, consider planting flowers that attract the Larra Wasp. Some flowers, such as white pentas and false buttonweed, attract the Larra Wasp. The Larra Wasp lays eggs on mole cricket nymphs. When the eggs hatches the wasp nymph feeds on the mole cricket, eventually killing the cricket.
Beetle larva, commonly called a white grub, tunnel about an inch below the soil's surface feeding on tender roots.The root injury reduces the turf's ability to utilize water and nutrients in the soil. The damage starts off as small yellow or brown areas scattered about the yard. The initial signs of white grub infestation resembles drought damage. Small sections of a heavily infested lawn will pull up easily when lifted; in the worst cases the turf rolls like a carpet. Large infestations of grubs also attract predators such as moles, opossums and armadillos. These pests dig holes searching for grubs and other insects.
Before treating a lawn for white grubs, remove any thatch buildup, mow the grass and remove the clippings. This helps the insecticide reach the soil. Apply a granular insecticide to the lawn with a fertilizer spreader and then irrigate the lawn, using the manufacturer's instructions as a guide. The inexpensive generic all-purpose insecticides work well when used as part of a year-round lawn maintenance schedule, unless the lawn has a heavy infestation. In that case, choose one of the insecticides designed specifically for subsurface pests. I have used BioAdvanced Grub Killer with success. It also kills other common central Florida lawn pests, such as mole crickets and chinch bugs. Some homeowners have success using non-chemical methods such as introducing nematodes into the soil.
The larvae of several species of moths, such as sod webworms and fall armyworms, feed on grass blades. The moths flutter across open areas in the early evening scattering their eggs. When the eggs hatch lawn caterpillars appear. Lawn caterpillar damage starts as random small circular spots of dead grass spread across the turf. Closely inspecting a damaged blade reveals tiny bite marks on the blade edges.
Apply Thuricide, an insecticide form of Bacillus thuringiensis, to the lawn at the first sign of damage. Mix Thuricide with water, using the manufacturer's recommended ratio, and spray the lawn at dawn or dusk. Repeat the treatment two weeks later. This bacterium kills lawn caterpillars, however, it loses its effectiveness once the caterpillar pupates. Controlling the pest once it reaches the adult-stage moth becomes difficult due to its unpredictable flight pattern; especially if they already infested the neighbors' lawn.
© 2019 Bert Holopaw