Have you noticed some irregular patches of dead grass on your lawn?
Maybe you took a closer look and noticed small black bugs in the grass.
These are probably Chinch bugs. They are very fond of eating St Augustine’s grass, one of the most common grass types in Texas.
Chinch bug activity is highest between early summer and mid-fall. This can leave you dealing with damaged grass by the fall. Not ideal.
In this article, we’ll go over what chinch bugs are, what chinch bug damage looks like, how you can detect chinch bugs, and what you can do to get your lawn back in good shape before its dormant state in the winter.
Here’s a brief of the topics in the article:
- What are chinch bugs?
- What do chinch bugs look like?
- How to detect chinch bug damage. (Chinch Bug Test)
- What causes chinch bugs?
- How chinch bugs damage your lawn.
- How to manage and prevent chinch bug damage.
- Professional tips for eliminating the infestation.
Having this knowledge is important for a healthy lawn, and saving you money and stress down the line.
Let’s dive in.
1. What Are Chinch Bugs?
The scientific name of the Southern chinch bugs is Blissus insularis Barber.
Chinch bugs are tiny bugs that feed on the sap of St. Augustine grass. They suck grass blades dry, leaving brown, dead patches of grass.
In the image below, you can see a close-up look at when chinch bugs feed on a grass blade. You can also see the damage on the individual grass blades.
Chinch bug damage can look similar to drought stress.
2. What Do Chinch Bugs Look Like?
Below, you can see what typical Southern chinch bugs look like throughout their life cycle. Adult chinch bugs are black with white marks on their wings. The bug measures less than a quarter-inch.
Mature Chinch Bugs and Big-Eyed Bugs
To the left, you can see what adult chinch bugs look like. Black with white wings.
To the right is a Big-eyed bug, a positive insect to have on your lawn since it is a natural predator of chinch bugs and other pests. Brown without the white details.
Nymph Chinch Bugs (Immature Chinch Bugs)
3. Detecting Chinch Bugs
The first and foremost step to identifying chinch bugs on your lawn is to observe the following symptoms:
- Dry, brown, or dead grass patches of irregular shape.
- Localized damaged spots of dry grass.
- Dead areas seem to enlarge and spread in short periods of time.
- You may even be able to see the bugs up close.
Chinch Bug Test
It can be hard to spot chinch bugs on turf. But there is a method you can use to make detection easier:
The Chinch Bug Test.
Here’s how to do it:
- Find a metal cylinder or a tin can, like a coffee can, open on both ends.
- Press one end of the cylinder down into the soil of a damaged grass area where you suspect you may have chinch bug damage.
- Fill the can 3/4s of the way with water. Continue to add water bit by bit to maintain the water level for about 10 minutes.
- Stir the turf/water mix within the can. Chinch bugs present in that spot should float to the top.
- Count the number of chinch bugs you see. Generally, 15 or more chinch bugs per square foot indicate it’s time for professional treatment.
4. What Causes Chinch Bugs?
Chinch bugs don’t just emerge out of nowhere. They are the most common pests for St. Augustine grass, though they occasionally also feed on Zoysia.
During winter, chinch bugs hide in hedgerows and roadsides. They emerge to feed and breed in the late spring. Mature female chinch bugs lay eggs.
By summer, a female chinch bug will have laid about 200 eggs. The nymph chinch bugs hatch, growing and feeding on the sap of the grass blades, just like their parents, making grass turn brown.
The ideal conditions for chinch bugs to thrive is when there is excess nitrogen in the soil of the grass. Excess nitrogen can increase chinch bug infestations. Chinch bugs thrive on excess thatch as well.
To maintain healthy turf long-term, it’s important to maintain soil with good irrigation, appropriate fertilization, and proper mowing.
5. How Do Chinch Bugs Damage Your Lawn?
Chinch bugs can cause major damage to your lawn if not treated.
It can be difficult to distinguish drought damage from insect damage. The difference lies in that chinch bug damage is caused by a toxic enzyme released by the bugs, not by heat stress; therefore, the treatment approach will be different.
These bugs chew at the grass leaves and release a phytotoxic enzyme in their saliva. This enzyme helps the bugs eat and digest the grass, but is harmful to the grass itself. It damages the grass, making it brown and possibly causing it to die.
6. How Can I Control a Chinch Bug Infestation?
Here are some different steps and approaches you can take to get rid of the bugs and recover the health of your lawn:
- Identify chinch bugs. Are they causing problems for your St. Augustine grass?
- Remove excess thatch, replace fertilizer, and ensure watering is regular and sufficient.
- Hope the winter cold kills them off; however, some of them survive until the Spring and then are able to repopulate [and again, you’d be at the risk of completely damaged turf that will later have to be replaced.]
- Call a professional to nip the problem in the bud.
If you notice signs of chinch bug infestation in your yard, it’s best to contact a lawn care professional. They will help you get rid of chinch bugs, and help you keep a healthy lawn that will survive the fall and the winter. Taking care of the problem early will save you money down the line.
It’s easier and more economically sound to maintain what you already have than to have to start from scratch (which means removing your current sod because your turf is too damaged to be recovered, paying all over again for sod installation, just to have the same issues repeated over and over again when you could have just solved it by managing the infestation early on.)
Being proactive with lawn maintenance saves stress and money.
A lot of lawn maintenance actually comes down to being proactive in maintaining and caring for it. It saves you money and stress to do light, yet adequate routine maintenance.
Your lawn care specialist is able to prevent bug infestations and diseases, saving you money in “emergency” situations.
High Quality Landscape Services can provide a FREE INSPECTION, to determine whether your problem is due to a bug infestation or just general dryness.
In either case, we’ll handle the problem promptly. We have the knowledge and experience to help you get rid of pests, and to provide guidance on watering and lawn maintenance.
7. Professional tips for eliminating the infestation.
- Your lawn needs adequate fertilization and also weed control to fight off pests. A well-maintained lawn will be more resistant to trouble.
- These bugs love a thick thatch layer. Prevent or remove excess thatch. Good aeration helps grass resist pests.
- Big-eyed bugs are natural predators of chinch bugs and other pests. They are different from chinch bugs in that you can see their large protruding eyes and they do not have the white stripe or white wings chinch bugs have.
- Spray solutions with surfactants can enhance control of infestation in lawns with heavy thatch.
- Regularly topping the grass with a light layer of compost also helps to lessen pest issues in thatch areas.
- Try lowering or slowing the rate of nitrogen release in St. Augustine grass. Lower levels of nitrogen (2lbs per 1,000sqft.) make the grass less attractive to chinch bugs and can reduce the need for sprays and insecticides.
If you notice early signs of lawn damage, it’s not too late to get the problem solved. If you have St. Augustine grass with suspicious patches, don’t hesitate to call us for your free inspection.
High Quality Landscape Services can help you get rid of bugs and get your grass back in shape.
Want to Get Rid of Chinch Bugs?
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