Keeping backyard bugs at bay is no easy task, especially in Jacksonville’s warm climate. Identifying the pest (or pests) in your yard is the first step in solving the problem and saving your lawn. Here are some of the worst pests you’ll find in your Jacksonville landscape.
These camo-colored insects (pictured above) are actually caterpillars, not worms. They attack in large groups like an invading army, doing the most damage in larval and caterpillar form. Females lay hundreds of eggs on lower leaves of grasses and shrubs. As soon as the larvae hatch, they start chomping on your green blades of grass. This damage shows up as brown patches in your lawn. Armyworms are most active in north Florida closer to fall, but they can cause problems from April through December. Adding to the annoyance, the reproductive cycle can repeat several times a season. As adults, they become large grayish-brown moths with two-inch wingspans. These moths can travel long distances.
Southern Chinch Bugs
If you’ve got St. Augustine grass, you need to be on the lookout for small but destructive southern chinch bugs. They’ll feed on other types of grass, but St. Augustine is their favorite. University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) calls the southern chinch bug the most damaging turfgrass insect in Florida. Newly hatched nymphs are orangish-red. Adults have black bodies with white overlapping wings. They’re active from early June through late summer. These bugs use their mouths to pierce grass stems and suck fluid from the grass. They also inject a toxin that turns the grass yellow, before it kills the turf. If you’ve got dead patches of grass, you may have an infestation and need professional help.
These nasty brownish-gray bugs get their name from their mole-like front claws. They use these claws to burrow underground. This digging damages grass roots and seeds by pushing soil to the surface. Mole crickets also feed on the grass, causing even more damage. You may notice brown patches or small mounds of soil in your lawn. Mole crickets can be hard to spot because they spend the day underground and surface at night.
This is another lawn caterpillar that will munch on warm-season turfgrasses. This continues as they mature into adulthood, which takes up to 12 weeks. In earlier stages, larvae feed on the upper part of the grass blades. In later stages, they’ll eat the entire grass blade. The damage they leave behind shows up at first as ragged or thinning grass. It doesn’t take long before you see large brown patches in the grass. Sod webworms are also nocturnal and feed at night. They’re most active from April through November.
White grubs are the larval form of scarab beetles. They live beneath the surface of your turf and feed on the roots. If you’ve got an infestation, your turf will be spongy with brown spots that don’t recover after watering. In severe cases, you can pull up your turf like a carpet. This is because the root system is gone. You may see more birds than usual on your lawn, feeding on the grubs. You could also find evidence that raccoons and skunks have tried to do the same.
If you’ve got pests in your lawn, Duval County extension agent Larry Figart has some advice. He says scout your landscape before you spray. “Don’t spray pesticides until you’ve seen a pest and identified it. You may end up killing beneficial insects instead.”
Figart is urban forestry extension agent for UF/IFAS (University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences) Extension Duval County. He also encourages homeowners to consider a more balanced tolerance for pests, especially given the environmental hazards of chemical pesticides.
“Maybe it’s not complete eradication but prevention and a tolerance for some amount of the pest. For example, like with aphids, waiting until there are enough of them to cause problems, instead of acting when you see a single aphid.”
Maintaining a healthy landscape will go a long way toward pest prevention. Pests are less likely to attack a thick lawn with strong, healthy roots. Cutting your lawn too short will stress and weaken the blades, making it easier for pests to attack. Water properly and avoid using too much fertilizer.
Landscape pests are looking for lawns and landscapes to attack and destroy. Go on offense with good defense and keep the critters on this list off your lawn.