If patches of brown and dead grass are forming in your yard, you might suspect drought stress or a lawn disease before a pest problem. If you’re seeing an unusual amount of insects afoot, however, those classic symptoms could be a sign of a chinch bug infestation. We’ll explain what chinch bugs are and how to get rid of them.
What Are Chinch Bugs?
Chinch bugs are a common lawn pest that feeds on turf, causing irregular patches of yellow grass to spread throughout the yard and turn brown. They are one of the oldest known lawn and agricultural pests in North America, with the first records of chinch bug damage dating back to 1780.
Many species of chinch bugs exist in the US, including these main varieties:
- The common chinch bug, found from South Dakota to Virginia and southward to mid-Texas and Georgia
- The hairy chinch bug, found in northeastern states and through southern Canada
- The southern chinch bug, found in the Gulf Coast and southern Texas
How Do Chinch Bugs Damage Your Lawn?
While feeding, they secrete anticoagulants into the grass, blocking water and plant food from the roots. As damage expands, turfgrass will eventually die regardless of irrigation.
How to Identify a Chinch Bug Infestation
Chinch bug damage often resembles drought stress or lawn diseases such as dollar spot and brown patch. If you suspect chinch bugs, check your yard, driveway, and nearby buildings for crawling or dead bugs.
Here’s what chinch bugs look like: Adult chinch bugs typically have a black body and white front wings, while adolescent nymphs may be orange, red, or black with a white stripe.
Perform the coffee can test to identify a chinch bug infestation. Follow these steps:
- Remove both ends of a tin can (such as a coffee can).
- Insert one end 2 or 3 inches into the turf.
- Fill the can with water from a hose. If chinch bugs are present, they should float to the top right away.
When is Peak Chinch Bug Season?
Adult chinch bugs generally start their mating season when temperatures are consistently above 70 degrees Fahrenheit, from mid-April into June. Lawn damage is most visible from June to August when the first generation of offspring mature and reproduce before taking shelter to overwinter once temperatures cool.
How to Get Rid of Chinch Bugs
Chinch bugs can be difficult to get rid of. Why? Because chemical treatments can affect beneficial insects that prey on them and natural methods can be inconsistent. The best way to weather a chinch bug infestation is to make sure your lawn is healthy enough to recover from it easily.
If your yard is facing severe damage, though, these treatment methods can help.
Proper Lawn Care
A healthy lawn can reduce the risk of a chinch bug infestation and help it bounce back easier if they should arrive. Follow these practices:
- Dethatching and aeration to keep chinch bugs from taking shelter for the winter in your thatch layer
- Mow regularly to reduce thatch buildup.
- Use resistant turfgrasses: In your cool-season yard, consider endophyte-enhanced perennial ryegrasses, fine fescues, and tall fescues. In warm-season lawns, centipedegrass is the most resistant against the southern chinch bug.
- Allow summer dormancy for your turf in hot and dry weather to encourage the growth of Beauveria bassiana (see the next section for more information).
- Water regularly and deeply to keep your grass healthy and discourage infestation.
Chemical and Pesticide Methods
When chinch bugs cause obvious damage to your yard, an insecticide application may offer some control. Be careful when spraying and keep application to affected areas, as pesticides can also kill natural predators like spiders and big-eyed bugs that keep chinch bugs in check.
The best pesticides to control chinch bugs are carbaryl or pyrethroid pesticides, including these:
If you don’t want to use chemical treatments on your lawn, you might prefer natural methods. The following natural methods of controlling chinch bugs may offer some relief; however, keep in mind that research into biocontrol against chinch bugs has shown inconsistent results.
While it may sound counterintuitive to introduce a fungi to your yard, Beauveria bassiana only affects insects, including chinch bugs. While not consistently effective, commercial strains of this biopesticide are available for lawn treatment.
Although results are inconsistent, applying populations of beneficial nematodes might provide some control over a chinch bug problem. Beneficial species available commercially include Steinernema carpocapsae, S. feltiae, S. glaseri, Heterorhabditisheliothidis and H bacteriophora.
How to Prevent Chinch Bugs
Avoiding a chinch bug infestation starts with a good lawn care routine. These practices will keep your yard inhospitable to chinch bugs and make sure it can bounce back if they do show up.
- Apply preventative insecticides in April or early May for areas where chinch bugs have been a regular problem. Consider whether this is right for you, as insecticides can affect natural chinch bug predators as well.
- Be selective with fertilizers, as excessive application can encourage both thatch and chinch bugs
FAQ About Chinch Bugs
If you’re seeing irregular patches of dead grass and a lot of bugs, you may be dealing with chinch bugs.
Carbaryl or pyrethroid pesticides are best to treat chinch bugs, such as bifenthrin, cyfluthrin, lambda-cyhalothrin, or permethrin. Beauveria bassiana and beneficial nematodes may also provide some relief.
Grass will grow back after chinch bugs if the infestation is not severe and if the turf was healthy beforehand.
Don’t Bug Out – Call a Pro for Help!
Chinch bugs can pose a serious threat to your yard, but our LawnStarter lawn care pros are available to help. An expert eye can help you tackle this difficult pest with low stress, whether you’re dealing with an infestation or looking to prevent one in the first place. Pest control pros are also on hand if you’re dealing with a more serious case.
Main Image Credit: Sarefo / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.0