It can be frustrating when you have put effort into your lawn to get it lush, green and weed free to watch it all of a sudden start to brown or get lumpy. You most likely have some type of pest, insect or animal who has taken up residence. The first step in sending the pest on its way and reclaiming your lawn is to determine what the pest is. Then you will know how to combat the particular pest instead of simply trying product after product hoping something will work.
Here are the common culprits and how to rid your lawn of each:
Armyworms are actually a type of caterpillar. They feed on leaves including grass, hay, and tree leaves. There are many insecticides on the market to combat armyworms, but before turning to any chemical reducing thatch and over-seeding your lawn may be sufficient. When thatching and over-seeding are not sufficient, then a product such as Ortho Bug-Geta Plus Snail, Slug & Insect Killer will quickly take care of the problem. For an organic solution, Steinernema carpocapsae, an insect – attacking nematodes, can be very effective as reported by University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources.
Fire Ants love open sunny areas such as lawns and gardens. Fire ants live in colonies consisting of mounds with many underground tunnels. If you happen to disturb a fire ant colony by unsuspectingly stepping on a mound, the ants will swarm out and attack. Their sting is very painful and getting the ants off of your body can be difficult. This happened to my elderly mother while she was pulling weeds. Products like Bayer Fire Ant Killer Dust are very effective, work quickly and easy to apply.
Ants do not eat grass or damage your lawn directly, it is their tunneling into the ground which can cause damage. Push-in ant bait stakes work quickly and stay where you place them. Locate the anthill and push a stake into the ground near by. The worker ants visit and carry the bait back to the nest. Look for Raid Outdoor Ant Spikes or Spectracide Ant Stakes.
White grubs are the larvae of a variety of beetles, commonly referred to as May Beetles or June Beetles, depending on the typical time-frame they are seen each year. In Wisconsin and Minnesota, we refer to these as June Bugs since they tend to appear each year in early June. The adult beetles lay their eggs in the soil in July and August. The larvae, or grubs, hatch shortly afterwards and live in the soil for up to 3 years according to Agricultural Extension Service of The University of Tennessee. The grubs eat the roots of the grass, killing the grass as they march across your lawn. There are numerous commercial insecticides for the treatment of white grubs. If you would rather use an organic approach, Heterorhabditis bacteriophora is an effective option, as noted by the University of Illinois Extension.
Moles, Voles, and Gophers
Moles, Voles, and Gophers can be very destructive as well as difficult to get rid of. Several years ago we had a pocket gopher take up residence in our yard and raised flower bed. It took me a while to figure out what the culprit was. All I knew was that my newly planted annuals were disappearing. I thought possibly a deer or rabbit was munching on the above ground parts of the plants, but could not find anything left of the plants whatsoever in the ground. Then one early morning as I was looking out at the raised flower bed, trying to figure out what to do, I saw one of my newly planted annuals quickly drop half-way down into the ground. Stunned, I stood there in disbelief. All of a sudden the plant was gone. It had been pulled underground by something! Then a second plant went under and a third. It did not take much time to confirm that I had a mole, vole, or gopher to deal with.
All three of these pests can be trapped and relocated, though this can be time consuming depending on how many are in your area. There are poisonous baits available which are quite effective and work well to control large areas. Use caution using poisonous bait if you have a dog or a cat which goes outdoors, as most mole, vole, and gopher baits are also poisonous to cats and dogs.
For moles and gophers, a third option is a sonic device, either battery or solar powered. These sonic devices are long tubular spikes pushed into the ground. These work without poison by emitting sonic pulses to drive the moles and gophers out of the area.
And last, there are repellents, such as Sweeney’s Mole and Gopher Liquid Repellent. What is nice about the liquid repellent is that it is not poisonous and is very easy to apply. The repellent is 100% Castor Oil, in a spray bottle which attaches to a standard garden hose. It is safe to use around pets, not toxic to humans, and does not have an offensive odor. It drives moles and gophers away since they do not like the odor. I did end up applying the repellent twice, as the gopher did not leave after the first application. The second time I applied more than the instructions called for, basically saturating the area. It worked very quickly and seemed to have a lingering effect for several more years, as two bordering yards had active gopher problems the following years but we did not.
Frank A. Hale, Associate Professor Entomology amp; Plant Pathology, “Lawn Insects: How to Control Them”, Agricultural Extension Service of The University of Tennessee
Bruce Spangenberg, “White Grub Problems in Turf”, University of Illinois Extension
University of California, “How to Manage Pests, Pests in Gardens and Landscapes”, Agriculture and Natural Resources, University of California