Photo of White Grub
National Geographic, Courtesy of Getty Images
A beautiful lawn that is as easy on the eyes and barefeet as it is on the environment is a matter of planning and follow-through.
Combining the right mix of grass species with the gardener's continued efforts to promote soil fertility (without synthetic chemicals) and build organic matter will result in an attractive lawn, worthy of public display a la the White House North Lawn or conversely, a private backyard space complete with hammock and frosty lemonade.
The Green, Green Grass of Home
Check with local garden centers, your neighbor whose organic lawn you admire, or county extension agents for a grass species that grows well in your local weather conditions AND has been bred to be disease and insect resistant. However, as we all know, sometimes even the best laid plans can go awry, so the following list may help to identify common pests and their associated lawn damages and to explain how to control the infestation using organic methods.
During cool, wet periods, these black-crowned, greenish-brown caterpillars(larvae) with white racing stripes will chew grass down to the soil level, leaving bare or ragged lawn areas. Control by spraying the feeding larvae with parasitic nematodes or Bacillus thuringiensis, variety Kurstaki(BTK).
During dry periods, chinch bugs, both adults and larvae, may invade the lawn, causing general yellowing and bare patches. Adults have white folded wings and are about 1/4" long with a black triangular patch on their dark backs. Larvae are tiny, bright red and have a white stripe on their backs. Your nose will help identify these noxious marauders too because they smell bad when crushed or just when they are feeding en masse in a severely infested area. As chinch bugs do not tolerate moist conditions, wetting the lawn deeply and keeping it moist for 3-4 weeks should send them packing or small lawn areas can be doused with a solution of 1 ounce liquid, biodegradable soap mixed with 2 gallons of water. The escaping insects can be snared by laying a flannel sheet over the treated area and the sheet "trap" soaked in a bucket of soapy water later to kill the pests. NOTE: Rinse the lawn well after the treatment to remove the soapy water so that it will not continue to affect beneficial insects and native predators such as pirate bugs, lacewings, and lady beetles.
These fat, white, C-shaped larvae of various beetle species chew on the grass roots and cause it to appear burned. Control of these grubs can be as simple as wearing spiked garden sandals or golf shoes whenever maintaining the lawn or by applying milky disease spores or predatory nematodes.
Part 2 of this installment will examine even more lawn pests, their identification and control.