European Crane Fly

European Crane Fly adults are hatching!

We are getting reports that the annual hatching of the European Crane Fly adults is going on in the lawns in Seattle, Washington area.  Although they are harmless, they can cause some panic among people not familiar with the mass hatching of these bugs that resemble giant mosquitoes.  This is especially true when thousands of them congregate on the side of a house.

European Crane Fly adult females mate and lay eggs in lawns within 24 hours after hatching and then die.  The eggs hatch into a worm-like larva often referred to as “leatherjackets.”  It is the larval stage that damage lawns from the late fall all the way into spring of the following year.  Their activity is influenced by the weather.  Generally, they remain underground during the day, but will surface to feed on grass plants on warm, moist nights.  Many consider them to be the “grub” of the Pacific Northwest, although they have been found causing damage throughout New York and other parts of the Northeast.

Having a large population of adults on your property does not necessarily mean that your lawn will be infested with leatherjackets as they do have many natural predators.  If you have had a problem with them in the past, it may be a good idea to take corrective measures to prevent lawn damage next year.

It’s Grub Time!

Grubs are the larval stage of a scarab beetle.  There are at least ten different species of beetles that produce grubs that damage lawns to varying degrees.  About a week ago, I saw the adults of the Masked Chafer, a common beetle in cool season turfgrass areas in the Midwest and Lower Midwest including the Chicago area.  They seem to be out a little earlier than normal this year.  The beetle that seems to cause the most damage is the Japanese beetle as the adults feed on many trees and flowering plants.  The female adult lays her eggs in turf areas, which hatch into lawn damaging grubs.  The Japanese beetle adults will start hatching soon and begin feeding.  In some southern areas, the adults may already be active.

The grubs act like mini sod cutters as they feed on the roots of the grass plant, starting in mid-July and lasting well into fall.  If rain is plentiful, the grass plants can often replace the roots that have been eaten and the damage may go unnoticed.  The bigger problem comes from skunks, raccoons, opossums and even birds that tear up a lawn looking for a tasty meal.  They damage caused by these animals and birds are often far worse than what the actual grub will cause.

The best defense is to apply a preventative grub control now, before the eggs hatch, to prevent them from becoming a problem.  The insect control material has to be watered in well to move it into the soil where the insect can come in contact with it.  If you have had problems with grubs in the past, now is the time to prevent damage later this year.

Billbug Grubs

Billbug Grubs are tiny legless larvae of adult weevils or snout beetles.  They are probably the most misdiagnosed lawn insect problem of cool-season turfgrass as the damage they cause mimics drought damage.  The larvae are most active from late spring through summer.

Adult Billbug females lay eggs in tiny slits they make in the stem tissue of grass plants.  The larvae hatch and begin feeding down through the stem.  Eventually, larvae reach the crown and roots, feeding on that area of the plant, which results in plant death.

Damaged turfgrass will look dried out and have small dead patches of grass. Individual dead grass plants can be easily pulled up and deposits of frass, or insect excrement, which resemble sawdust, will be seen at the base of the plant.  Unfortunately, by the time the damage is seen, it is too late to apply an insect control as they have finished feeding.  Watering and a fertilizer application will help the lawn recover, but serious infestations may require reseeding.

If you discover that your lawn has been damaged by Billbugs, plan on applying a preventative insect control in the spring of the year, before the eggs hatch.

Southern Chinch Bugs

Southern Chinch bugs are a primary insect pest on St. Augustine lawns. They can be found in states such as Alabama, Louisiana, Texas and South Carolina. This tiny insect pest, less than ¼ inch in length, is responsible for millions of dollars in damage to home lawns throughout the south where St. Augustine grows.  It is most active during the warm, humid periods of the year, but can be active even during the winter months, although at a much slower rate.  Once the weather begins to warm up, they will start feeding close to where they stopped the previous year.

Damage is usually seen is circular patches in the warmer parts of the lawn, along driveways or sidewalks.  They often feed in a group, sucking out the plant juices, leaving the plant withered and dead.  Once they are done with one plant, they move on to the next and so on.  When populations increase to high levels, the adults can be seen running across grass blades during the day.

Good cultural controls and proper fertilization are keys to controlling Southern Chinch bugs.  Water only when the plant begins to wilt – when the blades begin to roll up.  Deep, infrequent watering is the best method by supplying 1 inch of water every 7 to 10 days.  Mow at 1½ to 2 inches.  Supply no more than 1 to 2 pounds of nitrogen fertilization per year.  Annual core aeration is also a requirement to keep thatch levels down.  In severe cases, the use of an insect control product may be necessary and may require more than one or two applications to achieve complete control.

The Dangers Of Fire Ants

If you live in the south or southeast of the United States, you have probably read about or seen Red Imported Fire Ants.  Since first being brought to the US as a freeloader on shipping containers arriving from South America in the early 20th century, this aggressive and highly adaptable pest has terrorized homeowners, hikers, picnickers and just about anyone else that unsuspectingly disturbs one of their nests.

Although human deaths are rare, the painful bites and venomous stings of the Red Imported Fire Ant can endanger the lives of children and smaller pets if attacked by a large population.  The bites and stings leave painful, burning wounds that can become infected if not treated.  Severe reactions can include blisters, vomiting and nausea.  With these types of severe reactions, it may be necessary to be treated by a doctor.

If you are stung, treat it as you would any wound.  Thoroughly clean the wound to avoid infection from dirt that may enter the wound.  A cold compress may help lessen the pain.  Remove the compress after a few minutes to provide some relief from the cold.  Be sure to seek medical help if signs of an allergic reaction are seen.

Treating for fire ants often means hiring qualified companies who know how to apply the proper materials at the right time and place to ensure good control.  It may take three or four years for a colony to reach a population level where the ant mounds are noticeable.  Proactively treating for them will help ensure Red Imported Fire Ants do not become a problem in your lawn or landscape.

European Sawfly

What is eating the needles off my Mugho Pine?

What you are probably seeing on your pine trees are the larvae stage of European Sawfly. The eggs hatch into caterpillars in late April and feed on the previous year’s needles. Doing a search on Pine Sawfly will provide numerous pictures to verify the diagnosis.

If you go out now, you may be able to see the small eggs on the needles. They are oval shaped and are usually laid in a row of five or six eggs along the length of the needle. Control can be achieved before the larvae become active by spraying the tree with a dormant oil treatment. This product can be purchased at most hardware stores or garden centers. The one caution is that you want to spray before the eggs hatch and the spray should be applied when the air temperature is above freezing.

Once they hatch, most commercially available insect control products will control sawfly larvae. Read the label to make sure sawfly is listed under the section of pests that are controlled by the product.

Pine Needles on Evergreens

Where did all the needles on my pine tree go?

One of the first insects seen in the spring is the larvae of the European Pine Sawfly. The larvae look like caterpillars, but are actually the larvae of a wasp-like insect. They can be found feeding on the older needles of mugho pines, although will feed on several other species of pine trees. The current year’s growth are rarely touched, but severe infestations can leave a “bottle-brush” appearance to the shrub or tree once all the old needles are eaten.

Pine Sawfly have an unusual trait. They are often seen feeding in a large group on a single branch with two or three feeding on the same needle. If you wave your hand over the branch, the larvae will all rear-up simultaneously, as a defense mechanism to scare away predators.

Controlling sawfly is fairly easy with any commercially available insect control product that lists sawfly on the insects controlled part of the label. If the population isn’t too large, you can hold a bucket filled with soapy water under the branch and strike the branch to knock them off. If you just knock them on the ground without collecting them, they will just crawl back onto the shrub or tree and continue feeding. Dormant oil applications can also be used to control the very young larvae.