Chinch bugs be gone

Chinch bug damage (Photo: Green Lawn Fertilizing)
Chinch bug damage (Photo: Green Lawn Fertilizing)
Chinch bug damage (Photo: Green Lawn Fertilizing)
What to look for Chinch bugs feed outward into healthy grass and can kill turf very quickly. (Photo: Green Lawn Fertilizing)

Chinch bug damage is easy to spot by a color Steven Murray calls “chinch bug orange.”

“It’s a very unique color that the pest creates in the turf grass when it’s dying,” says the Jacksonville, Fla., lawn service manager for McCall Service. “We’ve trained our technicians to identify that and identify thin areas. With chinch bugs, they’re killing the grass in a very fast manner.”

The company has nine branches across the Southeast and provides pest control, irrigation and lawn services to a 70 percent residential, 30 percent commercial clientele.

Communication is key

Spotting and controlling chinch bugs comes down to communication — to clients and to technicians, according to Ryan Petitti, director of technical and quality assurance at Westchester, Pa.-based Green Lawn Fertilizing, which provides lawn care, ornamental and pest services to a mostly residential clientele.

“We train our technicians to be watchful July through August,” he says. “While they’re out visiting customers’ properties, we want them to look for areas that appear to be drought stressed because, all too often, chinch bugs are misdiagnosed as drought stress. We look at the environment. Is the area in direct sun? Is there a lot of thatch? Anything over half an inch of thatch, you have a higher likelihood that it’s chinch bugs.”

He adds that the company coaches its technicians to get down close to the ground to check the border between the stressed turf and the healthy grass because chinch bugs are feeding outward into the healthy grass.

“You’re talking one-fifth of an inch, so (chinch bugs are) very tiny, and you have to get close to see the pattern on the back and the bright white wings, and with the adults, there’s a contrast there as you’re close to the ground looking,” he says.

McCall Service sends out mass communication to its clients, letting them know it’s chinch bug season. They include photos of damage to look for.

“We constantly remind customers, if they see something before we do, don’t hesitate to call us. Don’t wait,” he says. “We’d rather get out there and find it’s nothing than to wait three, four, five, eight weeks and find out it’s something major.”

Petitti says it’s also important to relay to customers what they can do to limit stress in their lawn.

“It’s things like watering practices and mowing,” he says. “We are always trying to coach our customers on proper mowing, mowing at a 3- to 4-inch height, not removing more than a third of the grass blade. These are all things that encourage a healthy grass plant, and if there is insect pressure, the grass has a better ability to bounce back from that pressure.”

McCall Service takes it a step further by letting clients know the company also provides irrigation services when they educate them about proper watering techniques.

Control factors

Green Lawn Fertilizing takes a preventive approach to knocking out chinch bugs early.

In mid- to late April, once temperatures hit 50 degrees F or warmer, and the adults emerge from overwintering to lay eggs, the company applies an insecticide with a pyrethroid chemical class, which usually provides a 25-day residual, Petitti says. Five to six weeks later, the company will put down another application.

McCall Service begins the season using insecticides with the active ingredients bifenthrin and imidacloprid or bifenthrin and clothianidin. The company offers a 12-application program and a six-application program.

As with many other pests and diseases, rotating modes of action is important, Murray says.

“If you are not constantly rotating your modes of action throughout not only your growing season but year over year, then you are breeding resistance,” he says. “Chinch bugs gain resistance very, very quickly. So, some of the older chemistries are fully resistant. You can spray them on them, the insect will keep on trucking.”

Sarah Webb

Sarah Webb

Sarah Webb is Landscape Management's former managing editor. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Wittenberg University, where she studied journalism and Spanish. Prior to her role at LM, Sarah was an intern for Cleveland Magazine and a writing tutor.

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