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Fall armyworms destroying lawns from Illinois to Connecticut

September 7, 2021 -  By
Turf-loving fall armyworms are damaging turf from Illinois through Connecticut (Photo by: Lyle Buss, University of Florida).

Turf-loving fall armyworms hit turf from Illinois through Connecticut (Photo by: Lyle Buss, University of Florida).

A turf pest more associated with the Deep South and mid-Atlantic is ravaging lawns in the upper Midwest through the Northeast. Fall armyworms, likely carried by several summer storms, have wrecked turf damage from Illinois through Connecticut. Extension agents as far west as Iowa are warning residents of possible outbreaks.

“This year it is a monstrous outbreak,” said Curtis Young, Ph.D., an Ohio Extension educator and one of the authors of a report detailing the caterpillar’s damage throughout the state on the Ohio State University’s Buckeye Yard and Garden onLine news site.

Mark Conklin, owner of TeamTurf in Erie, Pa., is taking the outbreak personally.

“My own lawn got hit. It was one of the early ones,” Conklin said. “It was a new lawn, just this spring, and it looked rough. It’s coming back, but it’s not to where it was. There are some patches that aren’t coming back.”

Conklin added that in his 32 years of providing lawn care in Pennsylvania, he’d never encountered a fall armyworm and has been amazed at how quickly they’ve decimated lawns there.

Maddie Hester, office administrator for Grounds Services Inc. in Waterville, Ohio, near the Michigan and Indiana state lines, says the outbreak has been extreme in Ohio, especially along the Maumee River that runs through Toledo.

“We’re seeing it everywhere — not in Michigan so much, and we service a lot of homes up there — but definitely around Toledo and south,” Hester said.

Young says Ohio typically sees minor problems from the pest, but fall armyworms have been hitting more areas this year and causing far more damage.

“The whole state of Ohio seems to be experiencing a major outbreak of the fall armyworm, from south to north and east to west,” Young said.

Treatment and what’s next

TeamTurf has been treating lawns in Northeast Pennsylvania with bifenthrin and telling homeowners to keep damaged lawns watered and cool. Fall armyworms attack leaves, not roots. So, healthy lawns with deeply rooted grass should recover. Conklin says the extra damage at his house is likely due to the tender age of his grass.

Lawn care companies said they’ve been reaching out to customers to warn them about the problem, give them warning signs to watch for and encouraging them to contact them at the first sign of infestation.

“Most people are pretty understanding” about why their lawns are being attacked, Conklin said. “It’s everywhere, so they know it’s not one company that didn’t do something. We’re telling people to watch their neighbors’ lawns and contact us if they see it in the neighborhood.”

Young also recommends keeping surfaces cool where the caterpillars have damaged turf. Temperatures dropped significantly in September, which should protect healthy roots, and the first frost of the year will likely kill the remaining moths and larvae.

He blames a larger-than-normal outbreak in the South this year and an active storm season that brought many adult caterpillars north for the Midwestern and Northeastern outbreak.

As to preventative treatments, golf course operators in Pennsylvania said anti-grub treatments protected some courses, but chlorantraniliprole isn’t as common for use on residential lawns.

“We’re going to have to sit down at the end of the season and figure out next year,” Conklin said. “This may be a once-in-a-50-year thing, or it could be every year. We’re going to have to figure that out.”

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Robert Schoenberger

About the Author:

Robert Schoenberger is Landscape Management's senior editor. He holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from University of Houston. He has worked in magazines and newspapers since the late 1990s. Robert can be reached at rschoenberger@northcoastmedia.net.

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