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How to fight armyworms this fall

August 23, 2022 -  By
Typically found in the southern part of the U.S., fall armyworm made its way north and took some pros by surprise last year. (Photo: Steven Elder)

Typically found in the southern part of the U.S., fall armyworm made its way north and took some pros by surprise last year. (Photo: Steven Elder)

Fall armyworm outbreaks caught many professionals off guard last year. Whether storms blew adults farther north or other factors played a role in their widespread presence, fall armyworms affected lawn and pest control services across the country.

Weigh the pros and cons

Last year was an anomaly in regard to fall armyworms outbreaks for Patrick Beaman, owner of GrassMasters in Wilson, N.C. His company has $300,000 in annual revenue and provides lawn care services to about 90 percent residential and 10 percent commercial customers.

“Very rarely prior to that have I ever been in a situation where I left the shop and treated multiple clients for armyworms,” he says.

While it can be difficult to distinguish between armyworms and drought damage, Beaman says he looks for birds eating from the turf and moths and runs his hands through brown spots to verify an armyworm infestation.

“They could take out a lawn in two days if there were enough of them. By that time, there’s not a lot of recovery that can be made,” Beaman says. “That makes them hard to work with because you have to figure out if you do a preventive treatment — or if you wait and see.”

Being in the transition zone, Beaman incorporates a variety of products into his premium fescue program — including using Acelepryn (chlorantraniliprole) as a preventive treatment. The insecticide controls grubs and surface insects, which he says allows him to cover his bases on high-end accounts if a fall armyworm outbreak does occur again.

“Because of the price point, it’s not one you’d add in the tank every time,” Beaman says. “But, the peace of mind it gives you outweighs some of the cost.”

For his other properties, he says he will take more of a reactive approach. He plans to keep an insecticide in his truck for spot treatments, watch for signs of fall armyworms on properties and track if the pest is moving in his direction.

“Once you identify them, the treatment is fairly easy,” Beaman says. “But it might require multiple applications because you’ll get multiple generations before you can eradicate them.”

He also sends clients emails and makes social media posts about what to look for and if there have been nearby reports of fall armyworms. If the outbreaks become a multi-year problem, he says he will re-evaluate if he wants to make a change to his spray program.

Educate customers

GreenWorks Lawn Solutions in Warsaw, Ind., had its first experience with fall armyworms last year, catching the team by surprise. The company has $400,000 in annual revenue and provides lawn care, pest control, design/build, landscape maintenance, holiday light installation and snow removal services to about 95 percent residential clients.

Due to the company’s northern location, fall armyworms aren’t common, says Steven Elder, owner and general manager. It began with a call from a customer on a Friday in late August 2021. Crews discovered and treated the issue immediately — but it soon grew from there.

“By the next Friday, we had received upwards of 100 calls, texts and emails from people who had them in our area,” Elder says. “We stopped all production and went into full armyworm-treatment mode.”

While he thinks the surge of fall armyworms last year is a one-time occurrence, he says it could happen again if the conditions are right. Even if the pests do return, he says populations are easy to combat if taken care of quickly.

“Typically, we do not think about them, and preventing something that has only been here three times in 20 years is economically and environmentally wasteful,” Elder says.

Elder encourages other professionals to educate their customers who had properties affected in previous years. “Post on social media in late summer or early fall on how to check for them,” he says. “Have technicians checking for them in late August.”

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