Chinch Bugs Turf

Chinch Bugs: What Are They and How to Get Rid of Them

Practices that promote healthy lawns help to reduce the occurrence of this problematic turf pest. Here’s how to get rid of chinch bugs FAST using natural and organic treatments.

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If your lawn is looking dead or droughted after watering, you might have a chinch bug infestation. There is no need to worry, though! In this article, we will discuss everything you need to know about these pesky buggers, ranging from what exactly a chinch bug is and how to spot them in your yard to how to kill chinch bugs and keep them gone forever.

What are Chinch Bugs?

Chinch bugs are small, pesky bugs that commonly feast on zoysia grasses and St. Augustine lawns across the United States.

A full-grown Chinch body is less than ¼-inch long and has a dark red to black body, white wings, and a white dot on its back. Nymphs are easily recognized by their bright red color and white band across their abdomen.

Both adults and nymphs produce a strong odor that often gives them away, especially when pest numbers are high or they are crushed underfoot.

You will typically find Chinch bugs on lawns at a rate of fewer than 10-15 bugs per square foot of lawn; however, it is vital that you do not underestimate these small bodies.

The right conditions (extreme heat and drought) can cause the population to multiply to over 100 bugs per square foot of lawn.

Evidently, these bugs can do extreme damage to your lawn if left untreated. Each bug punctures the grass with their needle-like beaks and then suck the fluids out.

As a result of their feeding, large irregular patches of lawn begin to turn yellow then brown as they die. These patches often begin on the edges of lawns and will continue to get larger–even when properly watered.

chinch bug

Chinch Bug Life Cycle

Adult chinch bugs overwinter in dry grasses and other debris that offer them protection. Therefore, damage occurs most frequently during hot, dry weather from June through September. There are usually 2 overlapping generations each year.

In spring or early summer, the insects mate and females start to deposit eggs on the leaves and stems of grass.

One female can lay as many as 500 eggs. These eggs hatch in 1-3 weeks into nymphs, which feed voraciously and pass through 5 instars before becoming adults.

What are the Different Types of Chinch Bugs?

Although there are over 20 Blissus species native to North America, only four have been identified as turfgrass pests. These are:

  1. The Common Chinch Bug (Blissus Leucopterus Leucopterus Say)
  2. The Hairy Chinch Bug (Blissus Leucopterus Hirtus Montandon),
  3. The Southern Chinch Bug (Blissus Insularis Barber), and
  4. The Western Chinch Bug (Blissus Occiduus Barber).

Where Can Chinch Bugs Be Found in the US?

In North America, there are several chinch bugs that prey on turfgrasses. The most common pest of northern turfgrasses is the hairy chinch bug, but the common chinch bug can also be found.

The Common Chinch Bug may be found from South Dakota to Virginia and south to a line ranging from mid-Texas to mid-Georgia.

The Hairy Chinch Bug shares some of the common chinch bug’s northern habitat, but it also inhabits parts of the Northeastern United States and Southern Canada.

The Southern Chinch Bug and Western Chinch Bug are native to the Southern and Western regions of the US, as their names imply.

What Types of Turfgrass Do Chinch Bugs Prefer?

The Hairy Chinch Bug prefers turfgrass species such as Kentucky bluegrass, fescues, perennial ryegrass, bent grass, and zoysia grass.

On the other hand, the Common Chinch Bug likes to feed on grain crops like sorghum, corn, and wheat, but it will also target turfgrasses including Bermudagrass, fescues, Kentucky bluegrass, perennial ryegrass, zoysia grass, and crab grass.

The Southern Chinch Bug is the most damaging insect pest of St. Augustine grass (buffalo grass), but it also attacks Bermuda grass, centipede grass, and zoysia grass.

Where Can They Be Found in Your Lawn?

Cinch bugs can be found almost anywhere in a lawn where there’s an infestation. They live within the thatch layer, which is the layer between the grass and the soil.

Although they’re almost everywhere, they’re more likely to be found in hot and dry locations in the lawn, such as along the sidewalks and driveways.

 

How to Tell if Your Lawn Has Chinch Bugs?

The good news is that it is possible to seek and find chinch bugs if they decide to feast on your yard. The not-so-good news is that this task can be difficult due to the small size of the insect.

Because of this, it is best practice to examine your lawn as soon as you notice dry patches.

There are a few ways you can tell if your lawn has cinch bugs. The first way we recommend is by simply using a magnifying glass and your bare hands.

Since these little bugs do no harm to humans, there is no need to worry about getting bit. You can find these pesky insects best by spreading the grass near the soil on the outer edges of your lawn and searching the thatch layer.

You may also examine the surface of the soil and the undersides of grass stolons, which are root systems that extend above the ground.

The other way is to use a coffee can. Here’s what you’ll need to do:

  1. Cut the bottom and top lids off a coffee can.
  2. Push the can into the ground using a twisting motion.
  3. Fill the can with water.
  4. Wait for approximately 10 minutes.
  5. See if any chinch bugs float to the surface.

 

How Do Chinch Bugs Damage Lawns?

Chinch bugs destroy your lawn by first sticking their razor-sharp beaks into a blade of grass and sucking out its natural fluids, causing the plant to become dehydrated and die.

But that’s still not the biggest problem. If it were the only harm they caused, then the amount of damage that they are responsible for would be far less severe. The issue is that while they are eating your grass, they are also poisoning it.

The toxin prevents the grass from absorbing water from then on out so it’s not only actively dehydrated now, but it doesn’t have any way of absorbing water either which makes it entirely die.

When Do Chinch Bugs Usually Appear?

Chinch bugs overwinter in the thatch of your grass and emerge in the warm springtime. Because chinch bugs prefer the heat, their populations will be quite active by late spring or early summer.

The second batch of chinch bugs for the year will hatch in the late summer after the adult females have set their eggs around mid-summer.

People may find it challenging to pinpoint chinch bugs as the source of their dead lawn patches since harm from these insects occurs when temperatures increase and stressed, cool-season grasses go dormant.

 

Signs of a Chinch Bug Infestation:

  • Dry patches in grass.
  • Grass is not growing even if you dry it.
  • You will be able to see the insects if you spread the grass apart towards the edge of your lawn

 

What Does Chinch Bug Damage Look Like?

It is not uncommon to confuse a chinch bug infestation with water drought issues. Since chinch bugs literally suck the water out of the grass, these issues can be very similar.

And so, irregular patches of lawn that resemble drought stress are signs of having a chinch bug infestation. These patches will start turning yellow, then brown and ultimately the grass there will die.

You’ll notice that the dead grass will be surrounded by yellow grass with stunted growth. Simultaneously, weed will begin filling in the dead patches.

Look for off-color areas, especially in direct sun, and along sidewalks and driveways.

Another key indicator is that if you water your lawn habitually or increase watering and still don’t notice any improvement, then it’s most likely a case of chinch bug infestation.

Another key difference between these two lawn issues is that drought causes consistent damage across your lawn. On the other hand, chinch bugs will eat your grass in patches.

If you are still not 100% sure about the cause of your lawn damage, you can conduct the float test we mentioned above.

How to Get Rid of Chinch Bugs

Once you spot red and black chinch bugs, you will immediately want to get started on removing them.

Use Broad-Spectrum Pesticides

There are many liquid and granular insecticides that can be used to get rid of chinch bugs.

Granular insecticides can be sprayed using a conventional fertilizer spreader and lightly watered to activate the insecticide.

Typically, liquid sprays are administered with a hose-end sprayer capable of spraying 15 to 20 gallons of water per one thousand square feet.

Spray back and forth across the same area to achieve uniform coverage. Watering the grass before application can assist the pesticide penetrate the turf, however watering after application of liquid insecticides is not recommended.

Keep in mind that pesticides will kill chinch bugs but not their eggs, so certain chemicals need to be applied twice. The first time is to kill any bugs that are already present and once more, a few weeks later, to kill those that have emerged from eggs laid before the first application.

Other substances deliver protection that is time-released and lasts in the grass for up to three months. These substances destroy any pests present right away as well as any chinch bugs that later hatch.

Products containing carbaryl or any of the pyrethroid insecticides, such as bifenthrin, cyfluthrin, lambda-cyhalothrin, or permethrin, are effective for controlling chinch bugs.

Do Spot Treatments for Isolated Areas

When chinch bugs are confined to isolated sections of a lawn, apply spot treatments. Treat the discolored turf as well as any infected areas nearby.

For at least two weeks, check the area every three to five days to see if the infestation is under control.

Spot treatments aid in the prevention of environmental contamination. They also keep pesticides from harming insects that are good for your lawn.

Try Organic Insecticides Instead

Organic remedies for lawns and gardens are safe, proven, and effective. We have researched several products that help deal with chinch bugs organically, and these are listed below:

  1. Spot treat small infestations with Safer Soap. Approved for organic use, it penetrates the protective outer shell of insect pests and causes dehydration and death within hours.
  2. Broadcast EcoSMART Insect Killer Granulesover lawns and landscapes to eliminate or repel all kinds of troublesome pests.
  3. BotaniGard ESis a highly effective biological insecticide containing Beauveria bassiana, an entomopathogenic fungus that attacks a long-list of troublesome crop pests—even resistant strains! Weekly applications can prevent insect population explosions and provide protection equal to or better than conventional chemical pesticides.
  4. Least-toxic botanical insecticidesshould be used as a last resort. Derived from plants which have insecticidal properties, these natural pesticides have fewer harmful side effects than synthetic chemicals and break down more quickly in the environment.

 

How to Prevent Further Chinch Bug Infestations

Once you have eliminated a chinch bug infestation, you want to prevent further invasions of the pesky critters. Here are a few preventative activities that you can do to prevent future infestations:

Don’t Remove More than One-Third of the Grass Blade when Mowing

Mow lawns at the recommended maximum height. Try not to remove more than one-third of the leaf surface in any one mowing.

Cutting more than one-third of the grass blade strains the lawn, which weakens it and makes it more vulnerable to subsequent infestations.

Keep Thatch Layer to a Minimum

Managing this pest begins with good lawn maintenance. In order to limit chinch bug populations, it is important to keep thatch to a minimum. This will also make other control methods more effective.

Thatch is the layer of dead grass between the green tops of the grass and the soil below. It offers chinch bugs a safe haven and chemically binds with many pesticides, decreasing the effectiveness of such measures.

Don’t Over Water or Under Water Your Lawns

Chinch bug infestations can also result from either too little or too much water.

Chinch bugs favor hot, dry conditions. Dry weather makes it easier for chinch bug nymphs and eggs to live because reduces the instances of disease within their populations.

Additionally, lawns under drought stress are more vulnerable to damage by chinch bugs. By watering adequately, we help avoid both these situations.

In contrast, excessive watering results in saturated, oxygen-depleted soils that cannot support the microorganisms required for thatch decomposition.

Avoid Using Fertilizers Excessively

Apply the right amount of fertilizer. Excessive fertilizer use also promotes the growth of thatch and makes grass more appealing to chinch bugs as a food source.

So use a slow-release formula during the summers, or use small amounts of fertilizer when needed.

You can improve soil conditions by top-dressing with organic matter such as compost or well-aged animal manure.

Use Commercially Available Beneficial Insects

Commercially available Beneficial insects, such as ladybugs and lacewings, will feed on a large number of these pests. This serves to not only control their population, but creating an environment they’ll try and avoid.

Try Using Diatomaceous Earth

Apply organic Diatomaceous Earth for long-lasting protection. Made up of tiny fossilized aquatic organisms, DE kills by scoring an insect’s outer layer as it crawls over the fine powder. What’s best is that it contains NO toxic poisons!

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