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How to Combat Lawn-Destroying Insects

June 9, 2021

By Victor Wang

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Maintaining a beautiful lawn in Phoenix’s desert climate presents challenges. Lawns need more water, and the hot, dry air causes lawn pests to behave differently than they might in other parts of the country. Those nasty bugs and grubs that can turn a lovely lawn brown and splotchy have more time to breed in Arizona.

A lawn-destroying insect in the Midwest or the East typically reproduces just once a season. But the range of temperatures created by the combination of both high and low deserts means lawn-destroying insects will breed all summer long. Phoenix also has the dubious distinction of being home to unique strains of lawn wreckers. To make matters worse, all those generations of pests invite secondary disrupters. We’re talking about raccoons, skunks, moles, and other vertebrates in search of insect dinners.

Lawn-Eating Insects to Watch For

● Aphids – Attack grass blades and plant leaves.

● Billbugs – These pests will hollow out the grass stems and munch on the roots.

● Fire ants – The colonies of these invasive biting ants can grow up to 1½ feet tall. These stinging and biting insects leave mounds in your turf and make your lawn difficult to walk on.

● Caterpillars – These include armyworms and cutworms that hide during the day and come out at night to chew up the grass.

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● Grubs – They attack the roots of your lawn, making your grass as easy to pull up as carpeting. They grow into Japanese and chafer beetles, which will eat the grass blades.

● Colorado potato beetles – Both the adult and larvae can destroy your lawn and garden in no time. The females can lay up to 25 eggs at a time.

Keep in mind, some bugs are beneficial. Ladybugs feed on aphids and ground beetles will devour those slugs, snails, and maggots.

Lawns in Phoenix require warm weather grass types suited to the climate. Midiron, a type of Bermuda grass, can withstand the heat and stay green all year without reseeding. But it also tend to attract pests year-round. Cool-weather overseeding varieties such as rye also attract the bugs that bug us.

What to do? The experts at the University of Arizona extension service recommend integrated pest management. It’s a multi pronged approach that includes biological, chemical and cultural controls.

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Biological controls make use of both naturally occurring and introduced predators and parasites. These can include predaceous insects, insect-specific diseases, nematodes, and in some cases, birds.

Chemical controls include the judicious use of appropriate insecticides along with biological and cultural practices. Insecticide use can be tricky, and not just for environmental reasons. You don’t want to kill the beneficial insects, so you have to know what you’re doing. The long local breeding season makes timing critical. What may work in early summer may not work in September.  And for some pests, a Spring application will make no difference at all.

Cultural control begins with the basics of good lawn management. Maintain a healthy lawn by mowing to the height appropriate for your type of grass. Keep mower blades sharp and change mowing patterns every time you cut the grass. Dethatch and aerate as needed. Control weeds and diseases, avoid overfertilizing and water efficiently. Sometimes an ounce of pest prevention is worth a pound of pest control.

Victor Wang grew up in Central California plucking tomato worms from his mother’s heirloom tomato garden and is now a master gardener and freelance writer. His areas of expertise include landscaping, pest control and, of course, gardening.

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