by Tim White, ArtisTree Pest Control & Fertilization Manager
Q: My St. Augustine sod is turning brown in patches next to my sidewalk and driveway. Could you tell me what this could be?
A: It sounds as if you’ve been visited by the Southern chinch bug, blissus insularis. These small insects are approximately 1/8 inch long with straw-like mouth parts that feed on the fluids in grass. They are typically active March through November, and St. Augustine sod is their favorite food.
Chinch bugs are very difficult to control, because all stages of the insect (egg, nymph and adult) are present at the same time, and most insecticides do not kill the egg. One female can lay 300 eggs.
Hot, dry conditions are a breeding ground for chinch bugs, so you’ll often find them in stressed lawns and near structures that emit a lot of heat -- like concrete or paver walkways, foundations and driveways.
Chinch bugs do have natural enemies, but unfortunately they’re not abundant enough to kill these hungry pests. The best thing you can do to reduce your lawn’s susceptibility to chinch bugs is to mow your St. Augustine at three- to-four inches to ensure a strong root system. Make sure your irrigation system is providing adequate coverage since chinch bugs thrive in drought conditions. And walk your lawn every now and then. Regular lawn scouting can be effective for early detection and treatment.
Be aware that not all damage to lawns is caused by chinch bugs; other factors can create similar appearances. So do your due diligence and contact a professional. The first step for treatment is always proper identification of the problem. Hire someone who uses the best product available and knows how and when to apply it.