It’s natural for green lawns to turn different shades of brown over the winter. But if it’s been happening to your lawn this fall, it may be due to something other than cold weather.
Armyworms are marching and munching. And if you live in the Northeast, Midwest, South or Southwest, you may be seeing their effects on your lawn.
They might be small, but they are very hungry. And they can get from here to there very quickly.
In fact, they are known to cover 500 miles in a 24-hour period. How does a worm move that quickly? By getting themselves into a jet stream and then dropping down.
Attacking at an ‘Unprecedented’ Rate
A number of states are reporting widespread and intense outbreaks of armyworms.
Due to current weather patterns, armyworms are attacking at an “unprecedented” rate. That’s according to The Smithsonian Magazine.
Rick Brandenburg is an entomologist at North Carolina State University. Here’s what he told USA Today.
“This year is like a perfect storm. In my 40 years, I have never seen the problem as widespread as it is this year.”
He added that in addition to North Carolina, other parts of the country are under attack. Such as Texas, Michigan and Northeastern states.
Rapid Reproduction Spells Trouble
Armyworms are seasonal. But their ability to reproduce quickly makes them a huge problem for lawns and plants. Every year there can be multiple generations produced.
According to Texas A&M University’s Aggie Turf website, female armyworms can lay up to 1,000 eggs on host plants or other surfaces.
Armyworms have four life stages. They are the egg, larva, pupa and adult moths. The development from eggs to full-grown larvae takes two to three weeks. The larvae then burrows in soil and emerges as adults up to two weeks later.
They both fly and mate at night. The worms are really more like caterpillars that grow up to two inches long. They’re green, brown or black, and usually have an inverted “Y” on their head capsules.
Two Strains, No Waiting
Once these pests start doing their damage, it looks like lawns are experiencing drought. They can resemble a barren wasteland.
What’s really happening is that the armyworm larvae are stripping tissue from turf grass leaves.
They attack a wide variety of plants. Especially when their other food sources are in limited supply. The corn strain of armyworms feeds on corn, sorghum and cotton. The rice strain devours rice, alfalfa and millet. Plus pasture grasses and lawns.
They are most active during early morning and late evening hours. And their destruction is usually very rapid. Sometimes overnight.
Untreated Grass Is Susceptible
Here are some comments from the Texas A&M website. “Damage may initially resemble drought stress. But (they) will progress to complete loss of foliage. If numbers are sufficient and the turf grass is left untreated.
“There may also sometimes be a distinct line between damaged and undamaged areas.
“Healthy and actively growing bermuda grass typically recovers after infestation and defoliation. (That’s) due to its aggressive rhizomatous and stoloniferous growth habit.” (Try saying that three times fast. Or even once.)
“However, newly established bunch-type grasses, such as ryegrass or fescue, may be stunted or killed by armyworm feeding.”
Laying Waste to Everything
Eric Rebek is an entomology professor at Oklahoma State University. In his state, armyworms have been devastating grass pastures and lawns this fall. Plus fields of peanuts, alfalfa and cotton. As well as double-cropped soybean and sorghum.
He says the unprecedented number of armyworms is also making its presence felt in Maryland, Kentucky and Tennessee.
“They just lay waste to everything in their path, moving through just like an army on the move,” Rebek said. “They can easily munch their way through whatever. Whether it’s a lawn or a park or a golf course.”
Grasses in warmer weather states have a better chance of regenerating. In cold weather states, the grasses can be permanently devastated.
Natural Deterrents Are Unreliable
So, what can stop these armyworms from attacking and destroying your lawn? Well, they do have predators, but there’s no guarantee they will show up for battle.
Parasites and diseases can also kill armyworms. But you can’t count on them to occur and do the job.
Some insecticides are more effective than others against armyworm attacks. But their chemicals present other problems. Including killing armyworm predators.
Plus, armyworms have tremendous resiliency. An attack against them right after their eggs hatch is the best timing. The eggs look like Styrofoam balls. They can be found stuck to the sides of buildings and patio furniture.
But, as the Smithsonian warns, “Your grass is pretty much a goner no matter what.”
Management, Yes; Control, No
Bethany Pratt is a Jefferson County horticulture education agent. She works for the University of Kentucky’s Cooperative Extension Service.
She says it’s more about managing than controlling.
“Nothing will ever do 100 percent control unless you’re also getting rid of your lawn, she said.
Fortunately, there is one surefire killer of the armyworm. That’s frost. But by the time Jack Frost makes an appearance, the damage has usually been done.
There’s another method that I use to get rid of other bugs and flying pests… It’s the BugOUT Solar Lantern.
It zaps bugs dead in their tracks, so you can enjoy a bug-FREE backyard. And, my favorite part… it’s self-cleaning.
It’s already Day 6 of the 12 Days of Christmas… so hurry & stock up on your BugOut Solar Lanterns today.