Spring brings warmer weather, blooming flowers, green grass — and common spring lawn pests.
Pests aren’t just unsightly little creatures crawling over your grass, they can cause extensive (and expensive) damage, sometimes in the blink of an eye. Be alert by reading about the most common spring lawn pests, and how to detect and deal with them.
- 1. Grubs
- 2. Sod webworms
- 3. Cutworms
- 4. Ants
- 5. Ticks
- 6. Aphids
- 7. Mole crickets
- 8. Spittlebugs
- 9. Chinch bugs
- How to repair your lawn after pest control
- FAQ about spring lawn pests
What are grubs?
Also known as white grubs, these repulsive, “C”-shaped insects can do a lot of damage to your lawn. Grubs are the larvae form of Scarab beetles, such as:
- Japanese beetles
- Masked chafers
- European chafers
- June bugs
Grubs can be distinguished by their rastral pattern, or the arrangement of spines around their anal opening.
Grubs have a one-year life cycle and go through most of it while wiggling around in your soil. They are first laid in the ground as eggs, then they hatch into larvae, and feed until they’re ready to transform into a pupa. They remain pupas underground for several weeks before emerging from the ground as adult beetles.
The stage when grubs cause the most damage to your lawn is when the beetle larvae are about an inch long, are white-colored with brownish heads, have six legs, and form a C-shape when removed from the ground.
Signs of a grub problem
Grubs are commonly found in lawns across the country. They are known as “nature’s dethatchers” because they can help reduce thatch buildup in your yard. However, if the grub population becomes excessive, they begin to eat the roots of your grass, which can ultimately kill your lawn.
If you have a grub problem, you might notice:
- Wilted grass
- Spongy turf
- Small, irregular brown spots
- Dry, dying patches of grass
- Wildlife digging holes into the ground
- Large patches of grass easily lifting out of the ground
Animals like to eat grubs, so you might find holes dug in your yard by wildlife, such as raccoons, skunks, armadillos, and crows.
Most adult beetles lay their eggs in late summer, and grubs can be more devastating in the fall.
By the time spring comes around, existing larvae aren’t feeding enough for most pesticides to be effective. But spring is the best time to begin taking preventative measures against future grub infestations if they’re a yearly issue in your yard. Preventing grubs is generally more effective than dealing with existing infestations.
There’s no need to worry about grubs causing noticeable problems unless there are more than 5-7 grubs per square foot.
How to check for lawn grubs
- Grab a shovel or lawn edger
- Cut out one square foot section (about the size of a frisbee) of your turf
- Peel back the grass and soil from that section (this should be easy if there is already extensive damage)
- Dig around the top 1-3 inches of soil and count the grubs
How to get rid of grubs
Be cautious when treating for grubs: Research has shown that more than 70 percent of treatments were futile since there was no grub issue to begin with.
If you have a serious grub infestation in the spring (10 or more grubs per square foot), you can try using chemical pesticides to get it under control, including:
- Dylox (apply after soil temps reach 55-60 degrees)
- Pesticides containing chlorantraniliprole (apply in April or May)
- Carbaryl (apply before early May)
- Trichlorfon (apply before early May)
Wait until June to apply pesticides containing thiamethoxam, clothianidin, and imidacloprid. Mow the lawn before applying pesticides with these ingredients to protect bees and other pollinators from landing on any polluted weeds.
If you have more than five grubs per square foot, consider using natural grub control methods. These will take significantly longer to be effective but can be a better long-term option.
For a more natural route, try:
Milky spore is specifically used to combat larvae of the invasive Japanese beetle. It is a disease that the grubs ingest while feasting on your grass, killing them and leaving other species alone. However, it isn’t as effective in cold climates and is typically recommended for use in USDA zones 7-10.
Nematodes are worms that seek out grubs and release toxins to kill them. They’re microscopic, but do require particular conditions to thrive. For instance, the lawn needs to maintain moisture while the nematodes are getting established, and they shouldn’t be introduced in direct sunlight.
Milky spore usually leads to results within one to three weeks. With nematodes, you should see results within two to four weeks. Experts recommend using natural methods or waiting to use preventative measures for the next population of grubs.
How to prevent grubs
Grubs can attack all warm and cool-season grass types in spring, summer, and fall. Warm-season grasses — like Zoysiagrass, Bermudagrass, St. Augustine, and buffalograss — are typically targeted by June beetle and southern masked chafer grubs.
In the spring, grubs cause the most damage from March to May. At this point, they are finishing up their larvae stage and entering adulthood. This, unfortunately, means a new generation of grubs is on the horizon.
Unfortunately, grubs can be unpredictable. They tend to heavily infest a region for about five to 10 years, so you might expect an ongoing war with these pests for the next several seasons.
Put together a grub prevention plan to stay on top of these pests:
- Use a natural grub control method — milky spore or nematodes
- Apply preventative pesticides — containing thiamethoxam, clothianidin, and imidacloprid in June
- Don’t keep your lawn moist — an attractive environment for female beetles
- Take care of your lawn
2. Sod webworms
What are sod webworms?
Sod webworms are larvae of small, close-winged moths. There are more than 20 species, but all are green or brown with dark spots and a brown head. They are usually around an inch long in the larva stage.
They’re named for the silky tunnels they build in your lawn when they overwinter. Sod webworms eat the leaves and stems of your grass and tend to pop up throughout the year in three generations.
- First Generation – May to June
- Second Generation – July to August
- Third Generation – September
Signs of a sod webworm problem
These lawn moth larvae can cause damage quickly, eating grass and crawling around your landscape. They love yards with a lot of thatch and prefer warm, dry environments. Sod webworms aren’t typically a problem in shaded lawns, and usually can be found wiggling around near pavement like the curb or your driveway.
Sod webworm damage can look a lot like drought stress or dormant grass. Common signs of a sod webworm infestation include:
- Brown patches of dead grass
- Grass seems shorter
- You see traces of silk webbing
- You find minuscule green-colored pellets (webworm feces)
- Your grass seems scalped or cut down to the soil surface
How to check for sod webworms:
- ¼ cup of household detergent
- 2 gallons of water
Mix the detergent and water to form a solution and pour it over a 3-foot section of your yard where you think sod webworms have infested your grass. If you have an infestation, webworms will rise to the surface within 10 minutes.
You’ll want to treat your turf if you find more than 15 sod webworms.
How to get rid of sod webworms
The best way to get rid of sod webworms is by using nematodes (specifically Steinerenema).
Pesticides that target sod webworms also can kill many beneficial insects. Avoid using chemical pesticides unless you find 15 or more sod webworms per square yard. Then, try using an insecticide containing bifenthrin.
How to prevent sod webworms:
Sod webworms will infest many grass types throughout the U.S. Sod webworms like to hang out in the thatch layer, so be sure to:
- Dethatch annually
- Water your lawn
- Mow the lawn, and keep the grass short
- Deeply rake your lawn
- Use preventative pesticides
What are cutworms?
Cutworms are caterpillars that feed on your turfgrass. They get their name from the way they’ll cut down plants and your grass while destroying your turf. There are multiple species of cutworm caterpillars, but most are grey or brown-colored with spotting or striping and about 2 inches long. They transform into brown and black moths.
Cutworms burrow into the ground and hide during the day and emerge at night to feast on your grass. This can result in a messy-looking lawn and shorter grass nearly overnight.
They can produce multiple generations a year (typically two to six generations) and are active throughout the year, but spring is typically when they’re the biggest problem for homeowners.
Signs of a cutworm problem
Cutworms attack not only your grass, but also your vegetables. Some species of cutworms are known to feed on vegetables like tomatoes, potatoes, lettuce, peppers, and carrots.
Keep an eye out for:
- Grass that seems wilted
- Grass that is shorter, sometimes cut down to the base
- Small burrows popping up across your lawn
- Seedlings are destroyed
- Plant stems are severed close to the ground
- Common vegetables are wilting
How to check for cutworms:
Head out to your backyard after sunset, when the cutworms are most active. Locate an area that seems affected, and sift through the soil (feel free to throw on some gloves if they gross you out). Cutworms will match the above description and typically curl into a C-shape when handled.
How to get rid of cutworms
Try getting rid of cutworms the old-fashioned way — by hand. Scoop out the cutworms and drop them into a bucket of soapy water.
Other organic pest control solutions include Diatomaceous earth, nematodes, and Bacillus thuringiensis. Diatomaceous earth (DE) can kill cutworms by dehydrating them after they come into contact with it. Locate affected areas and spread DE close to the roots of the grass or plants. You also can use nematodes or a bacteria called Bacillus thuringiensis.
Chemical pesticides are not typically recommended, apart from cutworm baits. Place cutworm bait around your yard or new, young plants. You can try to use other pesticides if you find one labeled for use against cutworms, just be sure to use it close to sundown when they are active.
How to prevent cutworms
Cutworm moths lay their eggs on the tips of tall weeds and long grass blades, and cutworm caterpillars can gather in the thatch layer of your yard, so be sure to:
- Remove weeds from your yard
- Mow regularly
- Keep your lawn short
- Aerate annually
- Dethatch annually
- Remove any dead plants from your landscape
- Maintain a border of dry soil around your garden as a buffer
- Till your garden before planting to check for larvae
What are ants?
Ants are very common pests, terrorizing homeowners across the nation. They are small, skinny bugs with six legs and antennae.
There are many species of ants, including:
- Carpenter ants
- Fire ants
- Pavement ants
Ants won’t damage your grass, but they can leave your yard covered in mounds of dirt, which can make many lawn chores, like mowing, a challenge. They can also bite you, your family, and your pets, and invade your home. This is especially true if you’re dealing with fire ants.
Signs of an ant problem
Ants are really common, and you shouldn’t feel concerned about an anthill or two. However, you don’t want a yard covered with these mounds, so keep an eye out for:
- Ants swarming around trash or food near your home
- Ants invading your home
- Several anthills across your backyard
How to get rid of ants
If your yard is covered in anthills, get ready to fight back. Thankfully, you don’t need to resort to chemical pesticides to rid your yard of this pest.
To naturally get rid of anthills in your yard:
- Make a mixture of equal parts water and vinegar OR boil some water with a touch of dish soap
- Rake open the anthill
- Pour in the water/vinegar or boiling water/dish soap mixture
You also can try flooding the anthills with a hose. Soak the anthills with water for 30 minutes, and repeat the next day. Other organic pest control methods for ants include white vinegar, Diatomaceous earth, baking soda, and borax.
If flooding the ants out of your yard doesn’t work, there are a couple of chemical options. Broadcast bait is the most common and effective chemical solution, causing ants to carry poisonous bait back to share with their colony and the ant queen. Apply bait on cool, but dry, mornings or evenings. Make sure there are no upcoming rainstorms to wash the bait away.
Contact chemicals aren’t as effective, since they just kill whatever ants come into contact with it. You can try to use them, just know that the queen is still alive and waiting underground, plotting out her next generation of pesky ants.
How to prevent ants
Keep ants out of your business by:
- Keeping your yard clear of food, trash, and debris
- Keeping your compost bin covered
- Sealing windows and doors with caulk
- Spraying ant-killer around your home’s foundation
- Placing broadcast bait stations around your yard
What are ticks?
Ticks are minuscule pests that are known to feed on blood and transmit diseases.
They have tiny, flat, oval-shaped bodies, which make them hard to see. They have eight legs and can get as large as ½ inch after feeding. Usually, they’re around 3/16 inches long.
Ticks spread illness to humans, pets, and wildlife, such as Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. People who love the outdoors tend to be vigilant about checking for ticks after any excursions since the diseases they carry can wreak havoc on your body and immune system and even lead to a lifelong red meat allergy.
Ticks are everywhere, but Lyme disease is a more prominent issue in the Northeast and Midwest. It’s important to check carefully for ticks after spending time outside, especially while wearing short sleeves and shorts.
Common species of ticks:
- American dog tick
- Deer tick
- Brown dog tick
- Gulf Coast tick
- Lone Star tick
- Rocky Mountain wood tick
Signs of a tick problem
Because ticks are so tiny, you probably won’t notice they’re in your yard until you find one on yourself or your pet.
Ticks tend to hide around:
- Tall grass
- Wooded areas
- Tall bushes
- Thick or dense bushes
- Piles of firewood
- Plant debris
If you go for a hike, wander into a field of tall grass, or just spend a lot of time outside, it’s always a good idea to check for ticks. Check carefully under your arms, inside and behind your ears, the back of your knees, and around body hair. If you find one, use tweezers to remove it. See a doctor if a rash, fever or other symptoms develop.
How to get rid of ticks
Ticks are nearly impossible to completely eradicate from your yard. You can try natural methods to keep them away, like sprinkling cedar oil or diluted eucalyptus oil around your yard.
Using pesticides isn’t generally recommended, but they can reduce the number of ticks in your yard if you notice they’ve become a big problem. Purchase an acaricide (tick pesticide) and follow the pesticide instructions for the best results.
How to prevent ticks
Ticks tend to hang out in shrubs, weeds, piles of leaves, and tall grass, and travel around by hitching rides on pets, or other pests like mice and rats.
- Keeping the yard clear of leaves, litter, and debris
- Mowing your lawn regularly
- Keeping chopped wood in neat, dry stacks
- Removing tall grass
- Putting a barrier between your yard and wooded areas or tall grass using gravel or wood chips
- Putting a fence around your yard to keep out deer, stray dogs, raccoons, and other wildlife
- Installing outdoor hangout spots (playgrounds, decks, patios) far from the edge of your yard
What are aphids?
Aphids are tiny, pear-shaped insects with soft bodies. When mature, they can have wings. They can be found in a variety of colors, including green, red, yellow, gray, brown, and black. Aphids range from 1/16 to ⅛ inches in length. They can be distinguished by two “tailpipes,” or tail-like structures, at the end of the abdomen.
Aphids are odd insects. Female aphids will reproduce live offspring in the summer, with no need for a male mate. Then, in the fall, females mate with mature male aphids and lay eggs that hatch in the spring.
Once the aphid eggs hatch in the spring, a new population of aphids will emerge to reproduce and feast on your garden, shrubs, and trees. Aphids typically don’t feast so much that it damages your plants, but they do secrete something called honeydew, which increases the chances for sooty mold to grow on infested trees.
Signs of an aphid infestation
Aphids are extremely common, but large populations can wreak havoc on your plants. You’ll know your plant is infested when you see these tiny bugs crawling all over the stems and leaves of the plant.
Severe aphid infestation can cause:
- Yellow-colored foliage
- Stunted plant growth
- Curled or twisting leaves
- Dead plant shoots
- Aphid honeydew secretions
- Sooty mold
- Other plant viruses (mottled, yellowed, or misshapen leaves and produce)
How to get rid of aphids
In most cases, you won’t have to worry about aphids unless the population gets out of control.
If you notice aphids covering a plant, try spraying infested plants with a hose, and knocking them into a bucket of soapy water. The water should knock them away easily since they’re not very strong.
If you have an extreme infestation, try using insecticidal soap, neem, horticultural oil, or pyrethrins.
How to prevent aphids
Aphids emerge in late spring when temperatures begin to warm up. They prefer plants with high nitrogen levels and tend to feed on food plants like cabbage, asparagus, and spinach, and shrubs and trees like hibiscus, hydrangea, peach, and pecan.
You can keep aphids at bay in your yard by:
- Getting rid of weeds
- Avoiding using pesticides to encourage natural enemies (like ladybugs) to protect your yard
- Avoiding over-fertilizing
- Planting onions, garlic, and chives
7. Mole crickets
What are mole crickets?
Mole crickets are ugly, winged bugs that dig tunnels under your turf. They eat the leaves and roots of your grass and typically cause the most lawn damage between February and June, and again in the fall between September and October.
Mole crickets reach 1 to 2 inches long in adulthood. They have six legs and folded wings.
Signs of a mole cricket infestation
Mole crickets can leave your yard looking like a mess. Watch out for signs of mole cricket infestations, such as:
- Dehydrated grass
- Irregular patches of brown grass
- Root rot
- The grass can be pulled up easily from the ground
- Tunneling, which causes long mounds of dirt to stripe your lawn
To see if your yard is infested with mole crickets, you’ll need:
- One gallon of water
- 1-2 ounces of dish soap
Mix the water and dish soap together, then pour it over a 2-square-foot section of your yard you think might be infested. If there is a mole cricket infestation, you should see them emerge from the ground within a few minutes.
How to get rid of mole crickets
For a natural method, release mole cricket-killing nematodes into your lawn to infect and kill the pests by contact.
In the spring, you can use mole cricket baits or insecticides that include the following chemicals:
- Beta cyfluthrin
How to prevent mole crickets
Mole crickets are commonly found in the Southeast in lawns that do not have fine-leafed grass types like fine fescue and Bermudagrass.
- Encourage strong grass roots
- Keep your lawn healthy
- Reseed your lawn with Bermudagrass or fine fescue
- Apply long-term residual insecticides, including imidacloprid or synthetic pyrethroid
What are spittlebugs?
Spittlebugs get their name from the foamy spit they excrete all over your plants. They are sometimes referred to as froghoppers because they can jump great distances. The spittle insulates spittlebug nymphs from extreme temperatures and protects spittlebugs from predators.
These bugs are related to aphids and are typically gray or brown-colored. Spittlebug eggs hatch in the spring, and the nymphs will then feed on the sap of your plants.
Signs of a spittlebug infestation
Spittlebugs are very common and aren’t really a threat to your garden — just to your peace of mind if you find them (and their spittle) gross.
In April and May, check your plants for spittlebug foam every two weeks. Look for signs of:
- Frothy bubbles on your yard or garden plants
- Sticky plant leaves and stems
How to get rid of spittlebugs
Spittlebugs do not need to be managed by chemical pesticides. They don’t stay on one plant for a significant amount of time and therefore cause little damage. Their nymphs are also protected from pesticides in the spittle foam.
If they bother you, you can:
- Remove spittlebugs by hand and drown them in a bucket of soapy water
- Spray spittlebugs off your plants with a hose
How to prevent spittlebugs
Spittlebugs are unfortunately found across the continental United States and feed on all kinds of turfgrasses. Spittlebugs prefer nitrogen-fixing plants like legumes, but they also feed on weeds and other garden plants.
To prevent spittlebugs from infesting your vegetable garden, keep your yard free of weeds. Weeds near your garden will encourage spittlebugs to excrete their foamy spittle all over your vegetable plants. Yuck!
9. Chinch bugs
What are chinch bugs?
Chinch bugs are tiny, black insects that can cause costly damage to your lawn. They’re difficult to spot, being less than a ¼ inch in size. They’re red in adolescence and once mature, turn black with a signature white X-shaped spot on their back.
Chinch bugs can fly, but research shows they primarily walk, so if they’re terrorizing you, it’s likely your neighbors are having a problem with them, too. They infest the thatch layer of your lawn but also can be found on grass leaves when there are large numbers.
They prefer hot, dry environments, and typically gather near paved areas like sunny sidewalks and driveways.
Signs of a chinch bug problem
Chinch bugs can often be confused with brown patch and drought damage. You can tell the difference by looking for additional signs and checking for the presence of chinch bugs.
Common signs that chinch bugs may be attacking your turf:
- Dead grass
- Stunted grass growth
- Increased weeds
- Lawn looks like it’s experiencing drought
- Rapid damage
If you’re still unsure, check the thatch layer to see if these bugs are infesting your lawn. Use your hand and a magnifying glass, if you have one, to dig around your turf for chinch bugs. You also can grab a sheet of paper and hold it behind blades of grass to try and spot these minuscule bugs.
Another way to test for chinch bugs is the tin can method. Take a tin can and cut both ends off. Press one end of the tin can into a section of your lawn that contains both healthy and dying grass. Fill the other end of the can with water and wait for 10 minutes. If you have a chinch bug infestation, you should see them floating to the surface of the can.
Ants and ladybugs eat chinch bugs, but heat and drought can lower the number of ants and ladybugs while increasing chinch bug populations.
How to get rid of chinch bugs
Chinch bug infestations can be difficult to manage. These insects can be resistant to many common pesticides, but broad-spectrum insecticides containing bifenthrin, trichlorfon, or carbaryl might help. Be sure to take caution when using insecticides. If mishandled, they can be harmful to you and your pets.
Diatomaceous earth (DE) is the natural method recommended for killing nymph and adult chinch bugs. After coming into contact with DE, chinch bugs will dehydrate and die.
If these methods don’t work for you, don’t be afraid to call a professional.
How to prevent chinch bugs
Chinch bugs primarily affect St. Augustine grass. They can also infest other warm-season grasses, like Zoysiagrass, centipedegrass, bahiagrass, and Bermudagrass.
They’re a significant problem in the Southeast, especially in the Gulf Coast region. Because of the Sunshine State’s warm climate, chinch bugs affect Florida year-round. Outside of Florida, they’re most likely to appear between April and October.
How to repair your lawn after pest control
Keep your lawn healthy after getting rid of those pesky pests. If they’ve left your lawn damaged, attempt the following lawn care tasks to help your lawn bounce back:
- Mow to stimulate grass growth
- Overseed your lawn
- Water your lawn
- Aerate if possible
- Rake dead patches of grass
FAQ about spring lawn pests
Bugs might bug you out, and that’s OK. It’s good to be aware of the bugs that are gardener-friendly, and prey on common lawn pests, so you don’t try to remove them from your backyard.
Some beneficial insects include:
Bees and butterflies are not only fun to watch, but they’re also really good for the environment. Inviting pollinators to your backyard will help your garden thrive and keep these important insects well-fed and protected.
Invite pollinators to your yard by:
–Planting bee-friendly plants
–Planting butterfly-friendly plants
–Planting native plants
–Providing shelter and watering stations
You don’t need to wage the pest control war by yourself. Lean on a local Lawn Love expert to help your lawn be healthy and pest-free.
Main Photo Credit: MabelAmber | Pixabay