Homeowners with buffalograss lawns love this low-maintenance grass: Less mowing, high drought resistance, and low fertilization rates, and, yes, few insect problems. But few doesn’t mean none. Not to worry, though. We’ve got a list of the most common buffalograss pests you may encounter in this low-maintenance lawn.
In this article:
- Signs you have Buffalograss webworm
- How to get rid of Buffalograss webworm
- How to prevent Buffalograss webworm
In 2016, the Entomological Society of America wrote a proposal to name a distinct species of sod webworm that fed almost exclusively on buffalograss. And so the buffalograss webworm came to be.
Compared with other sod webworm species, the buffalograss webworm has a relatively narrow range and feeding habits. It feeds primarily on buffalograss in Kansas and Oklahoma. In most other respects, the buffalograss webworm is identical to other sod webworm species.
Here’s a quick primer: Sod webworms are very hungry caterpillars (larvae) that munch on your lawn. After munching through their immature years, err… months, they undergo a complete metamorphosis and emerge as moths.
Need to know: It’s the caterpillar that does the damage, not the moth, so this is the stage you’ll need to control.
Signs you have buffalograss webworm
- In late spring, you may notice small sections of the grass stems and leaves turn yellow or brown. Damage is seldom seen this early, though, because small larvae eat only the surface layers of the grass. In the middle section of the country, this larval feeding continues until late June or early July.
- In late June or early July, the turfgrass patches will start to brown. The larvae are larger now and take large “chomps” out of your grass blades just above the thatch level. These sections of brown lawn that are cut off may coalesce into larger, irregularly shaped areas.
- If the buffalograss goes dormant during a summer drought, you may not notice signs of feeding until significant damage has already occurred.
How to get rid of buffalograss webworm
The University of Nebraska notes that there are no registered insecticides for sod webworms in buffalograss. However, there are a few biological and natural control options that work for sod webworms in general:
- Bacillus thuringiensis ssp. Kurstaki OR ssp. Aizawai
Best practices for buffalograss webworm treatment
- Treat early, when the caterpillars are about one-quarter inch in length. Young larvae don’t cause much cosmetic damage, but in the latter feeding stage, these webworms can damage the look of your lawn. This is when they chomp and tear grass blades instead of feeding only on the blade’s surface.
- Sod webworms come out in the evening to feed, so apply products at this time for best results. During the day, they retreat into tunnels they build in the soil. Products that require contact to be effective are, therefore, less effective during the day.
- Natural products may be less effective if your lawn already has later-stage larvae. The larvae will soon pupate and not harm your lawn any further. According to Kansas State, buffalograss webworms only have one generation per year, so at this point, it’s probably best to focus on helping your lawn recover by using good lawn management practices.
How to prevent buffalograss webworm
The University of Nebraska advises proper lawn care as the best way to prevent or reduce damage from buffalograss webworms. Here are a few tips on how to care for your buffalograss lawn:
- Use fertilizer judiciously: Lawn insects love the tender top growth that too much nitrogen provides. Buffalograss only requires 0.5-2 pounds of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet of lawn annually.
- Collect the grass clippings: It is usually advisable to leave your clippings on the ground to act as a natural fertilizer for your lawn. However, if you have eggs or larvae on the lawn, collect the grass clippings to remove some of these lawn pests as you mow.
- Mowing: You have three options for a buffalograss lawn:
- Unmowed: Mow the lawn each year in spring at a height of 3-4 inches
- Low-maintenance lawn: Mow at a height of 3-4 inches every 3-4 weeks
- Higher-maintenance lawn: Mow at a height of 2-3 inches each week
If insects become a problem, it may help to mow the lawn before you apply a natural insecticide so that the product makes better contact with the webworms. That once-per-year mow may have to go out the window until you get these insects under control.
- Signs you have Buffalograss mealybugs
- How to get rid of Buffalograss mealybugs
- How to prevent Buffalograss mealybugs
Like the buffalograss webworm, buffalograss mealybugs primarily munch on buffalograss (surprise, surprise). All mealybugs cover themselves in a waxy, white covering. In large numbers, you may see masses of small, white insects on your grass.
As a piercing-sucking insect, buffalograss mealybugs suck fluids from tissues or cells of the grass plants. The grass may turn yellow or die in severe cases, but this isn’t likely in lawns.
Signs you have buffalograss mealybugs
- Waxy, white secretions on the grass or cotton ball-like sacs
- Sooty-like, black mold
- Grass plant starts to yellow or brown
How to get rid of buffalograss mealybugs
- Collect your clippings: Doing so, at least until you get the mealybugs under control, will remove a portion of the population from your lawn.
- Practice good lawn maintenance: Too much fertilizer and unhealthy or stressed grass may attract many insects to your lawn.
- Use buffalograss only in full-sun locations and don’t subject it to foot traffic or other wear to keep it as healthy as possible.
- Irrigate with one-half to 1 inch of water in summer if you prefer it not to go dormant.
- Finally, use only natural insect control methods. Insecticides kill good as well as bad bugs. In a buffalograss lawn, natural predatory insects, such as lady beetles, big-eyed bugs, and syrphid flies do a world of good to keep insect pests in check.
How to prevent buffalograss mealybugs
The best way to prevent large numbers of mealybugs in your lawn is to do proper lawn maintenance. We’ve already discussed water, fertilizer, and grass site selection above, so here is a little more detail on mowing.
How to mow your buffalograss lawn
Whether you mow every year, every week, or every month, follow the One-Third Rule of Mowing. This rule states that you should remove no more than one-third of the grass blade per mow.
Even if you only mow once per year, since buffalograss typically only grows to 4-5 inches (it’s considered a short-grass prairie grass), you could still mow a 4-inch lawn to 3 inches and follow this rule.
If you choose to keep your buffalograss lawn taller or unmowed, not only will you reduce your mowing time, but you’ll also be helping the grass grow stronger. Higher mowing heights usually correspond to deeper roots. (Yes, there’s a direct correlation between root growth and shoot height.) Deeper roots strengthen the entire grass plant against insects, disease, and drought.
Western chinch bugs
- Signs you have Western chinch bugs
- How to get rid of Western chinch bugs
- How to prevent Western chinch bugs
Western chinch bugs may be the most common pest to affect buffalograss lawns, especially in Nebraska and the surrounding states. Although the western chinch bug, Blissus occiduus, will feast on many grass species, its predominant hosts are buffalograss and Zoysiagrass.
Here’s a brief timeline of the western chinch bug life cycles in Nebraska:
- When your buffalograss lawn awakens in early spring, the overwintered adults emerge, mate, and lay eggs in the soil or grass crown (part of the plant directly above the soil).
- The tiny nymphs hatch from the eggs in mid- to late May.
- Nymphs are bright red with a characteristic white band crosswise on the abdomen. Nymphs change in color as they grow, from red to orange-brown to black.
- Nymphs mature into adults in late June to early July. Up to half of these first-generation adults have functional wings and can fly.
- The second generation hatches in mid- to late July. This generation will overwinter and emerge again in spring.
Signs you have western chinch bugs
- Grass leaves are damaged by chinch bugs sucking fluids from and inserting toxins into the grass plant as they feed. Grass patches will start to yellow, dry out, and turn a brown or straw color over time.
- In severe cases, marked thinning and plant death is possible.
- Despite adequate water, the brown patches do not improve and the affected area expands
- Early damage appears next to the driveway or curbs, which radiate heat to the nearby grass
- You’ve done a coffee can test and correctly identified the bug:
- Cut off both ends of a sturdy cylinder container
- Dig far enough into the ground so that the container is buried 2-3 inches
- Fill the can with water
- See if any bugs rise to the surface. If so, count the number of bugs. Consider treatment if you count 20-25 per square foot (about five coffee cans’ worth).
How to get rid of western chinch bugs
According to the University of Nebraska, these chemicals treat western chinch bugs in buffalograss lawns:
- Bifenthrin (Brands: Ortho Bug-B-Gon, Talstar)
- Carbaryl (Brand: Sevin)
- Lambda-cyhalothrin (Brand: Spectracide Triazicide)
Apply these chemicals in 3-5 gallons of water per 1,000 square feet for effective control. Government agencies in Nova Scotia note that diatomaceous earth and insecticidal soaps
may be effective as an alternative or complementary approach.
If sprays aren’t your thing, reverse the suction on your leaf blower to suck up these sucking insects and remove them from your lawn.
How to prevent western chinch bugs
- Plant a resistant cultivar: Tatanka and Cody cultivars (seeded) and Prestige (vegetative) have moderate to high resistance to chinch bugs. (Note: Even resistant grasses will be damaged under heavy infestations.)
- The western chinch bug also feeds on crops and weeds, so monitor areas adjacent to your buffalograss lawn to make sure these areas aren’t contributing to a problem in your lawn and vice versa.
- Maintain a healthy lawn: As we’ve discussed with webworms and mealybugs, proper lawn care will help your buffalograss lawn grow deep roots, encourage beneficial insects, and reduce stresses in your lawn. All of these things help your grass to resist insect problems as they arise.
White grubs are the immature or larval form of various types of beetles, including June beetles, Japanese beetles, and masked chafers. Like many other insects, this larval stage will do most of the damage to your lawn as they chomp and chew your grass for dinner.
White grubs are soil dwellers and feed on grass roots. In the heat stress of summer, having damaged roots puts extra strain on an already water-stressed lawn. As the roots are damaged, the plant is less able to take in water, and the whole grass plant suffers under this strain.
Signs you have white grubs
- Your grass declines in summer and fall
- Turf dries out and is drought-stressed, even with proper water
- If you remove a portion of your lawn, you’ll notice C-shaped grubs living in the root zone of your turf
- Tug on the grass. If the grass comes up easily (without roots attached), white grubs are a possible explanation
How to get rid of white grubs
- First, ID that insect. Ask your local Cooperative Extension Office if they have a state plant-pest diagnostic clinic. Or, ask your local office if you can email someone a photo of the grub.
- Milky spore (Bacillus popilliae) may be effective on Japanese beetle grubs only (not other lawn grubs)
- Nematodes of the Heterorhabditis and Steinernema genera are an effective way to remove 50% or more of the white grubs in your lawn. Don’t worry, these are beneficial nematodes, not the harmful plant-parasitic nematodes you don’t want in the lawn.
- Spiked sandals will kill grubs as you walk over the lawn. Spike aeration machines are another way to do this.
- If you have more than 10 grubs per square foot, consider treating. If you prefer a chemical option, here are a few:
How to prevent white grubs
- Beneficial insects: Beneficial insects are your friend and will eat grubs and eggs. How do you encourage these beneficials in your lawn? Toss out the insecticides so they aren’t sickened by chemicals in your lawn. Beneficial insects may not be as effective as chemical treatments, but they help provide insurance against large outbreaks.
- A strongly rooted lawn: Strong roots will withstand more grub feeding than weak ones and prevent excess damage to your buffalograss lawn.
If you’ve had grub problems in the past, here are a few preventive chemical options to consider:
Type of grass: Warm-season grass
Growth habit: Stolons
Shade tolerance: Low — needs full sun
Foot traffic tolerance: Low
Drought resistance: High
Diseases: Moderate tolerance against insects and disease
Mowing: Unmowed or 2-4 inches
Maintenance: Mow once per week or less
Soil pH: 6.5-7.5
Soil conditions: Native soils
Other points to note: Does not perform well in sandy soils
If you want even more information about buffalograss as a (mostly) low-maintenance grass type, check out our article, “Buffalograss: How to Grow and Care for It.”
Want a pro to maintain your buffalograss lawn? Let one of our Lawn Love lawn care teams mow, weed eat, and treat pests to maintain a strong, deeply rooted buffalograss lawn that weathers yearly stresses well.