The title of another article I wrote for Learn2Grow® sums it up nicely: “Chinch Bugs Can Suck the Life Out of Your Lawn.” While these lawn pests can be problematic, there’s one in particular that’s labeled the worst of these sap suckers: the Southern chinch bug (SCB). This little bugger is probably the most damaging insect pest of St. Augustine grass. The good news is that while it can be devastating to any St. Augustine grass wherever it’s grown, it doesn’t cause significant damage to other warm-season turf selections.

Chinch bug

If you take good care of your lawn, you’re less likely to have a chinch bug invasion.

Photo Credit: ©2007 Buglady Consulting

Chinch bug damage

Some preventative measures can save your lawn from looking like this.

Photo Credit: Dr. Chris Hayes

Depending on where you live, one to several generations of SCB can occur each year. In southern Florida – where up to 10 generations occur a year – activity usually begins in March. But in Florida’s panhandle and upper Gulf Coast areas, just two to four generations are typical, beginning in April. And the farther north you go, the fewer generations that occur.

SCB nymphs and adults feed on the aboveground stolons of St. Augustine grass. Like other chinch bugs, they suck fluids from the plants, causing the lawn to dry out. If you start to notice patches of brownish or withered turf that begin as small spots but enlarge quickly, watch out. These are early symptoms of an SCB infestation. Damage is most severe when your turf is under drought stress, so be sure to use good irrigation practices year-round to reduce the chances of getting this problematic pest.

Of course, early signs of a deteriorating lawn may also be the result of other problems, like water stress or disease. So do be sure that your turf problem is truly SCB before trying to manage it. First take a look at the leaf tissues and stolons at the edge of the damaged area for SCB. A neat trick to help you is to push a coffee can (with both ends cut out) a little ways into the soil and fill it with water. Chinch bugs float, so you’ll see them at the surface doing the buggy paddle within minutes. If your lawn has had an SCB problem before, it’s important to begin monitoring for signs of the pest in early spring so you can avoid significant turf damage.

Taking good care of your lawn is an important step toward minimizing or avoiding SCB damage. As I mentioned earlier, avoiding water stress is important. Also, don’t apply soluble nitrogen to your lawn because this can actually promote infestation. Slow-release fertilizers are preferable. Keep your mower blades sharp, and don’t stress the turf by cutting it too short. Also, take care to rake out that thatch layer, which can harbor a variety of pests.

When SCB damage is noticeable or when you count 20-25 chinch bugs per square foot, it’s time to consider managing this pest. There are several insecticides available, so consult your local cooperative Extension office or lawn and garden center for product recommendations, rates and restrictions before making a purchase. And always follow the instructions printed on the product label!

By keeping an eye out for this pest and the damage it causes, you can stop SCB in its tracks – and keep your lawn looking lush all season long.