The southern chinch bug, Blissus insularis, is one of the most important insect pests of St. Augustine-grass in Texas. Although most damaging in Gulf Coast regions and in the southern half of the state, chinch bugs can be a problem anywhere St. Augustine grass is grown.
Expanding, irregular patches of dead or stunted grass surrounded by a halo of yellowing, dying grass often provide the first clue to the presence of chinch bugs. These islands of dying grass tend to increase in size and merge as insect numbers increase. Damage can develop rapidly, especially in sunny locations during hot, dry weather.
Chinch bug damage can be confused with certain lawn diseases or other physiological disorders. Brown patch is a common disease affecting the leaf blades of St. Augustine grass. Brown patch symptoms, however, usually occur in a circular or semi-circular pattern, as opposed to the irregular-shaped areas of dead and dying grass that result from chinch bug feeding.
Chinch bug damage also can be difficult to distinguish from that caused by drought. Detection of significant numbers of the insects themselves is the best proof that chinch bugs are the cause of the damage.
Control of chinch bugs starts with proper lawn care. Keeping thatch to a minimum, for example, reduces chinch bug numbers and makes other control methods more effective. Thatch is the layer of dead plant material found between the green tops of the grass plant and the soil below. Thatch provides a protective home for chinch bugs, and chemically binds with many insecticides, making such controls less effective.
St. Augustine grass lawns should be watched closely during the summer for signs of drought stress. The lawn should be watered immediately when edges of grass blades begin to curl, grass fails to spring back quickly when walked on, or the turf takes on a dull bluish-gray color. Due to the variety of soil types and depths in Texas, the amount of water needed will vary. Whenever possible, apply enough water to wet the soil profile to a depth of approximately 6 inches and let it dry out between irrigations. Frequent watering promotes shallow root systems in St. Augustine-grass, making it more susceptible to injury by chinch bugs.
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