5 California Pests That Can Destroy Your Lawn

Wed Oct 14 2015 | maintenance | sod

California has strict laws and regulations in place to prevent invasive species from entering the state. Any plants and animals that cross the borders must first prove that they are free from insects, weeds, or diseases that could severely damage the agriculture and environment. As a result, the average homeowner typically doesn't have to worry about bugs killing newly laid sod or recently seeded lawn.

But just because insects are not a primary cause for sod damage doesn't mean that you should ignore them entirely. California houses a variety of local pests that love nothing more than to nibble at roots or munch on blades. And you'll find some of the most problematic species listed below.

1. White Grubs (Masked Chafers)

Masked chafers are golden brown beets with hairy underbellies. After the adults lay eggs, the larvae (white grubs) feast on the roots of Kentucky bluegrass, annual bluegrass, and perennial ryegrass. Once the roots have gone, your grass will wilt, wither, and brown in irregular patches.

Fortunately, white grubs tend to feed near the soil's surface. So if you regularly aerate your lawn and follow sound fertilization practices, you can kill a large portion of the infestation.

2. Cutworms and Armyworms (Owlet moths)

Noctuidae moths, or owlet moths, have drab forewings and brightly colored hindwings. They lay their eggs in the soil, and when the eggs hatch, the young caterpillars eat the leaves and crowns of your turf. As the pests eat at your lawn, you may notice depressed spots and circular patches of dead grass.

The caterpillars tend to occupy aeration holes and hide in thick thatch. If you regularly dethatch your grass and avoid overwatering your lawn, the caterpillars will have nowhere to hide from predators.

4. Sod Webworms (Lawn/Snout Moths)

Lawn moths, or snout moths, have a sensory appendage that extends from their head. This appendage creates the illusion of having a long nose or snout. At night, the moths lay their eggs in turfgrass. And when the larvae hatch, the pests cut off leaf blades and pull them into their burrows. Soon the sod will turn brown, much like drought-stressed grass.

Unlike cutworms and armyworms, sod webworms do not need a thick layer of thatch to survive. The adult moths lay their eggs indiscriminately, and the resulting larvae dig their own burrows. However, dethatching does reduce their population. And if you have a minor infestation, you can combine 2 tablespoons dish soap with 1 gallon of water and soak the lawn with it. The worms will come to the surface, and you can then rake and kill as needed.

5. Billbugs

Billbugs are light brown beetles with clubbed antennae and a downward-pointed snout. They lay their eggs in the stems of bermudagrass and zoysiagrass, and the eggs hatch within 6 to 8 weeks. The legless grubs then feed on the stem and the crown of your sod, and they finish with the roots. If the insects continue undisturbed, they'll leave behind sawdust-like feces on the lawn's surface.

The easiest way to prevent billbug infestations is to plant billbug resistant turf. Some tall fescue and fine fescue grass, for example, often have fungal endophytes that give the plants greater resistance to disease and insects.

How Else Can You Keep These Insects at Bay?

Once you've identified the pests eating your lawn, you can talk to a pest control expert about appropriate insecticides to keep them under control.

And when you've treated the problem, don't forget to talk to a lawn expert about ways you can restore your damaged grass. If the insects destroyed large portions of your grass, you may want to lay new sod. But if you caught the problem in time, a little reseeding can go a long way to ensure your lawn looks lush and green.