Chinch bugs can damage a variety of turf grasses in the Kansas City area. A short list of host plants includes perennial ryegrass, Kentucky bluegrass, zoysia grass, Bermuda grass, and tall fescue. Chinch bug damage first appears as irregularly shaped yellow patches that are two to three feet in diameter. If these areas are left unchecked, these patches will eventually turn brown and die.
Adult Chinch bugs emerge from overwintering sites in the early spring. These adults will find mates and start reproducing as the temperatures begin to rise during the spring. As the adults and nymphs begin to feed, they insert their piercing/sucking mouthparts into the sensitive plant tissue areas of the crown or stems. The feeding chinch bugs inject toxic saliva into the turf grass, which hinders the uptake of water and nutrients. Chinch bug feeding is less noticeable in the spring when the turf grasses are actively growing. However, when environmental stresses begin to emerge as the season progresses, then chinch bug feeding quickly becomes evident.
Adult Chinch bugs. Picture by B. Fresenburg
Controlling chinch bugs with cultural practices is a viable option. Chinch bugs prefer hot and dry conditions and frequent irrigation can destroy the nymphs and reduce the damage. Planting improved turf grass varieties is another option for avoiding chinch bug damage. Turf grasses that are enhanced with endophyte seem to be more resistant to chinch bug populations.
Removing excess thatch is another cultural practice to consider. Removing the adult chinch bugs overwintering site will help reduce the current populations and egg laying. A chemical application applied in early summer (June) is another method that is used to destroy chinch bug populations.
To determine if chinch bugs are a problem in home lawn, take a coffee can and cut out both ends so that the can is hollow. Place the can two or three inches into the turf. Fill the can up with water. If chinch bugs are present, they will float to the surface in five to ten minutes. Repeat this procedure in several areas in the lawn. Chinch bugs can also be detected by sprinkling ¼ cup of lemon-scented household detergent mixed in two gallons of water over one square yard of turf and counting the insects as they crawl to the surface. Population of 25-30 individuals per square feet warrants a chemical treatment.