7 Common Lawn Pests and Treatments

Paige Bennett
Written by Paige Bennett
Updated April 5, 2022
Mother and son playing soccer in the backyard
Photo: Belinda Howell / Moment / Getty Images

Don’t let these critters tear up your prized lawn

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Picture this: You’re admiring your vibrant, green lawn, and then you spot a brown tuft of dead grass. You’ve kept up with watering, mowed to an appropriate height, and conducted soil tests that indicate everything is seemingly healthy below the surface. As it turns out, you probably have bugs in the grass that are harmful to your efforts to maintain the perfect lawn. Here’s how to identify some of the most common lawn pests and how to treat them.

1. Chinch Bugs

When chinch bugs come to your yard, you may not even be able to spot them. These insects are small but mighty, and they feed on the moisture in grass. After feeding, they release saliva into the grass, which prevents the grass from absorbing water. This addition makes your lawn even more prone to drought.

Signs of Chinch Bugs in Grass

Adult chinch bugs are about as long as the tip of a pencil, so it’s likely you won’t see them. But they’ll make their presence known by leaving yellowing patches of grass that don’t revive after you water it.

Treatments for Chinch Bugs

To help prevent chinch bugs in grass, dethatch the lawn every fall to keep them from laying eggs. If you’re already dealing with an infestation, apply a broad-spectrum insecticide containing trichlorfon bifenthrin or carbaryl to get rid of these insects.

2. White Grubs

Grubs are the larvae of different beetles, and they are a common lawn problem that may kill off your grass. Grubs feed on grass roots, leaving the blades to die off. You can dig up a patch of soil and check for these white, curled-up grubs. There should be six or fewer grubs per square foot in a healthy lawn.

Signs of White Grubs in Grass

Crows looking for food on the lawn
Photo: Vladimir Kokorin / iStock / Getty Images Plus / Getty Images

If critters like raccoons, skunks, or crows are digging in your lawn, they are likely trying to eat the grubs in the soil. Other signs of grubs include wilting grass and brown patches of grass. Grass that you can easily pull from the ground is another indicator that grubs have chewed away the roots from the blades.

Treatments for White Grubs

To get rid of grubs safely, try milky spore, beneficial nematodes, or neem oil. These options are long-lasting, but if you need to save your grass from grubs quickly, consider pesticides formulated to eradicate grub worms.

3. Sod Webworms

Sod webworms are a type of moth larvae that feed on grass blades. These critters are about one inch long and brown or green with dark spots. 

Signs of Sod Webworms in Grass

Sod webworms may leave your grass blades with jagged edges, or they can turn grass blades into skeleton-like structures with just the plant veins remaining. Another indicator of a sod webworm problem is small, dead grass patches that slowly morph together into larger brown spots.

Treatments for Sod Webworms

Woman watering the lawn in the afternoon
Photo: ArtistGNDphotography / E+ / Getty Images

Regularly watering and fertilizing your lawn can help naturally deter sod webworms. If you are considering new grass seed, choose options that are “endophyte-enhanced” to prevent sod webworms. For an infestation, spray the lawn with the helpful bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis in the late afternoon before the sod webworms come out to feed on the grass.

4. Armyworms

Closeup of army worms in the yard
Photo: Mccallk69 / iStock / Getty Images Plus

These insects are a little larger than sod webworms, about one to two inches long, and they can come in many colors, including brown, black, gray, green, yellow, or pink. Their name fits them because these plump little soldiers aren’t much trouble individually, but large populations can quickly decimate a lawn.

Signs of Armyworms in Grass

Circular brown patches of grass and grass with chewed-up edges are clear signs of armyworms. You might also see clusters of white eggs in the lawn. These critters may eat both the grass blades and leaves of nearby plants, so watch for signs in your flower or veggie garden.

Treatments for Armyworms

Timing is critical because armyworms can lay hundreds of eggs per night and quickly move through the lawn on a warpath, eating your grass. Bacillus thuringiensis, neem oil, or pyrethrin, a natural pesticide that paralyzes armyworms, can help control armyworm overpopulation in your yard.

5. Cutworms

Closeup of a cutworm in the yard chewing the grass
Photo: ondreicka / Adobe Stock

Cutworms are another grass menace that will cut the grass stem off from its roots. These caterpillars are about two inches long with stripes along their bodies. Aside from chewing the grass away from its roots, cutworms will drag the grass with them as they burrow into your lawn, leaving dead patches and holes in their wake.

Signs of Cutworms in Grass

You will likely find dead spots of brown grass throughout your lawn, and when you kneel down for a closer look, there may be burrowed holes around the yard.

Treatments for Cutworms

Soapy water can act as a pesticide for cutworms. Either plunge any cutworms into soapy water or use a spray bottle of water and a few tablespoons of dish soap on the grass. Rinse away the soapy water after a few hours.

You can also try applying Bacillus thuringiensis to get rid of cutworms. Conventional pesticides will quickly wipe out these pests, but they can also kill off beneficial bugs in grass, so use them in moderation.

6. Ants

When you think of a lawn, ants probably come to mind. If you’ve tried to have a picnic in the backyard, you’ve probably come across ants in your lawn. Ants are great for a healthy lawn, but an overpopulation can lead to dry soil.

Signs of Excessive Ants in Grass

Several ant hills on the lawn
Photo: Kamal Sharma / Moment / Getty Images

Ants are powerful critters that dig impressive tunnels, so it’s easy to see when they are taking over your lawn—there will be anthills all over the place.

Treatments for Ants

Fortunately, you can use spot treatments to control excessive ants in your yard. You can use a commercial product designed for outdoor ant control. You can also combine water and dish soap in a spray bottle to spray affected areas. One popular treatment for ant control is to pour boiling water on and into the anthills, but be careful with this method, as the water can scald the grass.

7. Billbugs

Closeup of a billbug eating grass
Photo: Brett_Hondow / iStock / Getty Images Plus / Getty Images

Most bugs in grass only cause issues during the ultra-hungry larvae stage. Not so with pesky billbugs, which will destroy grass from egg to adulthood. These bugs chew up grass blades, lay eggs inside, and the hatched young eat the grass as they make their way into the world.

Signs of Billbugs in Grass

Billbugs may lead to irregular brown patches in your yard. Take a closer look: Pull at a handful of grass, and it will come up easily and create a powdery cloud similar to sawdust. Grass stems may also be hollow. You may also see huddles of the larvae around the base of the grass or in the topsoil.

Treatments for Billbugs

To kill off billbugs, apply an insecticide formulated to kill off these insects in the spring and fall seasons. Alternatively, you can apply nematodes in early summer to help control billbugs. To prevent future infestations, dethatch your lawn in the fall, stick to proper watering and fertilizing throughout the year, and consider seeding your lawn with a billbug-resistant grass type.

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