10 Neat Things About Chinch Bugs
by Dorothy Dobbie
by Dorothy Dobbie

The Local Gardener magazines, Ontario Gardener, Manitoba Gardener and Alberta Gardener, are published by Pegasus Publications Inc.

Drawing on her 30 years' experience as a senior executive in the magazine publishing industry, Dorothy launched Manitoba Gardener in 1998, initially running the business out of her home. Two years later, Dorothy's daughter Shauna, living in Ontario, jumped into the fray with Ontario Gardener. And two years after that, they started Alberta Gardener. Visit us at and register for our "Ten Neat things" newsletter. Watch Shaw TV for garden tips and Listen to CJOB for the Gardener Sundays at 9:08

May 6, 2018

1. Ooh! What's that smell?

If an unpleasant odour is released as you walk across your brown lawn, chances are you have chinch bugs. They give off an odour when crushed.

2. Is that dog pee damage on my lawn?

Chinch bug damage in the early stages of infestation will cause yellow patches in June that may look like the kind of dead spots you get from a dog peeing on your lawn over the winter. But as the infestation gets worse and the bugs populate more and more of the grass (working from the outside in) the patch will become more circular and may look like drought damage. Look closely; the crown and grasses themselves will appear yellow around the edges of the patch.

3. What does a chinch bug look like?

These nasty little critters, Blissus leucopteras, are about four to six millimetres (┬╝-inch) long as adults, although most of the damage is done by the one-mm nymphs sucking on the tender grass sheaths and crowns. The adult is black and has an x-shaped, white marking on its back. The nymphs are red with a white stripe. They gradually turn brown and then black as they mature, leaving behind five exoskeletons as they moult to accommodate growth.

4. How can I be sure it's chinch bugs?

Take a large can, such as a coffee tin, and cut out the bottom. Force the can into the browned turf 12 centimetres (a couple of inches) deep. Fill it with soapy water, topping up as the water sinks down. Wait 10 minutes or so. The bugs will float to the top. Repeat this on brown spots around the yard. Five or more bugs per can indicates a serious infestation.

5. Some like it hot and dry.

Chinch bugs abound during periods of heat and drought. To keep them at bay, keep the lawn hydrated by watering weekly. Deal with excessive thatch buildup and aerate periodically to promote a healthy lawn. Reduce nitrogen feeding until you get rid of the bugs and don't cut your grass too short (keep it at seven cm - two to three inches) to avoid stressing the turf. Some people use a shop vac to vacuum the bugs from affected and nearby areas, then water well.

6. Snuggle down for the winter.

Chinch bugs typically look for a sheltered spot in which to overwinter. They will get cozy in fallen leaves, at the base of foundations - wherever they are out of the elements. They emerge when the temperatures reach about seven C and begin looking for a mate. About two weeks later, the egg laying begins. They lay about 20 eggs a day every day for three weeks, choosing grass blades and crowns.

7. Hungry babies.

Most of the damage is done by the nymphs, which inject their sucking mouth parts into the plant and extract the juices. While they suck, they release saliva, which interferes with water conduction so the plant withers and dies. There may be two hatchings in a season, doubling the damage, even though the second hatch won't reach adulthood.

8. Favourite food.

Chinch bugs prefer bentgrasses but are perfectly happy sucking your bluegrass and red fescues dry. They have also been known to go after buffalo grass.

9. If it's not chinch bugs, what could it be?

Similar browning can occur from an infestation of white grubs: the larvae of a number of beetles, especially of June bugs or Japanese beetles. You can check this out by pulling back a piece of turf and looking. The grubs will be quite visible. Another indication that the browning is cause by grubs, not chinch bugs is flocks of birds or even skunks feeding on the lawn.

10. Out, damned grub!

Getting rid of grubs is complicated, but an application of Safer's Soap is a start. It consists of potassium salts of fatty acids, which weaken the insect's protective shell. It needs to be used as a drench and is most effective on smaller areas (it can be expensive to treat a whole lawn). You can also slush them out with a weak solution of dish soap and water and a flannel sheet laid overtop. After 15 minutes or so, the grubs will have climbed onto the sheet to get away from the soap. They will become tangled in the nap of the flannel where you can pick them off. Diatomaceous earth is also said to be effective. My solution? Pull off the turf, dispose of the larvae and re-sod or seed. Choose a seed with ryegrass or one labelled endophytic which contain a fungus that the grubs cannot tolerate. This mix will also deter chinch bugs for the same reason.

Dorothy Dobbie Copyright┬ę Pegasus Publications Inc.

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