Documents: Special Interest: Orchids:

Chinch Bugs, Roses & Madrone Tree

A dead lawn likely due to Chinch bugs; when to prune roses (everywhere in the world I believe); what to do with a potted Asiatic lily; and Madrone tree seedlings that are doomed!
by Art Drysdale
by Art Drysdale


Art Drysdale, a life-long resident of Toronto and a horticulturist well known all across Canada, is now a resident of Parksville, British Columbia on Vancouver Island, just north of Nanaimo. He has reno-vated an old home and has a new garden there. His radio gardening vignettes are heard in south-western Ontario over radio station Easy 101 FM out of Tillsonburg at 2 PM weekdays.

Art also has his own website at

September 25, 2005

Above: a beautiful Arbutus menziesii specimen near The Fairmont Empress hotel in Victoria. Below: a similar large specimen in full bloom on May 9, this year at the Finnerty Garden at the University of Victoria, along with a close-up of the flowers on the same day. Author photos.

Having dealt with but three questions two weeks ago, and none last week, I find myself a way behind in question answering. For example, Diane Church wrote from Hamilton on September 16th: “I think my lawn has died this summer and I don’t know why. It was watered twice a week and I did a weed and feed in the spring. Because of the heat and dry conditions I was afraid to put down more feed. The lawn in the yard is 2 yrs. and the front 1 yr. both from sod. It was also rolled and aerated this spring. We called the Weedman for his opinion and he told us that there is a small bug killing lawns, but I don’t know. Also you can see around the edges the outline of the sod. The lawn is dry, brown and looks like hay, the only thing green on it are the weeds and new tree seedlings from a Sunburst locust 50 yrs old on the front lawn. I thought that the tree might be taking the moisture out of the soil but there is no tree in the back and it is as bad. We will call in a landscaper for his advice but would you recommend removing the lawn or over-seeding. Both of these things would have to be done by a company as my husband can no longer do this kind of work. Any advice that you have would be helpful.”

Weedman is right the Hairy Chinch bug (Blissus leucopterus hirtus) is now quite prevalent in Ontario and has been for decades. It works above the soil level in amongst both the thatch and the lower portions of the grass plants. If irregular sections of your lawn were yellow and straw-coloured, and these patches increased in size, then likely you have Chinch bug. If you have had raccoons and/or skunks tearing up the turf in spring and late summer, then it is more likely that you have either a European chafer or June Beetle infestation in the soil (as different from above the soil level).

The best way to determine the presence of Chinch bugs (during the summer, and not necessarily now, but you could still try) is to take a clean 4-litre can and cut the bottom and rim off, leaving a relatively sharp edge. Turn this edge into the soil so it ‘cuts into the thatch well, and partially into the soil. Fill the can with water, and if it empties within ten minutes, fill it again. Since Chinch bugs are above the soil, they will float up to the surface. A count of 25 or more in any one area (per 30 cm2) is considered in need of treatment.

A favoured biological control is to irrigate the lawn well, almost daily during the spring and early summer, especially if it is particularly hot as it was this year. Though the adult insects can withstand the water because of their hairy bodies, the nymph stages (of which there are five) cannot, and usually die from contact with heavy, large water droplets.

Chemical controls are now extremely limited. Both Chlorpyrifos and Diazinon gave 80 to 90% control if applied at appropriate times (late June or mid-August) but neither is now available unless you happen to have kept some. Carbaryl (Sevin) is available (e.g. Nu-Gro/Wilson GrubOut), but the rate of control is much lower--only from 45 to 65%.

If most of your lawn is indeed dead, then reseeding (over-seeding) soon is a possibility, but I would choose perennial ryegrasses, fine fescues or tall fescues with endophytes. These grasses with endophytes are highly resistant to this pest.

Alex Ramsay, back on September 1st wrote: “When is the best time to prune roses in Victoria, B.C.--spring or fall? I would appreciate hearing from you.”

I don’t think there are many who would disagree with the general advice that no matter where in the world you are located, the time to prune rose bushes is in the spring. In Victoria, that is usually considered to be in March. Now, there are some cases where fall pruning is advised. Generally this would only be for individual canes on bush roses, or climbers for that matter, that are dangling or extremely long in growth. These should be pruned back to the normal growing height. The pruning of longer growths in the fall is to prevent damage to the bush in case there should be a snowfall during the winter.

In eastern Canada, or anywhere that the winters are severe, still the major pruning should be done in the spring, with only trimming back of long growths being done in the fall, for the same reason.

Shirley Gosling from Powell River, B.C. wrote on September 3rd with two questions: “When are you on Powell River Shaw TV? I keep missing you. I have an Asiatic lily purchased in the floral department here in Powell River. It has now stopped blooming. Can I put it out into my garden now or should I keep it protected in a cold greenhouse till spring?”

Generally, fall is a great time for planting lilies. So, I would get it out into the garden now. Choose a spot with excellent drainage and plant it about 10 cm (4”) deep. Be sure to put in a stake/label to remind you what you’ve planted, and where. A little mulch placed over the planting spot late in the fall will not hurt.

I have asked the people at Shaw to advise the particular schedule for my programme in Powell River.

Warren Law wrote on September 7th with this interesting question: “Donna from referred me to you for help. We live in the Montreal area. On a recent trip to Victoria and the Butchart Gardens we bought a package of the wonderful Arbutus tree seeds. On returning home we planted some in a 6" pot. Lo and behold, two seeds germinated and are now about 4" high. What do we need to do with them over the winter? Can we bring them inside, near the light? I understand that they don't like transplanting but I assume we will have to do so eventually. We look forward to your reply.”

This is a problem with which my fellow eight classmates at The Niagara Parks Commission School of Horticulture and I dealt as far back as the late 50s and early 60s! Martin Moore, in our class of ’61 at the School, hailed from Powell River and was always raving about the Pacific Madrone tree (Arbutus menziesii). During Christmas and summer holiday periods (two and three weeks respectively) ‘Moe’ went home to B.C. and when he came back, he always returned either with Madrone seeds or seedlings. No matter what we did, we could not keep them alive. That was over a period of three years. They are native and hardy on Vancouver Island (basically only north to Qualicum Beach near us here) and in Washington State, Oregon and California.

I regret to advise Warren that he has little or no chance of growing these on--we tried virtually everything over 45 years ago!

By the way Warren, are you sure you purchased these at The Buthcart Gardens? I asked Richard Los the gardens superintendent and he said that as far as he knows, the garden does not sell Arbutus seeds, knowing of the problem.

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