On top of having the least appealing name, hairy chinch bugs are arguably the most destructive lawn pest in the US. Thriving in sunny, warm, and humid climates, hairy chinch bugs can be found scattered across much of the US but are most prominent on the eastern seaboard. They feed on a variety of grasses, including popular types such as St. Augustine, Bahia, and Zoysia, and have also been known to chomp down Kentucky bluegrass, perennial ryegrass, and bentgrass. In other words, they’re not too picky. In most cases, infestations begin somewhat inconspicuously on the outer edges of the lawn, and if unnoticed, they can gradually move inward and cause extensive damage.
There are two incredibly tricky things about these pests. First, they are notoriously difficult to detect. About 1/6 of an inch long, chinch bugs have a black body, reddish-brown legs, and white wings and can easily be mistaken for many other benign bugs. Oftentimes, they’ll go unnoticed until an infestation is in full swing. The second tricky thing about them is the type of damage they cause. More specifically, chinch bugs feed on the grass by piercing the blades with their pointy mouths and stealing away valuable fluids and nutrients. This is done at scale, giving the grass a dry, drought-like look. In other words, it often looks like you just need to water your grass. When seeing this brownish look, many homeowners will (understandably) assume that the grass is just parched and will continue to water their lawn, not knowing that this will actually make the problem worse. By doing this, they are essentially creating a hospitable environment for the chinch bugs to thrive in.
So how can you go about both protecting your lawn from chinch bugs and what should you do if an infestation has already occurred? Let’s take those one at a time.
To protect your lawn from chinch bugs, it’s important to create an environment as inhospitable as possible for them. The good news here is that creating an inhospitable environment for chinch bugs is synonymous with creating a healthy and hospitable environment for grass. This means watering your lawn infrequently and deeply, as opposed to multiple shallow waterings. When watering, be sure your lawn is able to fully soak up the water (puddles and saturation means you’re watering too much). In addition, it’s also important to leave a bit of length to your grass when mowing, remove debris, and apply a pesticide that specifically targets chinch bugs (bifen is commonly used for this).
If an infestation has already occurred, your course of action will ultimately depend on how bad the infestation is. Is it just a tiny section of brownish grass? Or is your whole yard infected? If the infestation is small, you can spot-treat the area with an insecticide. If it’s larger, it may be worth contacting a lawn care professional to assess the damage and determine the best course of action.
While chinch bugs are perhaps the peskiest of lawn pests, keeping your lawn healthy and well-maintained is the best way to protect against them. If you happen to notice a patch that’s turning brown, take the time to investigate further—it may be chinch bugs, and the sooner you take action, the better your chances are of restoring your lawn to its former glory.