Armyworms invading Ohio

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GALLOWAY, Ohio (WCMH) — Lydia Thomas has lived in her home near Galloway for nearly 40 years. Her husband, she said, is a perfectionist with their landscaping.

“We have Kentucky bluegrass,” said Thomas. “So, everyone’s always saying how beautiful our yard work looks.”

But a little over a week ago, Thomas said she noticed patches of dry, brown grass.

“A neighbor said she had something very similar, that her lawn person told her it was armyworms.”

So, Thomas did a little digging online.

“And low and behold, that’s what we have!” said Thomas.

And so do many others in Central Ohio, according to ‘The Bug Doc,’ Dave Shetlar.

“We’re seeing them on golf courses, home lawns, and sports fields,” Shetlar said.

A Professor Emeritus of Urban Landscape Entomology at The Ohio State University, The Bug Doc said armyworms are a type of caterpillar.

“And as their name implies, their behavior is, when they feed, they act like an army of worms, caterpillars, that just march across the turf and eat it down to the ground,” Shetlar said.

Ohio does have a native armyworm, but Shetlar said what we’re dealing with now are migratory insects that get blown up from the gulf states and even Mexico on storm fronts. “And we’ve certainly had the weather this summer to blow them up here,” he added.

As for why they landed on Thomas’s lawn, Shetlar said they will eat Kentucky bluegrass.

“Now, we’ve seen them also in fine fescue, tall fescue, and perennial ryegrass,” he added.

I asked The Bug Doc how Thomas, and anyone else plagued with the pests, can get rid of them. Right now, Thomas and her husband are treating the problem themselves with an insect killer, bought at a home and garden store.

“Yes, there are many over-the-counter products that you can get at the garden center,” Shetlar said.

But your best bet is to wait for a change in the weather.

“And my feeling is it won’t stop until we get the first hard frost that will kill these,” Shetlar said. “They can’t withstand freezing temperatures and that’s the only thing that will take them out for good.”

The Bug Doc said there is a simple way to determine if you have armyworms: flush them out with water and a dish soap that won’t kill your grass, like Dawn, Ivory Clear, or Joy Ultra. Just one tablespoon per gallon of water over a two- or three-square foot area where you think the armyworms are. It will bring them right to the surface.

If you do have armyworms, Shetlar suggests trying an over-the-counter product first. Then, if you have turf that’s been eaten down to the ground, lightly water it in the afternoon, the heat of the day. This, he said, will help to cool it down a little bit, so new shoots can grow. If you don’t see any improvements within a couple of weeks, it may be time to seek out the help of a lawn care expert.

As for the extent of the outbreak, Shetlar said it’s not only happening in the Buckeye State. His colleagues report severe damage in Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Pennsylvania, New York, and Maryland, and said they have not seen this kind of damage in 25 to 50 years.

“We think something else is going on with these. Something has happened that they’ve lost their normal controls,” Shetlar said.

I asked The Bug Doc if this is a problem we can expect next year, too.

“It has been our experience, both with the common armyworm and with this fall armyworm, that it rarely repeats the next year,” Shetlar said. “And it may not be until maybe five to seven years that we get another resurgence or another outbreak.”

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