West Texas summers are always tough, but this year it is especially hot and dry – tempting even the most dedicated gardener to hibernate inside the air conditioning and forget about the yard for a while. But one thing to keep on top of through the summer is scouting for insect pests. Drought can decrease some insect populations but there are still always plenty to go around even in dry years. Watch out for things like June bugs and chinch bugs in the lawn, spider mites and squash bugs in the vegetable garden, and lace bugs on lantana.
Spider mites are small and hard to see, and can seem to suddenly devastate tomatoes and other garden crops. Scout regularly to catch them before they get out of control. Take a magnifying glass to inspect underneath the leaves, and shake the plant over a white sheet of paper to check for tiny specks that move around. Spider mites are arachnids, not insects, so they are harder to control. But products like neem oil or insecticidal soap can help – and releasing beneficials such as predatory mites, lady bugs and green lacewings can help as well.
Caterpillars can damage landscape and vegetable plants such as walnut caterpillar or webworm on pecan trees, sophora worms on Texas Mountain Laurel, tomato hornworms on vegetables, and armyworm in the lawn. Bt (aka Thuricide, Caterpillar Killer) is a good option that is effective and non-toxic to other types of insects. Just be careful to not let it drift onto butterfly plants, as it will kill beneficial butterfly caterpillars as well. Spinosad is another good option for caterpillars, and is also effective against a wider range of insect pests.
If there are small dead patches in the lawn, check for grubs – use a shovel to dig two lines forming an ‘L’ and see if the grass pulls up like a carpet, and look for white c-shaped grubs. If present, treat with an insecticide labeled for grubs in the lawn such as carbaryl.
Chinch bugs thrive in St. Augustine lawns in hot, dry weather – if there are stressed or damaged spots check for them by pouring a bucket of soapy water in the affected area. Wait for up to 20 minutes and if chinch bugs (small insects with a black body and white wings) emerge to the top of the ground, treat with an insecticide such as carbaryl or bifenthrin.
Don’t overdo it with pesticides – when used correctly they can keep landscapes and gardens from being damaged but if used too frequently or used improperly they can damage populations of beneficial insects, and make pest problems worse.
Allison Watkins is the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Agent for horticulture in Tom Green County. Contact her at [email protected]