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What's living underfoot in Liberty County

Extension advice

POSTED: November 14, 2017 7:00 p.m.
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Ashley Hoopers is UGA Extension Service agent for Liberty County.

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Is something digging in your lawn? Many things dig in lawns, but not all are pests. The best way to learn who the culprit is in your yard is to look for evidence.

The holes in my yard usually look like small bombs were exploded. Sometimes there are partially buried sticks with toys lodged in them. In this case, the culprits were my dogs, Susie Q and Maggie Mae.

While dog holes are fairly noticeable in one’s yard, some of the other yard diggers may not be as obvious. If you take a look at your yard, you may be wondering what kind of pest leaves piles of granulated soil. They kind of look like little ant hills without the ants. These are caused by earth worms. They make these piles by passing soil through their bodies, which makes the soil look like it passed through a tube.

Generally, worms are not lawn pests. Some believe that they dig enough to damage lawns, but there would have to be lots of them to do this. Mostly, their activity is beneficial as they cultivate and fertilize the soil. Even if earthworms are so numerous as to be harmful, there are no insecticides labeled for their control.

In some situations, earthworms bring up enough soil to cover the turf. If necessary, water the areas to settle the soil. Earthworms may be worse in moist areas so be careful about how you water through the year. Do not water more often than twice a week, even when the weather is very dry. Water when the soil dries out. Wait until the soil dries again and then water like this again. This encourages deep rooting and stronger plants and can discourage certain insect and disease problems.

Another concern I hear from homeowners about this time of year is whether or not their turf is dying and if they have mole crickets. Many people think they have mole crickets, but few do. How do you know if you do?

Mole crickets make tunnels about the width of your finger. The tunnels are more easily seen in bare dirt on the morning after a rain. Holes in the ground or dirt piles are not signs of mole crickets.

Unfortunately, it is easier to scout for mole cricket injury earlier in the year. Mole crickets themselves are small and very hard to see in June and July. Attacked grass begins to thin and then will die. Drag your hand across it. Damaged grass will pull up easily as though it has no roots. The ground softens as the soil is pulverized by the tunneling.

On bare ground you should see the tunnels, especially a day or so after a rain. Golf course managers can watch for the presence of mole crickets by looking for tunnels in sand traps.

Landscapers and homeowners may mistake earthworm castings for mole cricket injury. Earthworms leave piles of granulated soil, while mole crickets leave tunnels. Dying grass alone is not enough proof that you have mole crickets – you need to look for the small tunnels too.

To be certain what you have, you can try to flush them to the surface using a soap drench. Prior to drenching, the soil should be moist. Irrigate 24 hours before drenching if the soil is very dry. Mix one-half to one ounce of dish-washing detergent in a gallon of water. Soak the soil well in affected areas. Mole crickets should come to the surface within a few minutes.

Mole crickets are about 1-inch long, tan-brown with beady eyes and large, strong front legs. They do not hop much. This trick should work best on moist lawns in warm weather.

Early treatment is important. Mole cricket nymphs are small and easy to control in late June and early July. As these insects get larger they will require more chemical and more applications for control. Later chemical treatments may be less effective, giving a lower kill rate. As the mole crickets get larger, they also do more damage to turf.

By fall mole crickets are large and hard to control. I would try not to control them now if you can avoid it, as most insecticides will not do a good job of killing them this time of year. A soil applied insecticide applied in early June is the best prevention for mole crickets.

When using insecticides, you can increase control of mole crickets by allowing the soil to dry out for three or four days and then irrigate thoroughly in the evening. Apply the insecticide the next afternoon. Mole crickets are sensitive to soil moisture and will move down in the ground to find comfortable conditions if the surface is dry. Irrigation will bring them back up to resume feeding the following night, making them easier targets for control.

If you have so many mole crickets that they are killing your lawn, you can try to kill them now using baits. Generally, baits are a better control option for mole crickets in fall and early spring than granular or liquid insecticides. Baits are insecticides placed on something the mole cricket likes to eat. The manufacturers add something to the bait to attract the pest.

Baits must be used in a very specific fashion and they are hard to find. Make sure the chemical says "bait" on the label and is registered for mole crickets. Look for mole cricket baits containing Sevin. Use fresh baits and try to buy only what you need and use it all. Baits do not store well.

Let the lawn dry out and then water it thoroughly. Wait 24 hours and then apply the bait just before nightfall to a dry lawn. If you get up early the next morning, you may see dead mole crickets. Mole crickets are hard to kill. Do not expect this to kill them all.

Keep in mind that not all turf needs to be treated for mole crickets. Consider treating turf that has a history of mole cricket problems. Athletic fields that keep their lights on during May and June can be at greater risk because the lights attract the adults.

Remember, timely treatment is the key to good mole cricket control and be sure to read and follow all label recommendations when using any pesticide. The label is the law!

Another popular question is: "What is tunneling all over my yard?" Moles burrow through lawns and beds leaving 2 ½- to 3-inch-wide tunnels. They eat mole crickets, earthworms and grubs.

Baits are not a good way to kill moles. A mole is not likely to eat baits since its main food is insects. One way to get rid of moles is trapping. Unfortunately, this is not for those with a weak stomach, but if you want to get rid of the moles in your yard, this is one of the few options you have.

To be successful you need to locate their main runs. To do this, step on their runs in several places to mark the spots. Go back to these spots and see which ones the moles are using. Do this several times, and then place the traps in these runs. There can be many moles in one area, so you may have to use the trap repeatedly.

You can try to get the moles to leave by killing their food. Wet the lawn well to bring insects to the surface. Wait 24 hours and spray the lawn or use a granular insecticide to kill lawn insects. The moles may move when they cannot find food.

Personally, I do not think using insecticide works very well, but people seem to like this method. It is hard to get insecticide through the turf into the soil. Trapping is the most sure mole control but it is difficult to do correctly.

Managing turf pests can burn a hole in your wallet and cause a huge headache throughout the year. So if your damage is not that severe, you may choose the easier route and just learn to live with your pest.

If you would like more information about any of these lawn pests, feel free to call our local Extension Office at 912-876-2133.

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