It's easy to overlook lawn and garden pests until damage appears and your problems are magnified. Left unchecked, problem pests can damage plants and lawns, overrun favorite garden spots, and put an end to plans for outdoor entertaining. Things get even more complicated if these pests make their way into your home. With a little information and effective pest control products, you can defeat these common lawn and garden pests.
GrasshoppersWith sturdy, winged bodies and large hind legs, grasshoppers stay on the move. Strong jumpers and fliers, these pests constantly seek food. All types of plants, from grasses and weeds to edibles and ornamentals, fill their menus. With rugged, chewing mouthparts, grasshoppers don't leave dainty holes; they consume entire plant parts.
Grasshoppers vary significantly in size and color, but most common types grow up to 2 inches long in nature-blending greens and green-browns. In addition to their normal garden damage, many grasshopper species wreak added havoc when populations soar and migrations start. Migratory grasshopper swarms can number in the millions, leaving widespread paths of plant destruction behind.1
Grasshoppers often blend into the plants they feed on.
Some beetles are beneficial garden guests that feed on destructive insect pests. But other beetle types, such as Japanese beetles and darkling beetles, do harm instead of good.
Japanese beetles damage lawns and gardens in both immature and adult stages. The plump, 1-inch-long larvae, known as grubs, feed heavily on lawn grass roots. Adult beetles are known for their metallic green-and-bronze, 1/2-inch bodies and indiscriminate damage. The striking pests leave little behind besides skeletonized leaves and disfigured flowers and buds.
Darkling beetles, also known as lesser mealworm beetles, are serious, disease-spreading pests of poultry houses — including trendy, urban, backyard chicken coops. About 1/2 inch long with hard, dark body coverings, these pests also strike garden seedlings and occasionally swarm and invade homes. Their 3/4-inch-long larvae, known as mealworms, infest cereals, flours, grains and pet foods.2
Darkling beetles are also known as litter beetles.
Folktales claim these creatures crawl into the ears of sleeping people, but damaging plants and creeping into homes more accurately describe their ways. Reddish-brown earwigs measure about 5/8 inch and have ominous pinchers at the end of their abdomens for protection or catching prey . Males have thick, curved pinchers, and female pinchers are straight and thin.
Earwigs feed at night and hide in dark, damp spots during daytime. Large irregular holes left on leaves, buds and flowers look very similar to slug or snail damage — minus the slime. Their preference for moisture triggers migrations into homes during dry summer weather.3 Keep foundations free of plant debris, leaky faucets and damp mulch to help keep these pests away.
Despite their name and reputation, earwigs don't crawl into ears.
Often discovered in large masses under decaying wood, sowbugs are known as "woodlice" in many regions. They typically eat decomposing organic matter, but they feed on seedlings, small plants and ground fruits, such as strawberries, too. During dry times, large numbers of sowbugs invade homes in search of the moisture, which is necessary for their survival.
Very similar to pillbugs, sowbugs grow 1/4 to 1/2 inch long and vary in color from dark, mottled brown to bluish gray. Their slightly convex bodies have seven pairs of legs and two small, tail-like protusions. Unlike pillbugs, sowbugs do not roll into balls. Unusual overlapping scales hint at sowbug origins. These pests aren't insects — they're land-dwelling crustaceans more closely related to crayfish and shrimp.4
Sowbugs or woodlice prefer damp hiding spots under decaying wood.
Known for disrupting picnics and other outdoor events, ants are among the most common outdoor insects. Left unchecked, they often venture into homes in search of moisture and food, earning the title of America's leading household pests. While some ants return to outdoor nests after foraging inside, others take up residence indoors unless they're stopped before they come in. Once indoors, ants may contaminate food, spread disease and even cause structural damage.
Common ant species vary in length from 1/16 to 3/8 inch, with colors ranging from translucent yellow to black.5 These social insects live in colonies that can number in the tens or hundreds of thousands, depending on the species. Though ants don't damage plants directly, some types contribute to damage by protecting plant pests such as aphids and scales from natural insect predators. The ants feed on "honeydew," the sweet, sticky substance these plant-damaging pests excrete.
Ants protect honeydew-producing pests such as aphids.
Tender, young seedlings and garden transplants are favorite cutworm targets. As their name suggests, these pests cut into or through plant stems. Most of their damage occurs at night. Some types prefer garden veggies, such as cabbage or peppers. Others attack turf grasses and shear grass blades at their base.
Cutworms vary in color from pink to black; stripes or spots often run down their bodies. The larvae of several moth species, these pests grow up to 2 inches long and curl into a C-shape when disturbed. Cutworms spend most of their day in soil, and many overwinter in soil as well.6 Give gardens a thorough end-of-the-season tilling to cut down on cutworm carryover.
Black cutworms do most of their damage at soil level.
Often mistaken for small grasshoppers, crickets excel at disrupting a good night's sleep. In a noisy nighttime mating ritual, male crickets rub their wings together, creating loud, female-attracting chirps. In nature, crickets feed on insects and plants. When they find their way inside — as they often do — fabrics and food are fair game.
Common crickets have large hind legs and long antennae. Black field crickets and golden brown house crickets grow up to 1 inch long. Both congregate around foundations, beneath windows and outdoor lights. If you hear a field cricket's chirps— and you're curious about the temperature — count the number of chirps in 15 seconds and add 40. The answer approximates the temperature in degrees Fahrenheit.7
Crickets have long slender antennae and large hind legs.
Unlike common crickets, mole crickets are extremely destructive pests responsible for widespread damage in Southern lawns and turf settings. These subterranean pests spend most of their lives tunneling underground and feeding on grass roots. Some species target tender plant shoots above ground, too.
Adult mole crickets reach 1 to 1 1/4 inch long, with oversize heads, lobster-like forearms and mole-like, clawed forefeet. Strong diggers, they leave small "molehills" and mole-like runways right below the lawn's surface. Animals such as raccoons and armadillos add to the damage when drawn to feed on these lawn pests. In the Deep South and Gulf Coast regions, mole crickets hatch about the same time that African lilies (Agapanthus) flower.8
Mole crickets have powerful forelegs with mole-like claws that dig through turf.
Several species of common moths produce larvae known as armyworms. These wormlike pests cause substantial lawn damage as they feed on grass blades morning and night. When high numbers are present, lawns appear to move as the wormlike army marches and feeds. Common garden edibles, including tomatoes and cabbage, sustain feeding damage, too.9
Armyworms grow 1 1/2 inches or longer. Their greenish brown bodies have dark heads with a distinctive, inverted "Y" on top. A series of stripes – from green and yellow to red, brown and black – run down armyworm backs and sides. These pests also attract skunks, raccoons and other unwelcome visitors looking for armyworm snacks.
Southern armyworms are destructive crop pests.
With a name that roughly translates to "thousand feet," it's no surprise millipedes have numerous legs. The number of legs depends on their size. As millipedes mature, they add body segments, and each segment has two pair of short legs. Common millipedes grow 1/2 to 2 inches long, but some types grow more than three times that length.
These dark-colored, slow-moving creatures hide in damp, moist spots and curl into spirals when threatened. They feed mostly on decaying plant debris, but they eat seedlings and soft ground fruits, such as strawberries, too. In fall, millipedes congregate near homes by the thousands.10 Seeking moisture, they move indoors through foundation cracks and crevices, but they typically don't last long inside.
Millipedes coil up when disturbed.
Like sowbugs, pillbugs are more closely related to shrimp than true bugs. These soil-dwelling crustaceans typically feed on decaying organic matter and flourish during wet years. As pillbug numbers rise, so does damage to seedlings, small plants and ground fruits.11 Pillbugs also invade homes in large numbers, but they don't survive long in dry indoor conditions.
Pillbugs measure about 1/3 inch. Colors vary from dark brown to purple-black. Their rounded backs and overlapping scales evoke thoughts of miniature armadillos. Like sowbugs, pillbugs have seven pairs of legs, but they lack the two tail-like protrusions sowbugs have.4 The easiest way to distinguish pillbugs from sowbugs is to disturb them. Pillbugs roll into very tight, armor-like balls, inspiring the common name "roly-poly."
Pill bugs roll into tiny, pill-like balls when disturbed.
When lawn and garden pests threaten your lawn and garden, you need fast, effective control you can count on. Deadline®Bug Bait ready-to-use pellets control all these common pests — plus destructive garden slugs and snails as well. Follow the label directions, and apply the pellets to the soil surface in infested areas or form a pest barrier with a pencil-thin line. Protection remains even after rain or sprinkling.
With effective pest control products, you can protect your family's peace of mind and more. Deadline® and Corry's® brands are committed to providing you with timely information and effective products to put common pest disruptions behind you and get back to enjoying your lawn, gardens and home.
Always read product labels thoroughly and follow instructions, including guidelines for pre-harvest intervals (PHI) and application frequency for listed edible plants.
Deadline and Corry's are registered trademarks of Matson, LLC.
1. W.S. Cranshaw and R. Hammon, "Grasshopper Control in Gardens and Small Acreages," Colorado State University Extension, Jan. 2013.
2. L. Townsend, "Lesser Mealworms or Litter Beetles," University of Kentucky Entomology, Feb. 1998.
3. J. Hahn and P. Pelitteri, "European Earwigs in Homes and Gardens," University of Minnesota Extension.
4. M.F. Potter, "Sowbugs and Pillbugs," University of Kentucky Extension, Apr. 1998.1.
5. W.S. Cranshaw, "Ants in the Home," Colorado State University Extension, Jan. 2017.
6. J. Hanh and S. Wold-Burkness, "Cutworms in Home Gardens," University of Minnesota Extension.
7. J. Hahn and M. Ascerno, "Crickets," University of Minnesota Extension, 2008.
8. D. Held and P. Cobb, "Biology and Control of Mole Crickets," Alabama A&M and Auburn Universities Extension
9. C. Sansone, et al., "Armyworms in Turfgrass," Texas A&M Agrilife Extension.
10. P. Pellitteri, "Millipedes," University of Wisconsin-Extension, Dec. 2106.
11. M. Merchant, "Insects in the City: Pillbugs," Texas A&M Agrilife Extension.