Published Thursday, August 12, 2010

Cowetans warned to be on lookout for armyworms

By Sarah Fay Campbell

The Newnan Times-Herald

The armyworms are coming. And they want your lawn. For dinner.

Armyworms, which are actually the caterpillar form of a small gray moth, arrive in Georgia every year. But this year, they are not only early, but they're particularly abundant.

On Monday, David Stephenson found the caterpillars covering the property of his Sullivan Road home.

"The grass was completely covered ... it was unbelievable," he said.

Tuesday morning, there were no more armyworms. And no more lush green Bermuda grass lawn.

"The grass is basically dead," Stephenson said. Parts of his front yard are "just about dirt," while other areas are dried and brown.

The armyworms were nowhere to be found.

Stephenson said it was one of the strangest things he's ever seen.

Established lawns can normally bounce back from an armyworm attack, said Stephanie Butcher, director of the Coweta County Extension Service.

"Bermuda has a tendency to come back, it is very vigorous," she said. "It is very rare for it to completely kill a lawn."

A lawn that is not as firmly established, however, may be permanently damaged.

Stephenson said he had new sod installed two years ago. He called the man who normally treats his lawn, but he wasn't able to get there until Wednesday, Stephenson said -- because he was so busy treating other infestations.

"He said there were lots of yards just like it," Stephenson said. Stephenson said he was told that his lawn probably wouldn't green back up this year. Come spring, "it may grow or it may not," he said.

Butcher said that, in the past week or so, her office has been getting between 20 and 30 calls a day about the armyworms.

Butcher said she started getting calls in early July, "which is fairly early for armyworms."

The worms aren't just eating lawns. They're also devastating hayfields and pastures.

If someone is nearly ready to cut their hayfields and they discover an armyworm infestation, "go ahead and cut it" and treat the field afterwards, Butcher said.

Butcher said that, in hayfields, the caterpillars will eat the grass blade but leave the stem. "You will just see a field full of stems," she said.

The caterpillars have also been invading some of the Coweta County recreation fields.

"It has been a bad summer for armyworms on our fields," said Patricia Palmer, Coweta's public affairs director. "We have had some on several county recreation fields and are treating for them," she said.

"Most of all, we are actively looking for more so they can be treated before an infestation takes hold."

Though armyworms primarily feed on grass, especially Bermuda, they can also attack crops.

The female moths can lay up to 700 eggs, Butcher said.

The first sign that armyworms are near may be clusters of birds forming on your lawn, she said. "Although birds eat armyworms, they are no match for hundreds of them on one lawn," she said.

If you suspect your turf is being infiltrated but you can't find the caterpillars, you can try soaking the lawn with soapy water to bring them to the surface, Butcher said.

There's a wide variety of common chemicals that can treat an armyworm infestation.

It's important, however, to make sure that only chemicals that are approved for hay or pasture are used on them. "Some chemicals have grazing and haying restrictions," Butcher said.

A wider variety of chemicals can be used on lawns.

Sevin dust and liquid (carbaryl) can be quite effective in killing the caterpillars, on both lawns and pastures.

On lawns, you can also use various pyrethroids, such as bifenthrin, cyfluthrin, and permethrin, Butcher said.

Pasture treatments include Karate (lambda-cyhalothrin), and Mustang MAX/cypermethrin.

Neither list is inclusive, said Butcher. Check with your feed and seed supplier or lawn care center for specific needs. "Please note any restrictions as listed on the product label and closely follow the label instructions," Butcher said.

For more information, you can contact the Coweta County Extension Service at 770-254-2620.

© 2011 The Newnan Times-Herald Inc., Newnan, Georgia. Any unauthorized use, copying or mirroring is prohibited.