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Is your lawn suddenly brown? This pest could be to blame

Is your lawn suddenly brown? This pest could be to blame
Posted at 11:11 PM, Sep 01, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-02 17:33:14-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- An infestation of armyworms across Virginia is leaving lawns brown and dry.

According to a Facebook post from a Richmond landscaping group, fall armyworms can eat and devour a lawn in just 24 hours. There hasn't been widespread infestation in this area in over 20 years as fall armyworms typically remain further south.

Thomas Kuhar, a vegetable entomology professor at Virginia Tech, said that he hasn't seen an infestation in Virginia this serious in his entire career.

"This is the worst that I've seen," Kuhar said. "A lot of my colleagues have said the same thing. They have never seen this devastation from this pest before."

Kuhar said that he and his team of experts have seen this pest spread across almost the entirety of Virginia. He said that while parts of it, like the Richmond area, are getting the worst of it, lawns across the Commonwealth are being damaged by the pest.

Virginia isn't alone. Other states across the midwest and northeast are experiencing similar problems.

Once a female moth arrives, she can lay up to 2,000 eggs in a single month.

If your lawn has fall armyworms, either your entire lawn or patches of your lawn will turn brown, looking very similar to drought stress.

"So, it's death. That grass is dead. And then they'll go to the next one. And the next one, and the next one. There's so many of them that entire lawns are destroyed," Kuhar said.

Kuhar said that while you can treat your lawn to try to protect it from an infestation, nature will determine how long the pests will stay.

"Whenever there's been any fall armyworm outbreaks, Mother Nature will take care of the problem. In these areas, you're going to see they don't do well when you get a lot of rain," Kuhar said. "The other thing is the cold weather starts to come in. And they are not tolerant of cold whatsoever."

He added that this year is unusual as the fall armyworms arrived in the area earlier than they usually do, making their way to places like Virginia in August. This timeline would give them the chance to go through regeneration with even higher numbers.

"That is a scenario if we probably had a drought between now and next month. That could very well happen."

There's little that can be done to prevent the arrival of fall armyworms. To treat them, Kuhar said the use of insecticide can help.

Kuhar said that if you begin to see brown patches on your lawn, it may be a good sign that you're already facing a problem.

"We're faced with people that have lost their lawns and they've got to start over. That's it. There's nothing you can do with a completely brown dead lawn," Kuhar said.

Anyone who sees evidence of fall armyworms should contact their current lawn treatment provider to address the problem.

Kuhar asked for anyone who has noticed unusual plants that fall armyworms to contact Virginia Tech's Department of Entomology. Kuhar said there seems to be something unusual going on this year's species. You can find contact information for the department here.