Lawn-care companies are swamped as armyworms decimate entire lawns within hours and spread north, and there may be a link to climate change

Armyworms can quickly devastate crops and lawns. Reuters

  • Army worms can turn a lush, green lawn brown overnight, apparently.

  • Some lawn care companies are struggling with the pest with the influx of customers.

  • The worm is spreading to new areas, and that could be related to climate change.

  • Check out Insider’s business page for more stories.

The lawns that David Bender deals with are often so infested with armyworms that it almost looks like the grass is rippling in waves.

“They eat up the lawn completely. It turns a green, plushy lawn into a brown, muddy lawn in hours and days,” said Bender, the owner of Weeded Lawn Service. “I find them gross. Thousands of these things are just marching through the destruction of the entire property.”

Although Bender has been in business in Richmond, Virginia for 20 years, he said he had never dealt with Army worms in his area until last week. Now he and his staff are crawling as a flurry of customers seek help with the worms, he added.

Bender said it cost customers hundreds of dollars to get rid of the pests and re-sow their lawns. Other businesses in the area were similarly overwhelmed. One asked prospects to email instead of calling because the company’s voicemail was full of requests from Armyworms.

Infestation usually begins with bare patches or brown grass before spreading across the lawn.

“The lawn damage shown was done over a period of TWO DAYS!” Wes Ory, the owner of Heritage Lawns and Irrigation, which serves the Kansas City area, tweeted along with a photo of a yellowish-brown garden.

While armyworms often infest lawns and fields across the southeast, the spread of the pests to new areas like the northeast and the Midwest could be related to a warming climate, said Terri Billeisen, an entomologist at North Carolina State University.

Billeisen said the worms preferred to eat finer grasses like Bermuda and fescue, which are among the most common types of grass for lawns. Army worms are about 1.5 inches long and usually dark green or black with a yellow head.

The story goes on

“They love lush, green lawns, so watered and fertilized turfgrass for the warm season, like hybrid Bermuda grass, is a great target in the heat of summer,” said Rick Brandenburg, an entomologist at North Carolina State University. “There’s really no way you can prevent it.”

Jeff Herman, editor-in-chief of national turf service company LawnStarter, said armyworms are a common nuisance for customers, but they haven’t posed a bigger problem this year than in previous years.

“Army worm invasions are a widespread plague that humans have been dealing with since turf has existed,” Herman said.

If you think you have a problem with the armyworm, do the following:

  • Mix soap with water and pour the mixture over a small piece of your garden. When your garden is infested, the caterpillars rise to the surface.

  • Be on the lookout for brown patches of grass, eaten blades of grass, and birds flocking around your lawn.

  • When the pests are small, fight them with a liquid insecticide (these are available online and at lawn and gardening stores).

Do you work for a lawn maintenance company or have you encountered armyworms in your lawn? Email the reporter for this story at [email protected]

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