September 15, 2012
Let’s get it straight from the get-go. Chinch bugs are tough critters. What else would flourish in the recent sweltering heat that was Ontario through July and into August?

They remain a major management challenge in residential areas and the target of research being led by Vineland Research and Innovation Centre and the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs to develop alternative control methods in the wake of Ontario’s cosmetic pesticide ban.

The trial plots are in Orangeville and Mono Mills. The research will be completed in summer 2013.

Adult chinch bugs overwinter in hedgerows and flower beds and move into adjacent grassed areas to lay eggs as temperatures rise in the spring. They thrive in hot and dry weather, particularly on well-drained soils. Both immature and mature stages of chinch bugs feed on grasses, inserting piercing-sucking mouthparts into the base of the stem and feeding on plant sap.

With the warm spring of 2012, adults emerged and started feeding early causing damage two to three weeks ahead of schedule. This produced a succeeding generation whose peak feeding coincided with the heat of July when grasses were water-stressed and temperatures at their highest.

Chinch bugs are often naturally-infected with fungi, which are common population regulators throughout the insect world. Similarly, in related research on European chafer, it is not unusual to find grubs infected with fungi or nematodes.

Research is focusing on ways of reliably and cost-effectively using these biological control agents and other natural products to control chinch bugs in the urban environment. Most biopesticides have a low risk profile. While the focus now is on the use of these materials by landscapers and lawn care specialists in residential areas, it is likely that some may be successfully transitioned for use on lawns and sports turf in the future.

Although a few of the products tested have been available for some time, considerable improvements are needed to devise robust use practices that will ensure good insect control is obtained over a range of conditions. Biological control agents are living organisms and need to be handled and applied correctly to maintain viability and achieve maximum efficacy.

Given the high temperatures and dry conditions experienced when trials were set up in 2010 and 2011, results were very encouraging and provided some excellent lead candidates. These included an experimental spray of the fungus Metarhizium brunneum and the nematode Steinernema carpocapsae (particularly when applied as sprays prepared in a yucca extract). An experimental essential oil product also provided excellent knock-down of the bugs, and may be an ideal partner with a biological — the combination providing rapid knock down and extended control.

Trials for 2012 included a suite of biopesticides (registered or in the pre-registration phase) — some based on living organisms, others on natural products — and incorporated different use practices for the materials under investigation. It was the toughest year yet, weather-wise, and the data is still being analyzed to see which of the products performed well.

Sustainable lawns

Development of new chinch bug control products is only one part of the story. Looking ahead, additional components are needed to create a truly sustainable, resilient home lawn, that is more tolerant of insect feeding damage and capable of withstanding environmental pressures.

Opportunities exist to reduce other lawn care inputs such as fertilizers and particularly water. Fresh water supplies are severely limited, especially in areas where urban sprawl, industrial growth, and agricultural modernization place increasing demands on water supplies. Tall fescues and perennial rye grasses have long been valued for their drought tolerance, low maintenance and the speed at which they establish, which in turn helps prevent weed encroachment. However, its utility has been limited as it tends to grow in clumps, which would leave bare patches in a lawn. For this reason, fescues and perennial rye grasses have traditionally been mixed with other species, such as Kentucky bluegrass (a chinch favourite) to compensate.

Several new tall fescue and rye grass varieties appear to have the characteristics and growth habits to overcome these limitations. Creeping tall fescue and rye grasses, for example, have growth habits that are very similar to Kentucky blue, making them much more acceptable for lawns.

These varieties are characterized by their development of extensive, deep root systems which increases access to water and nutrients, delivering enhanced stress tolerance (drought, heat), reduced need for fertilizer and supplemental water requirements. There is also evidence suggesting greater insect tolerance in some cultivars. New varieties of Kentucky bluegrass are also emerging which have lower water demands. These grasses appear to have desirable qualities that can contribute to the establishment of a robust and sustainable home lawn.

Trials are already underway at the Guelph Turfgrass Institute to validate the performance of the creeping tall fescue and perennial ryegrasses, and the conditions presented in the 2012 season have provided a good test of their performance. Results will be shared at the 2013 Ontario Turfgrass Symposium.

For more information on this article, contact Michael Brownbridge, Vineland Research and Innovation Centre at, or Pam Charbonneau, Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, at Vineland Research and Innovation Centre is funded in part by Growing Forward, a federal-provincial-territorial initiative.
Dr. Michael Brownbridge heads the Horticultural Production Systems team at Vineland Research and Innovation Centre.