Home lawn grub control products in Michigan for 2014

If dead patches in your lawn are getting larger or if skunks have dug up patches of your lawn, you may have grubs. Read about your options for growing grub-tolerant turf or applying an insecticide to prevent more grub and skunk damage.

White grubs. Photo credit: MSU

White grubs. Photo credit: MSU

It has been a brutal winter in Michigan this year, but lawns will soon start turning green and some people will find patches in their lawn where the turf never becomes green and grows. Occasionally, a flock of birds may be observed feeding around the dead patches. These patches of thin or dead turf may be due to grubs.

Make sure the problem is grubs

Before doing anything, it is important to make sure that the problem is indeed grubs. If you see a dead patch, use a shovel to dig up a few Frisbee-size samples to a depth of 2 inches in turf around the bare spot and look for 0.75-inch long, C-shaped grubs. These are more than likely European chafer larvae if they are found in lawns without an irrigation system. European chafer can devastate a lawn with little warning because the adult beetles fly at dusk when they emerge in June and early July, and can easily be missed as they do their evening flight to mate and lay eggs since most of the activity occurs after dark. European chafer grubs can now be found in all locations in the Lower Peninsula and in much of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

Grubs in turf
White grubs in turf. Photo credit: Fred Baxendale, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Japanese beetle grubs also feed on turf roots in home lawns, but they are not as much a problem on home lawns as European chafers. Japanese beetles like to lay their eggs on irrigated turf like golf courses and athletic fields. They will live in home lawns, but rarely are they present in high enough numbers to damage turf because they avoid dry soils. Both Japanese beetles and European chafers lay most of their eggs in July, but Japanese beetles continue laying eggs into August.

The eggs of both species hatch about 10 days after they are laid. The grubs feed from the beginning of August until late October. By the end of October, they are fully gown. The larvae of both species look almost identical. They spend the winter as large grubs (0.75 inch long) some 2-6 inches below the soil surface. When the ground warms up in the spring, they resume feeding and can cause damage from the time the grass turns green until they pupate in mid-May. They are big enough that they can cause damage any time after Labor Day if enough of them are present. Grub damage may appear in home lawns from mid-September to November or from March to early May. However, for low-maintenance lawns, even if the turf is not killed from the grub feeding, the thinned and weakened turf may be prone to weeds and drought stress.

It is important to realize that healthy turf, especially if there is plenty of rain in the spring and fall, can support a grub population of five or more grubs per square foot with no visible turf damage. A lawn should be mowed at 3.5 to 4 inches in height and properly fertilized to maximize root growth. However, if the grub population is high or if there is a history of damage in an area, it may be necessary to consider using an insecticide for grub control.

Grub damage
Grub damage on a golf course. Photo credit: David Shetlar, Ohio State University

I sent Connor, a Michigan State University undergraduate technician working in our lab, to several of the local lawn and garden centers in the Lansing, Mich., area to see what kinds of products are available that specifically claim they will work to control grubs. He went to four different stores and found five to nine different products at each store. The profusion of different products can be rather mystifying. The critical issue with any grub control product is the active ingredient. There are many products available, some with the same active ingredients. The active ingredients are usually shown on the bottom right or left of the front of the bag and are listed as a percent of composition. See the last section of this article for a list of products Connor found and when to apply them.

The second major concern is to make sure the insecticide is thoroughly watered into the ground with at least a half-inch of irrigation or rain immediately after the chemical is applied. Research tests over the last 25 years have clearly shown that watering immediately after application is critical to obtaining good results. This also moves the chemical off the grass and will make the yard safe for children, pets and wildlife after the yard is dry.

A third concern is the rate at which the insecticide is applied. The label lists the legal rate at which the product can be used. I found one insecticide that contains an appropriate active ingredient, but the labeled rate is about half of what is needed for reliable grub control. There are also products for sale that list grubs on the label that do not work for grubs. Insecticides used for grubs can be separated into two groups based on how they work: preventive chemicals and curative chemicals.

Preventative insecticides that will prevent grub damage next fall (2014) and the following spring (2015)

These products are used to prevent future grub problems, not to control the grubs present in the lawn in the spring. They will not work on grubs found in the lawn from the middle of October through the middle of May. However, when applied in June or July, they provide excellent protection against the next generation of grubs. So, if you need to apply the preventive insecticide before the grubs are there, how do you know if you need to use an insecticide or not?

If you had confirmed grub damage, meaning that you found lots of grubs, the previous fall or spring, then you may want to use a preventive insecticide for one or two years to build a more dense turf that will be tolerant of grubs. If you have treated for several years and you do not see evidence of grubs in your lawn or in the neighbor’s lawn, it may be time to stop treating. There is an erroneous philosophy being perpetuated that because we have European chafers and Japanese beetles in the area, it is necessary to treat every year or your lawn will be damaged by grubs. This is not true.

Preventive products are the most effective

Products containing imidacloprid, thiamethoxam, clothianidin, halfenozide or chlorantraniloprole will not control grubs in the spring. They are preventive products that work very well on newly hatched grubs present in July, but do not work well for large grubs found from September to May. There are different recommended timings for application depending on the active ingredient. Although the bag often says apply anytime from May to Aug. 15, Michigan State University Extension highly recommends that products containing imidacloprid, thiamethoxam, clothianidin or halfenozide be applied and irrigated into the soil in June or July. If applied in early spring, they may move through the soil or partially degrade by the time the grubs hatch in late July. If applied too late, they may not be effective as they work best on small grubs.

Preventive products containing imidacloprid, thiamethoxam, halfenozide or clothianidin will consistently give 75-100 percent reduction of grubs if they are applied in June or July, and if they are watered-in with 0.5-1 inch of irrigation immediately after application. Lawn sprinklers can be used if you do not have an irrigation system. Measure how much water you have applied by placing several coffee cups on the lawn and running the sprinklers until they fill 0.5-1 inch deep with water.

There is a new active ingredient in some insecticides called chlorantraniliprole that is also very effective in preventing grub problems, but it is less water soluble than the other preventive compounds mentioned above. Since it takes longer to move down to where the grubs will be, it is best to apply a product containing chlorantraniliprole as early in the spring as possible (no later than mid-May) for it to be most effective when the grubs hatch in July and August. Chlorantraniliprole, when applied in April or early May and irrigated into the ground, will also give very good grub reductions for the following fall and spring of next year.

Some of these products come in a granular formulation and some come designed to be mixed with water and applied. Also, in the last two years, several products have become available in an attach-to-hose bottle and are automatically mixed with water when applied. If you are applying a product containing clothianidin, thiamethoxam or imidacloprid as a liquid application, the lawn should be mowed prior to the application. These active ingredients can be toxic to bees if foraging bees visit flowers that were recently sprayed. Mowing prior to making the application will ensure that there are no flowering weeds in the lawn that would be attracting bees. Bees won’t visit lawns unless there are flowering weeds in the lawn.

Curative insecticides

There are two chemicals, carbaryl and trichlorfon, that are considered curative treatments. They are short-lived compounds that kill all life stages of the grubs. These two insecticides are the only options available if high numbers of grubs are found in the fall and spring before early May. Our research indicates they will kill 20-80 percent of the grubs when applied in September or 20-55 percent when applied in late October. They are not as effective as the preventive compounds in reducing grub numbers. Consider carefully whether it would be best to wait and apply a preventive later. If the need should arise to use a curative compound, make sure to keep the infested lawn watered and fertilized and treat the area again with a preventive application the next summer or the problem will likely reoccur in the fall or the following spring.

Current research also shows that watering with 0.5 inch of irrigation immediately after the application is essential to get effective results from these insecticides. Our research has indicated that carbaryl has been a little more effective on European chafer grubs than trichlorfon. Both compounds work equally well on Japanese beetle grubs. It will take 10-14 days for the grubs to begin to die after the insecticide is applied. One trichlorfon product has “24-Hour Grub Control” in its name and would seem to indicate that it will kill grubs in 24 hours. However, even trichlorfon should not be evaluated for at least five days after application, assuming it rains or irrigation was applied, and carbaryl may need three to four weeks to be effective. Do not apply any curative compounds in the spring after May 15 as the grubs stop feeding in late May as they prepare to pupate.

Insecticides that do not work on grubs

Do not use products containing only lambda-cyhalothrin, gamma-cyhalothrin, bifenthrin, deltamethrin, cyfluthrin or permethrin for grub control. Products containing only these ingredients will not work for grub control because the active ingredient binds with organic material and will not move down to where the grubs are feeding. These products work well for above-ground feeding insects that live on the grass leaves or soil surface, but not for insects that feed on the roots. At one garden center we were shown two products, one containing only permethrin and one containing only bifenthrin that the clerk led us to when we asked for products to control grubs. Neither of the products listed grubs on the label printed on the bag and neither of the products would have controlled grubs.

There is a widely sold trade name called Triazicide from Spectrum that lists grubs on the label and states that it will control insects above or below ground and has a picture of a grub on the front of the bag. It contains only lambda-cyhalothrin or gamma-cyhalothrin. Triazicide will not control grubs. However, Spectrum also has a product called Spectrum Grub Killer that is an attach-to-hose product containing imidacloprid. It will work well for grub control.

In summary

*What is a 0.5 inch of irrigation? One-half inch of irrigation is when lawn sprinklers are run until a coffee mug (or several mugs) fills to a level 0.5 inch up from the bottom of the cup.

Products available

A short list of products now being sold for grub control as of April 1, 2014, in the four stores checked in the mid-Michigan area is below.

Preventive products:

Scotts Grub-Ex - Granular
chlorantraniliprole 0.08 percent
Apply between April 15 and May 15 for best results
Bayer Advanced Season-Long Grub Control Liquid – attach-to-hose-bottle
imidacloprid 1.47 percent
Apply between June 1 and July 15 for best results
Bayer Advanced Season-Long Grub Control and Turf Revitalizer – Granular
imidacloprid 0.25 percent and a low fertilizer rate (6-0-1)
Apply between June 1 and July 15 for best results
(local distributors name) Premium Grub Control (Do not confuse with “Premium Insect Control”)
imidacloprid 0.2 percent - Granular
Apply between June 1 and July 15 for best results
Spectracide Grub Killer - attach-to-hose-bottle
imidacloprid 1.47 percent
Apply between June 1 and July 15 for best results
Bayer Advanced Complete Insect Killer Liquid attach-to-hose-bottle
cyfluthrin 0.36 percent and imidacloprid 0.72 percent
Apply between June 1 and July 15 for best results
Bayer Advanced Complete Insect Killer Granules - Granular
cyfluthrin 0.05 percent and imidacloprid 0.15 percent
Apply between June 1 and July 15 for best results

Curative products:

Gardentech Sevin Lawn Insect Granules – Granular
carbaryl 2.0 percent
Apply in spring or fall to active grubs

Bayer Advanced 24 Hour Grub Killer Plus – Granular
trichlorfon 9.3 percent
Apply in spring or fall to active grubs

Products that will not kill grubs:

Spectracide Triazicide Insect Killer for Lawns – Granular
gamma-cyhalothrin 0.05 percent
This product will not kill grubs at any rate