Chinch Bugs

Chinch Bugs. The good news is that they should be moving on within a short period of time. 

Do you know what’s black and looks like a coffee ground, runs fast? They are creepy and are everywhere. If you know, you’ve probably experienced the invasion of false chinch bugs first hand.

All of a sudden these little bugs are showing up on driveways, sidewalks, on the sides of buildings, and even in the house. And I have to admit, they’re kind of creepy simply because there are so many of them. But they are interesting at the same time.

If you’re experiencing the invasion I’m guessing that you live next to an open area. This is because the little insects are migrating from those areas into your landscape and home. The little guys spent the winter as nymphs (babies) or as an adult in uncultivated areas, under the protection of debris or in plants. As late winter and early summer rolled around, the adults laid eggs in cracks in the soil or around plants that the soon to be bugs could feed on. Within about four days the eggs hatched and the little creatures became active. The bugs dined on winter annual weeds in the mustard family, including purple and black mustard and flixweed without much attention. Do you remember how many areas were purple or yellow with these weeds about a month ago? It was a lot. Well, as those weeds became more prevalent, so did the chinch bugs. Then, as the weeds matured and began to die your landscape became more mature and lush so they decided to move to “greener pastures”.

The growing youngsters in your landscape will molt (that’s bug lingo for they will shed their little “skin”) three different times as they grow, becoming a bit larger with each molt. Now don’t panic. None of this is as bad as it first appears. Their mature size is only about 1/6 of an inch long. However, they can produce around three generations a year with peak populations occurring this month or August. I guess the good news is, they won’t bite people or pets. The bad news is, they can cause some damage to garden plants such as beets, lettuce, and potatoes. Damaged plants may appear wind burned or wilted with brown crispy edges.

I’m sure you’re thinking, that’s all well and good, but just tell me how to get rid of them. I assume since you’re reading this you’re sitting down. That’s good because I have to tell you that I’m not sure you can get rid of them. They will just move on or die after about three weeks.

I was in a house the other day that had the little bugs everywhere and I understand your pain. I thought, if it were me, I’d have the vacuum sitting out and try to vacuum them up every chance I got or every few hours. You can spray the side of the house, driveway, sidewalks and every exterior place where you see the bugs with a strong stream of water from the garden hose. You can even spray around your doors and windows with a permethrin every few days but none of these suggestions are going to solve the problem.

The bugs won’t live long in the house, but I’m not sure that’s any great comfort. Because the bugs are so small it’s hard to seal them out, but making sure openings are caulked and everything is as tight as possible will help.

If you find the insects are damaging your plants by sucking the sap from them, you could spray the plant with a permethrin. They say this may only give temporary results and sometimes it only stuns the insect for a short time, but it may be worth a try. Keeping your plants as healthy as possible with proper watering and fertilizing will help them through any feeding attacks.

I guess all you can do is try to control them to the best of your ability and take comfort in knowing that they won’t do damage in the house, won’t bite, and will soon die or be moving on. Just know that you’re not alone, and this too will pass.

Linda Corwine McIntosh is a Licensed Pesticide Applicator, Certified ISA Arborist, and Advanced Master Gardener.

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