Another roller coaster ride
As spring makes its soggy appearance in western Massachusetts, it is time to review weather conditions from the previous several months, and see if we can make some guesses about what to expect this year.
Much of southern New England was in severe or extreme drought for several months, beginning last summer. The recent rain has certainly provided considerable relief, and it appears that most areas are now only in "moderate drought". Additional rain may eventually restore enough moisture to the soils that we might even enter this growing season only a little behind.
But it is important to remember that several insects cause damage in the summer months that resembles summer dormancy. Chinchbugs and billbugs both feed actively during the summer months. Chinchbugs tend to cause more damage in sunny areas or where the soils are sandy or drain really well for other reasons. And chinchbug and billbug damage looks just like summer moisture stress or summer dormancy. So I am concerned that some turf managers may have assumed that the parched turf from last summer was just suffering from lack of water. If chinchbugs or billbugs were also contributing to the demise of the turf, large populations of adults will become active this spring and they will lay plenty of eggs. So the potential certainly exists for major chinchbug or billbug damage this summer as well, especially if we have dry conditions in June and July. You would be wise to scout for chinchbug and billbug adults from mid May through mid June.
A heads up - a relatively new caterpillar has been showing up more often in recent years. The winter cutworm (Noctua pronuba) has a very different life cycle than the "standard" turf caterpillars. Adults fly in mid to late summer (moths are "yellow underwing moths"), and lay eggs in late August to late September. The caterpillars hatch out and feed through the winter, any time the air temperature is above 40º F. They even feed under snow cover, so some of you may find some unpleasant surprises in the next week or two as you begin to check your properties or facilities. The caterpillars apparently finish their development in spring and probably pupate in early to mid summer.
The caterpillars are typically a tan or slightly pink base color. The distinguishing feature is that each segment of the abdomen has a pair of dash marks on each side of the back - black and light tan dashes. I found two of these critters on my own driveway in January this year!!! The caterpillars often feed on the surface and create depressions in the turf. You may notice one or more caterpillars huddled in such a depression.
Please let me know (and send pictures) if you see any of these winter cutworms. We are trying to determine how widespread they are in the Northeast. (If treatment is deemed necessary, it should be made in September when the new young caterpillars are emerging.)
On a side note - many of you know that I retired from UMass on 26 March (after almost 37 years at the university, believe it or not!!!). But I will continue to be involved with the turf industry for a year or two, or until UMass fills the position. I will be posting updates to the website about as frequently as I have in previous years, and will be conducting some of the field work that we have always enjoyed. And I am very excited that I will finally be able to work on revising my textbook, "Turfgrass Insects of the United States and Canada" (Vittum, Villani, and Tashiro). The second edition is 20 years old and the revision is 10 years overdue. So the short story is that I will keep doing the things I have always enjoyed doing, and I won't have to do the things that weren't so much fun! I don't see a downside to that arrangement!
Feel free to continue to e-mail or call the lab with your questions. E-mail will be the more reliable way to reach me, and I will respond as quickly as I am able. The turf industry in the Northeast has been incredibly supportive over the years, and I look forward to continuing to work with you, at least for a year or two!
Submitted by: Dr. Pat Vittum