Larry and Kris Swiontoniowski thought their once green lawn in Bolles Harbor had died when it disappeared recently in one day.
But after a closer examination, they learned it was an infestation of armyworms that was the culprit. The pests invaded their back yard and devoured most of the grass and any garden plants nearby. They said the problem was getting out of control.
“My lawn was gone in one day,” a disappointed Kris told The Monroe News. “Isn’t that crazy? It’s so bizarre. They destroyed us and my neighbors’ yards, too. We might have to replant.”
She contacted Dave’s Complete Lawn Care in Frenchtown Township, a lawn maintenance firm that came to her home Aug. 27 and sprayed her yard with a chemical to kill the worms. He treated the lawns of her other neighbors as well.
Dave Polhamus, owner of the firm, said he applied the chemical to the grass and the worms have to eat it to be eradicated, which they did. He said the number of damaged lawns he’s seen this summer is the worst in more than 30 years in the business.
“I’ve sprayed close to 30 yards” in the area, Polhamus said Friday. “I’ve seen them in the Dartmoor subdivision off S. Dixie Hwy., Leedys Garden (in Monroe Township) and the Marshall Fields subdivision in Frenchtown Township. We’re starting to see them all over. Toledo really got hammered. I didn’t expect to see it here so soon. The worms eat so much so fast, it’s unreal. They work at night and are dormant during the day. I think they’re attacking some golf courses.”
He’s not sure what is causing the infestations. He said the worms only eat grass. Many homeowners are puzzled when they see brown spots in their lawns and think grubs or some other insect caused the problem. Although he has not researched what is causing the armyworm infestation, he speculated that perhaps the hot and wet summer may have contributed to the outbreak.
“You work all summer to keep a good lawn and then this happens. It’s frustrating, I’m sure,” he said.
Kris said her sister, Jill, who lives next door, also had her lawn ruined by the pests overnight.
“We tried to warn our neighbors,” Kris said. “Everybody had the same problem. About 12 of us were affected. I saw them go up my foundation and I was concerned they would get into our house, but they didn’t.”
The worms defoliated her once-beautiful red hydrangea flowers, leaving no flowers on them.
Polhamus said that beside the worms, the chemical will kill fleas, ticks, mosquitoes and other insects.
Ned Birkey, an agricultural consultant and educator emeritus for the MSU Extension Service, was not surprised to hear of the armyworm problem in residential areas.
“Fall armyworms can feed upon over 100 different crops and plants, including hay and grass pastures,” Birkey said in an email. “They have their name as they can almost literally eat (or march) their way across a field in a day or two.”
If the armyworms are 1 1/2 inches long, “they are fully grown and will not be around very long,” he said.
He has asked Dr. Chris DiFonzo from MSU and Dave Smitley, an MSU turf entomologist, for information about the pest and recommendations for control to advise the public.