Rain brings relief to farmers, local residents, will it last?

EAST TEXAS (KTRE) - East Texas finally received some much needed rain over the weekend, but some say it simply wasn't enough.  The clouds are lingering and there's a chance of rain in the local forecast for the next two days, which give local residents hope that there's more rain on the way.

The Texas Agri-Life Extension says vegetable growers are way behind in rainfall and may agriculture producers that raise cattle or those that just planted timber are going to need a lot more rain to keep their operations going.  "If it rains the rest of the week, that's very appreciated.  I know where I live, just north of town, here in Lufkin, I didn't get any rain yesterday, to speak of.  Some folks got some good rain, but we're still short, very short," said County Extension Agent Cary Simms.

Simms said you can see how much rain actually fell on your land simply by turning over a shovel full of soil.  If the moisture line is deep, you received a good soaking rain.

KTRE chief meteorologist Brad Hlozek says a chance of rain remains in the forecast for the next two days.

Lawns throughout the Lone Star State are dead and dying. While drought is the main suspect, other forces may be at work, according to Molly Keck, integrated pest management specialist with the Texas AgriLife Extension Service in Bexar County.

"Chinch bugs thrive in hot, dry weather and feed primarily on St. Augustine grass, but can also damage Bermuda and zoysia grass, although this is rare," said Keck. "They prefer areas of the lawn that absorb the most heat, like where the grass meets the walkway, driveway or foundation of the house."

Chinch bugs are thought to insert a toxin that kills the grass while they suck out its juices. They feed on stems and nodes near the base of the plant, leaving brown patches that will continue to grow larger if left untreated. Damage to lawns has been extensive throughout Texas due to the extended drought which has created ideal conditions for the pest to feed and proliferate.

Grown chinch bugs are typically about 0.2 inch long. Adults are black with white wings showing a triangular black mark; immature bugs are wingless and bright to burnt orange with a light-colored horizontal band across their back.

Keck said chinch bug damage often looks like fungal damage - dead grass with a "halo" of yellow grass surrounding the dead spot - so it's important to try and find out if they're present.

One way to check for the pests, she said, is to take an empty can with both ends open, a piece of PVC pipe or other cylinder and work it into the soil so it will hold water in an area of the lawn where the grass is yellowing.

"Fill the can with water and after about 10 minutes you should see chinch bugs floating to the top," Keck said.

Lawns infested with chinch bugs can be treated using an insecticide that's labeled for use on the pests, she said.

Some ways of managing lawns to reduce the possibility of chinch bugs include aerating the turf and applying a layer of top dressing, as well as not over- or under-watering, according to other AgriLife Extension experts.

Grub worms also are active during the summer months and into early fall, and their damage is often confused with that caused by chinch bugs, said Dr. James Reinert, an entomologist with Texas AgriLife Research in Dallas.

Reinert said grubs are white, C-shaped, wormlike creatures with three sets of legs and are the larvae of beetles that take flight in May or June, usually following a storm.

"Grubs are one of the biggest problems in lawns throughout Texas," he said. "While chinch bugs feed on the surface of grasses, grubs feed on the root system. If grubs are present, the grass will pull up easily because the anchorage of the plant to the soil has been cut off at the roots."

Without roots to take up moisture and plant nutrients, the grass will brown and die and appear to be under drought stress, Reinert said. Grass damaged by white grubs can be pulled up easily or even rolled up like a carpet, while grass under drought stress remains anchored to the soil and cannot be easily pulled up, even though it is turning yellow or brown.

Dead or dying grass roots will be black or brown, while healthy roots are white, he added.

Reinert said seeing a significant number of May or June beetles flying near a home is a good indication of grubs in that or a neighbor's lawn.

"If you dig into the soil two or so inches deep about three weeks after a major beetle flight, this is the time to look for grubs," he said. "They will be small this time of the year, but if you begin to find four or more per one square foot, they may cause damage to the lawn later in the summer or fall. Damage will depend on the condition of the turf and how well you manage your lawn."

Reinert added that other smaller, straighter and legless wormlike larvae may also be found in Texas lawns.

"These smaller ones are the larvae of the hunting billbug, which have become more damaging in recent years," he said. "When populations of these insects are high, they can be just as harmful as May or June bug larvae."

Reinert said white grubs too can be treated with an insecticide specifically labeled for use on them.

"If you discover white grubs and are using granular treatment, you need to water it well to push the insecticide down to the target site to kill the grubs where they are feeding on the roots," he said.

While turf grass disease isn't typically a problem in hot, dry weather, it can occur when a lawn is under drought stress, said Daphne Richards, AgriLife Extension horticulturist in Travis County.

"Stress from drought, as well as too little or too much watering, can lead to turf grass disease," Richards said. "A common turf grass disease in the summertime is take-all root rot, a fungal disease that affects mainly St. Augustine lawns, but also Bermuda, zoysia and other turf grasses."

Serious take-all infestations produce large discolored patches, dead roots and significant loss of grass stolons or runners.

"In the summer take-all is common in lawns throughout the state and is often mistaken for a chinch bug infestation or another turf grass disease known as brown patch," Richards said.

But brown patch kills only the leaves, while take-all kills the plant's roots and stolons as well.

"If your lawn gets large yellow or brown spots in the spring, odds are it's take-all; but in the summer it could be something else," she added. "Identifying the real cause can save you time and money."