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Invasion of the armyworms

Homeowners fighting off fall armyworms to save lawns around East Tennessee.
Published: Aug. 30, 2021 at 6:13 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 31, 2021 at 5:25 PM EDT
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - East Tennessee homeowners are discovering they need to act quickly to fight off fall armyworms taking up residence in their lawns.

“It’s devastating to me. It’s extremely upsetting,” said Elizabeth Goodson, who takes great pride in her manicured lawn and landscaping in West Knoxville. She even works in the landscaping industry and does year-around lawn maintenance. This caught her by surprise around the time tropically inspired heavy rains moved in the area in mid-August.

“It rained again and then I noticed that it was more brown and it was all dying,” said Goodson.

Integrated Pest Management expert Dr. Karen Vail, an entomology professor with the UT Institute of Agriculture, said there are some natural alternatives to the synthetic pesticides typically used against armyworms.

“There is a product containing spinosad, which is a toxin produced by bacteria. This can be applied to your lawn. And if you’re catching the larvae when they’re small, that should be very effective,” said Vail.

Vail said most lawns should be able to bounce back and grow again, with the latest round of rain helping the lawns to thrive. She said the rain should otherwise not have much effect on the armyworm population, unless excess moisture causes disease.

“We may see an effect of some virus. It may start becoming more prevalent and for that we’ll have to wait and see, a virus that effects the larvae and will kill the larvae,” she said.

Jeff Helie is Operations Manager at Weedman Lawn Care in West Knoxville, saying he is doing everything he can to help clients like Goodson get a pesticide treatment to rid their lawn of the armyworms.

“We’re getting about 200 to 300 calls a day,” said Helie. He said his technicians can do a liquid or granular lawn treatment now to kill the pests, then repeat a treatment to kill larvae so they won’t hatch into even more moths.

“Then you want to come in 21 days to knock out their eggs,” he said.

After Goodson had a special treatment done on her lawn, she also over seeded to grow more grass in her backyard that was once thick with fescue.

“I spend thousands of dollars on my backyard,” she said about the outdoor space she considers an oasis.

Vail and Dr. Scott Stewart, Professor of Entomology, both confirm that the fall armyworm has been migrating to Tennessee for several years now. They said this year, it appears the pests are moving to this area sooner, although it is not clear why. They said the armyworm has been here for a couple of months already in 2021.

Some homeowners are using dish soap on their lawn to attract armyworms and detect whether they have a pest problem before the infestation gets out of control. Lawn experts recommend you can use dish soap in the ratio of two teaspoons of liquid detergent to a gallon of water, poured over a four-square-foot area.

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