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Lawns/Grubs in Clay Soil


QUESTION: When should I apply grub control?  I live in Northeast Connecticut.  Last year there was a big problem, you could just tear up the lawn and it would come out like clumps of hair.  I want to get this solved.
ANSWER: Grub killer that you buy in the store will kill one season of Grubs.  But it will also wipe out all the NATURAL predators.  Next season, the Grubs are back.  Now you're in trouble -- no defenses and a lawn growing on Grub-friendly soil.

There are NATURAL Grub predators living right there in your own soil.  They keep Grubs down to realllllly low numbers -- IF you don't kill them.

But that's what "Grub Control" does.  Some system, huh?

Now, even though you probably have already done a lot of things wrong up to now, there are ways to repair the damage.

Let's look at the remedies for Grubs.

First, let's just get it out of the way to say that Grubs are the larvae -- ugly little curly gray and white hatched babies -- of Beetles.  This includes Japanese Beetles, which are destructive, and other Beetles, which we actually LIKE to have because they are predators of many other pests that are even worse than Grubs!

Beetles lay their eggs in the soil.  When the eggs hatch, the larvae live in the soil and eat the roots of your Grass.

If there are a few larvae, the grass roots are not really damaged.  The damage is so small that your grass does not feel any pain and there are no symptoms.

But if you watched some of those TV commercials, you'd think they were some kind of Weapons of Mass Destruction, a threat to all mankind.  They're not.  They're tiny little white wiggly Grubs.  In healthy soil, there's billions of Bacteria and tiny organisms that absolutely LOVE the
taste of Beetle larvae.  They LOVE to eat grubs!

So we don't want to do anything to hurt those Bacteria and Grub-loving organisms.

And by the way, any Grubs that escape the bacteria and organisms become BIRD and SQUIRREL FOOD.  Haven't you noticed how Birds love to eat breakfast there?

They are eating grubs!  Robins GO CRAZY for grubs.

Plan of Action: You have a lot of problems with your grass if it is coming up in clumps.  I doubt you will be able to sit there for long and let Nature take its course.  At this point, you can do several things, and it is the perfect time of year to do this.

First, go down to Home Depot and pick up one of those blue cans of Milky Spore Disease.  This is a container of Fungus that makes Grubs sick.  Sick Grubs don't turn into Beetles, and they don't lay eggs for making more Grubs.  I sprinkled the Milky Spore Disease powder on my lawn a few years ago; 3 years later, I have a very low Japanese Beetle population.  I grow Roses.  I should know.

Next, go out and buy a Bird feeder and a birdbath.  Keep them stocked with food and water.  Incoming Bird migrations will stop at your house for a bath and lunch.  Who knows what delicious surprises they will see on your grass?  Maybe they'll even stay for dinner.

Next, get on the internet and order all the beneficial insects from Gardens Alive! (  This company is not the only place to buy these, but I have had great results from them and that is why I mention them here.  Their ladybugs are especially effective.  I discourage people from buying "ordinary" ladybugs -- reasons are too long to go into here but you can read a little bit on the Gardens Alive website.  You are hunting down Beneficial Nematodes -- Grub Parasites that will start working in the next few weeks on the Grubs you have now.

Finally, I have to say it again -- No More Chemicals!  Every time you Fertilize, Kill Weeds, Kill Grubs, Kill Fungus, you are turning your soil into a useless pile of dirt with no present and no future.  Remember I said I would save you money?  This is one way.  Trust me.  It works.

Keep in touch.  And thanks for writing.

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QUESTION: I have to ask this - how can you say that Grub Killer is not an effeicient way to kill Grubs and if Grubs are bad, why would you care about killing them with Grub Killer? Makes no sense.

It's not that I think Grubs should go forth and multiply to their heart's content, sir.  It's that you don't have to worry about Grubs.  It's like worrying about, say, germs.  Some people think they have to avoid germs to avoid disaster -- think Howard Hughes.  You don't worry about germs, right?  Why worry about Grubs?

Let me clarify:

Grubs are one of many things that birds love to eat.  If Grubs manage to eat a few turf grass roots there is no cause for alarm.  The birds will get them.

Grubs can be controlled -- if you can't help yourself -- with some very sophisticated techniques.  Grub Killer is not one of them.  They have long names, some of them.  They are not poisonous.  These biological-biorational controls attack Grubs the way the Bubonic Plague attacked Europe.  There are no bad side effects (see below) and the Grubs don't have a prayer.

Given that there are Birds, natural diseases etc in your soil, how would you ever have a Grub problem?

No doubt, people do.  Right?

They have Grub Problems because someone at some point decided to use Grub Killer or something from the same store to "fix" a problem in their lawn that had a lot of major side effects.  Like annihilating all those predators.  Sometimes the birds are the ones that are wiped out.  Or they eat a poisoned Grub and die, too.  So if you have a Grub problem, whose fault is that?

Hey, Let's look at some of those Grub Killers you love so much:

Bayer Garden Provado Lawn Grub Killer - Active ingredient: Imidacloprid ("Merit"), a tobacco toxin nicotinechloronicotynol insecticide described by Bayer as a "unique new product" and banned in many municipalities. See the Wikipedia entry on Imidacloprid
( "In spite of a 4 year ban already on sunflower seeds treatment, a significant drop in bee individuals is still observed. Beekeepers were cited as saying the measure was insufficient, as studies found that Imidacloprid left a residue which meant that even after two years, plants sowed on the same spot as the crop originally treated contained traces of the product. Some also suggest that the bee colony losses could also be due to the use of Imidacloprid on corn as well."  Note that the Scotts Company reformulated its "GrubEx" Grub Killer replacing Imidacloprid with Halofenozide (see below) but its application in New York state, my neighborhood, was denied; EPA officials were concerned the safer Halofenozide produte would be confused with the deadly Imidacloprid formulation, causing enforcement problems and creating a potential for consumers to mix up the two.  

Rhône-Poulenc Regent, a broad spectrum systemic pyrazole
insecticide.  Active ingredient: Fipronil.  Wikipedia quoting the French beekeepers:  "It's enough for the insect to alight on the plant to receive a dose of neurotoxicity. All the auxiliary fauna is decimated."  Auxiliary Fauna is beneficial insects and related species -- honeybees in this case, but also Praying Mantids, Ladybugs, Earthworms as well as your neighborhood birds(

Ortho "GrubBGone" and "Ortho Max", Hi-Yield "Kill-A-Grub", RohMid "Mach 2" - Active Ingredient: Halofenozide, aka "N-tert-butyl-N′-(4-chlorobenzoyl)benzohydrazide" to Chemists.  An ecdysone agonist insect growth regulator considered a novel compound but banned nevertheless in many municipalities due to EPA concerns about fish and related poisoning.

"Maxide", "Green Light", "Black Leaf", Scotts "Grub EX" granules - Active Ingredient: Diazinon, a colorless, almost odorless oganophosphate that has killed several people.  Withdrawn from the market in 2004 but still in a lot of garages and tool sheds.

Given all these risks, why would ever want to use them?   There are much, much better products on the market.

Take the beneficial entomophathogenic nematodes, Steinernema glaseri and recently discovered cold-tolerant Heterorhabditis marelatus found in Indiana, which targets White Grubs.  It's sold as "CRUISER" Grub Killer.

Or the synthesized hormone "Ecdysone", sold as RohMid MACH 2.  It runs the molting cycles of little White Grubs and starts premature molting, causing death of the Grub.

Not only are these more effective -- some tests place their efficacy at 100 PER CENT, way better than chemicals -- but they are S-A-F-E SAFE!

This is to me a no brainer.  At this point, sir, it should be a no brainer to you, too.

Thanks for writing.  Please ask all the questions you want on this, I'm happy to address ALL of them.  


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Long Island Gardener


How to grow the Perfect Lawn? If you live in the Northeast/Atlantic Coast, I have intelligent answers on grass selection, fertilizers, soil care, weed control, and lawnmowers. Although I have degrees in related fields, a person's real gardening skills are learned from trial and error. More important, I am strict about not using chemicals in the garden. Organic gardening is not just earth friendly and healthier for you, your children and your pets. It's less expensive and easier. You read that right. Less expensive and easier.


Homeowner for 15 years, 30 years of gardening for personal pleasure, college credits in horticulture and botany, volunteer docent at the local botanical gardens, and a whole library of gardening and landscaping books at home some 100 years old.

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