Bermudagrass growers across the South and Texas are running into pest problems they’ve never before experienced.

Bermudagrass stem maggot, first discovered in Georgia n 2010, has now been found in East Texas. Growers in the Southeast, meanwhile, have seen their bermudagrass die or turn brown, according to Extension specialists there.

“The question everyone wants to know ‘What is going on in my field?’ ” says Jennifer Johnson, Auburn University Extension forage specialist.

That is easier to answer in Texas, where the stem maggot has been identified in Van Zandt County. Producers in the region should check their fields for the pest, which attacks stem nodes.

“It is not yet known how damaging this insect will be in Texas,” says Allen Knutson, AgriLife Extension entomologist at Dallas.

Bermudagrass stem maggot infestations take off after adult flies lay eggs near nodes. When the larvae hatch, they feed on nodes, killing the top few leaves of plants. This gives an infested field the appearance of being “frosted.”

If the infestation is found within a week of normal harvest, Extension specialists recommend harvesting as soon as possible to halt its spread. If it is found one to three weeks after harvest, cut and bale the damaged grass and remove it from fields.

To suppress the pest, a forage insecticide can be applied about a week after cutting and a week to two later. For more on the pest, see the story, “Stem Maggot Moves To Texas Bermudagrass.”

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In the rest of the South, bermudagrass leaf spot, bermudagrass leaf rust or spittlebugs – as well as stem maggots – could be damaging bermudagrass, say Johnson and Dennis Hancock, University of Georgia Extension specialist.

Leaf spot can be identified by brown or black spots on leaves, usually around the collar of leaf blades. To thrive, leaf spot requires continual wet conditions for several hours. It can devastate a stand if the browning or spotting moves to bermudagrass stolons and rhizomes, the forage specialists say.

After a summer as wet as this one, where bermudagrass can get over-mature or lodge, leaf spot is likely to pop up, they add.

Leaf rust, also called Puccinia, shows up as small red-to-orange spots on leaves and stem tissue. Infected plants can leave a rusty color on hands or clothing, making it easy to identify.

To manage these leaf diseases, Hancock and Johnson remind growers to pay attention to soil fertility. Low potassium levels have been linked to increased disease. There is no chemical control available. Burning bermudagrass fields once every three years can reduce the problem by cutting out residual forage that hosts the spores.

Spittlebugs are found in many pastures and fields, but this year there have been more reports than normal of damage in bermudagrass. Although most damage is relatively minor, the bugs suck juices from grasses, removing large amounts of plant sap.

To control the bugs, maintain a timely harvest schedule, Hancock and Johnson say. Damaged stands should be harvested and affected forage removed.

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