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Spittlebugs and Your Atlanta Lawn

Striped spittlebug on leaf.

What pest makes white foam on plants that looks like spit? The spittlebug! And that’s precisely how it got its name. There are over 20,000 species of spittlebugs, and many cause little or no harm to plants. The twenty-first century has seen the two-lined spittlebug really start to make a name for itself, damaging lawns across the south. As with most lawn pests, early detection is key, so here are some things to keep in mind as you go about your Atlanta lawn care routine:

Spittlebug 101:

  • Spittlebugs favor Bermuda, Zoysia, St. Augustine and Centipede grasses and are especially active from June through September.
  • A clear indicator of a spittlebug issue is spittle sacks that look like little foamy areas in your grass. They often form close to the ground, so you may have to look closely to find them. The nymphs produce and cover themselves with these bubbles to protect against predators and environmental conditions.
  • Spittlebugs damage lawns by piercing grass blades with their needle-like mouths to remove nutrients, causing grass to wilt, yellow, brown, and ultimately die. Initially, damaged spots will be two to four inches wide but can join together to cover your entire lawn.

How to Prevent Spittlebug Infestations:

  • Spittlebugs love thatch. Thatch is a layer of dead organic matter that accumulates on top of soil around and between grass blades. All lawns have thatch, but too much can invite pests and diseases by retaining extra moisture. Control your level of thatch by:
    • Aerating Annually—This will reduce soil compaction and aid in better drainage, which is especially important for dense soils like Georgia clay.
  • Humidity also plays a huge role. Though our climate is beyond our control, you can mitigate some problems by:
    • Avoiding OverwateringMonitor rainfall with a rain gauge and turn off your scheduled irrigation once an inch accumulates in a week or less.
    • Watering Early — Watering before 10 am is ideal since less will be lost to evaporation. It’s also important because watering in the evening can encourage fungal diseases and attract pests like spittlebugs.
    • Improving Drainage — If you struggle with poor drainage in your lawn, your options for correcting the issue include French drains, drainage ditches, or, in extreme cases, regrading. While none of these are cheap, it’s unfortunately almost impossible to achieve your dream lawn with major drainage issues.

How to Control Spittlebugs:

  • If you suspect an infestation, early detection is key. Put in a service call.
  • Pesticide treatment will be necessary to salvage your lawn. Mow and then water several hours before your application, and collect and discard your clippings to help with your lawn’s healing process.

It’s amazing how much damage such a little pest can do. Awareness is key to maintaining a healthy lawn. The sooner you catch issues caused by insects and diseases, the more likely your lawn will be able to make a full and quick recovery. We suggest a weekly walkthrough of your lawn using our What to Watch For tool or our Yard Problem Solver resource to detect and address problems early.