How to Get Rid of Lawn Grubs (2024)

By Amanda Lutz Updated February 6, 2024

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Lawn grubs are tiny, troublesome pests that cause brown patches in otherwise healthy lawns. Upon hatching, these immature beetles begin voraciously consuming grass roots, causing an estimated $156 million of damage in the United States each year. For homeowners facing an infestation, understanding how to get rid of lawn grubs is paramount. In this article, we’ll cover natural and chemical options for protecting your lawn.

 


 

Types of Lawn Grubs

Lawn grubs, also known as white grubs, are the C-shaped larvae of beetles in the scarab family. Although adults in the scarab species come in distinct shapes, colors, and sizes, differentiating between grubs is difficult. They all have C-shaped, cream-colored bodies, three short pairs of legs, and brown heads.

The only definitive way to distinguish between white grub species is through careful examination of raster patterns, which is the arrangement of hairs and spines found on their abdomens. You need a powerful hand lens to see the raster pattern on most grubs, but Ohio State University published a helpful fact sheet with pictures of white grub raster patterns for easier comparison.

Beetle larvae generally hatch in mid- to late summer and feed on grass roots until the soil begins cooling in fall. Then they burrow deeper into the ground, reascend in the root zone in spring, and emerge as adults a few weeks later. Below is a breakdown of common lawn grubs found in the U.S.

Name

Distribution

Life Cycle

Asiatic garden beetles

From New England to Ohio and South Carolina

  • Hatch in mid- to late summer
  • Overwinter
  • Resume feeding in spring
  • Pupate in late May or June
  • Mature in late June or July

Black turfgrass ataenius

Across the U.S., particularly on golf courses

  • First generation hatches in spring, feeds, pupates, and matures by mid-July
  • Second generation hatches in late July or August, matures by October, and overwinters as adults
  • More generations per year possible in warmer states

European chafer beetles

States in the northeastern and upper midwestern U.S.

  • Hatch mid-summer
  • Overwinter
  • Pupate in May
  • Mature around mid-June.

Green June beetles

Throughout the eastern and midwestern U.S.

  • Hatch in August and may emerge from the soil
  • Overwinter
  • Feed briefly in spring before pupating
  • Mature mid-summer.

Japanese beetles

Most states in the eastern, southern, and midwestern U.S.

  • Hatch mid-summer
  • Overwinter
  • Resume activity in spring
  • Mature in late June or early July

June bugs, May/June bugs, or June beetles

Throughout the U.S., but especially in northeastern states

  • Hatch in summer
  • Overwinter each fall
  • Resume activity each spring
  • Mature in May or June of their fourth summer

Masked chafer beetles

Southern and midwestern states (southern masked chafer); Northeastern, central, and midwestern states (northern masked chafer)

  • Hatch in late July or early August and feed heavily
  • Overwinter
  • Feed briefly in spring before pupating
  • Mature in late June

Oriental beetles

Most of the East Coast and west to Ohio and Wisconsin

  • Hatch by late July
  • Overwinter
  • Resume feeding in spring before pupating
  • Matures mid-summer

 


 

 

Signs of a Lawn Grub Infestation

Lawn grub damage often begins subtly but can escalate rapidly. First you’ll notice withering or dead patches of grass that don’t improve with regular watering. The grass may be so damaged that you can roll it back like a carpet. You might also notice birds, skunks, or raccoons digging in search of a meal.

If you believe your lawn may be affected by white grubs, follow these steps to confirm their presence:

How many grubs healthy grass can tolerate varies slightly depending on the species of beetle. Generally, experts recommend treating your lawn when the grub population reaches 10 or more per square foot.

 


 

How to Get Rid of Lawn Grubs Naturally

Homeowners who prefer organic lawn care can choose from several natural ways to get rid of lawn grubs.

Neem Oil

Neem oil is a natural insect repellent extracted from neem tree seeds. While it doesn’t kill grubs directly, it can disrupt their ability to feed, grow, and molt—eventually leading to their demise. Neem oil can also combat a variety of other pests and biodegrades without leaving harmful residue.

Nematodes

Beneficial nematodes are natural predators of lawn grubs. These microscopic roundworms seek out grubs, enter their bodies, and release bacteria that quickly kills them. They don’t harm beneficial insects or introduce harmful chemicals into the soil.

Milky Spore

Milky spore is a bacterium (Paenibacillus popilliae) that targets Japanese beetle grubs but has no effect on beneficial insects. It multiplies in grubs that ingest it through the soil, causing the grubs to die. As the infected grub decomposes, billions of new spores are released into the soil. Though this treatment is not immediately effective, it offers long-term protection.

Other Natural Methods

If you have lawn grubs in your garden or a small yard, hand-picking may be a viable option. You can also encourage the presence of birds in your yard and let them do the work for you. Set up bird feeders and bird baths to attract birds, or consider keeping chickens.

Beetle eggs and larvae need moist soil to survive, so you can try to kill them off by keeping your lawn dry during later summer and early fall. This, however, may damage your lawn.

 


 

How to Get Rid of Lawn Grubs Chemically

When natural treatments aren’t effective, severe grub infestations may require curative or preventive insecticides. These products target different life stages and physiological processes of pests.

While insecticides are effective in reducing and eliminating grub populations, they can also harm beneficial insects, the environment, and even pets and humans. Choose insecticides carefully and use them judiciously to reduce risk.

Here are a few common insecticides for grub control:

NameActive IngredientClassTiming

Allectus

Imidacloprid + beta-cyfluthrin

Overstimulates and destroys nerve cells

Preventive

Aloft

clothianidin + bifenthrin

Overstimulates and destroys nerve cells

Preventive

Arena

clothianidin

Overstimulates and destroys nerve cells

Preventive

Dylox

trichlorfon

Disrupts brains and nervous systems

Curative

GrubEx

chlorantraniliprole

Causes uncontrolled muscle contractions

Preventive

Meridian

thiamethoxam

Overstimulates and destroys nerve cells

Preventive

Merit

imidacloprid

Overstimulates and destroys nerve cells

Preventive

Sevin

carbaryl

Disrupts the nervous system

Curative

The safety precautions for most insecticides are similar: Wear protective clothing during application and keep children and pets off the area while it dries. Some products may have more specific instructions, especially if they can be toxic to pollinators or animals.

Follow these steps to apply your insecticide of choice:

  1. Read the label and follow all manufacturer instructions.
  2. Mow and water your lawn a day before the application.
  3. Dethatch your lawn, removing any organic matter that could impede saturation.
  4. Use a spreader (for granules) or sprayer (for liquids).
  5. Apply the solution evenly.
  6. Water the lawn after application as directed.
  7. Store leftover insecticides safely out of reach in their original containers.

Most lawn grub pesticides require preventive application, which means applying them when grubs are still young or before they hatch. A few promise curative benefits if applied later in summer or fall. However, late application curative pesticides come with more risks to beneficial insects, pets, and humans. Avoid applying insecticides on windy or rainy days to prevent drift or dilution.

 


 

How to Prevent Lawn Grubs from Returning

The pursuit of a healthy lawn doesn’t end at removing grubs. You also have to make sure they don’t come back. It’s much easier and less expensive to prevent a grub infestation than to get rid of one.

Monitor Your Lawn Regularly

Grubs manifest slowly and subtly, but if left unchecked, they can cause rapid damage to your lawn. Keeping an eye out for signs of grub damage during the pivotal spring and fall seasons will give you a headstart against infestation.

Maintain a Healthy Lawn

Having a healthy lawn will reduce the likelihood of grub damage. If your lawn is already stressed, the presence of grub worms will be that much more devastating.

Water your lawn deeply but infrequently to encourage deep root growth. Keep your grass a bit taller than usual. Fertilize your lawn and aerate it regularly to improve water and nutrient penetration.

Control Adult Beetles

Getting rid of lawn grubs will not prevent adult beetles from overtaking your garden next year—but controlling adult beetles will definitely reduce the grub population. Fewer adult beetles means fewer eggs and therefore fewer grubs.

In early morning or late evening, hand-pick beetles from your plants and drop them into a bucket of soapy water. Use plant netting or row covers to provide a barrier against beetles or spray neem oil as a natural repellent. You can also introduce beneficial insects that naturally prey on beetles.

 


 

Our Recommendation

Lawn grubs can be difficult to get rid of, but homeowners have options. Preventive insecticides, beneficial nematodes, and neem oil are a few methods to try. Mitigate the damage by maintaining your lawn and controlling adult beetle populations.

To learn more about local lawn grubs and how to deal with them, consult a professional lawn care company or pest control service. Many universities have extension programs that provide free, helpful information about local pests. University of New Hampshire, University of Massachusetts, University of Minnesota, and Penn State are a few examples.

 


 

How to Get Rid of Lawn Grubs FAQ

How do you kill grubs without killing grass?

Beneficial nematodes, neem oil, milky spore, and low-toxicity insecticides can kill grubs without killing grass or beneficial insects.

When is the best time to treat for grubs?

The best time to treat for grubs is typically in summer, when grubs are young or have not yet hatched.

What do grubs eat?

Grubs, which are larval beetles, primarily eat the root systems of grass and other plants.

How do grubs travel underground?

Grubs travel underground by chewing through soil and roots with their mouthparts, wriggling their bodies, and using their forelegs to propel themselves forward.

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