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Insect control

Commercial products for managing insect pests

There are many pest management products that are not hazardous to the environment.

Botanical insecticides

Some insecticides are derived from plants or plant products and are safer to use. However, they may kill beneficial bugs as well as pests.

Pyrethrins (Pyrethrum) are extracted from flower petals of Chrysanthemum (Tanacetum.) species (pyrethrum daisies). They act as nerve poisons, knocking insects down on contact, but often don’t kill them. These products usually contain another active ingredient that gets rid of insects. Pyrethrins break down rapidly in sunlight and should be applied in the evening or on overcast days, to avoid temperatures above 32°C. Exposure to pyrethrins may result in skin allergies, sneezing, and/or a runny nose. While this product is normally not toxic to plants, maidenhair fern may be adversely affected. Pyrethrins are extremely toxic to fish.

Rotenone is extracted from roots of tropical legumes. It must be ingested by the target pests to be effective. Rotenone is toxic to non-target insects and mites and extremely toxic to fish and pigs. Exposure to Rotenone may cause mild skin or eye irritation in some individuals.

Bacillus thuringiensis var. kurstaki, (B.t.k.) can be used by homeowners for control of caterpillars (Lepidopteran larvae) that feed on plants. It only affects butterfly and moth larvae, although other strains of this bacteria are available for controlling other insects. B.t.k. is a naturally occurring soil bacterium. It must be eaten by the target pest in order to be effective.. B.t k. breaks down in the environment after approximately 2 days. Inhalation of this product can result in allergic reactions in sensitive individuals. Do not use B.t.k. if you are trying to establish a butterfly garden.

Diatomaceous Earth is composed of fossilized diatoms (microscopic sea creatures). It acts by scratching the outer waterproofing layer of the insect's body, which leads to dehydration.. In order to be effective, pests must come into contact with this product (e.g. crawl through it). It should be applied to areas where pests feed (e.g. leaf surfaces), or to areas where pests live (e.g. cracks and crevices for earwigs, around ant hills etc.) It must be reapplied after heavy rain. A dust mask and goggles are recommended when applying this product, to keep diatomaceous earth out of your eyes and lungs.

Dormant Oils and Superior Oils act by plugging the holes that insects and mites, as well as their eggs, use to obtain oxygen from the environment. They may also prevent disease spores from germinating. Dormant oils must be applied after leaves of deciduous trees and shrubs drop in the fall or before growth begins in the spring. Superior oils are more highly refined, and can be applied when deciduous plants have foliage or to conifers (they evaporate quickly, before damage to plants occurs). Both are sold as liquid concentrates that are mixed with water for application. They can be used to manage scale insects or insect and mite eggs. They should not be applied when freezing weather is predicted or while foliage is wet. Oils must have time to dry before rain or heavy dew is predicted. Some plants are damaged by oils - read the label carefully to make sure that the plants you are spraying will not harm them (eg. Blue spruce, maple, ferns, etc. ). Oils should not be applied to plants that are stressed by disease or drought, or when the temperature is above 30°C. If in doubt, spray a small test area, and wait for 48 hours to see if the plant is damaged (you will see discolouration or burning of foliage) before treating the entire plant. Superior oils are non-selective, killing any insects and mites contacting the spray.

Insecticidal Soaps contain unsaturated long-chain fatty acids similar to those in household soaps. They kill insects by dissolving the outer, waterproofing layer of an insect's external skeleton (cuticle), causing death by dehydration. They are most effective against small, soft-bodied insects such as aphids, whitefly, mites, and other small, soft insects (e.g. small caterpillars). They are also very effective against earwigs. Applications must be repeated to kill any newly hatched eggs, usually every seven to 10 days, until pest numbers are reduced. Insecticidal soap must come into contact with an insect to work, so all plant surfaces must be thoroughly sprayed. It has no effect once it dries on the plant. Soaps should not be sprayed onto plants during hot sunny periods as plants may be harmed. If in doubt, rinse soap off of treated plants after a few hours.

Soap can damage leaves of some plants (especially bleeding heart, crown of thorns, gardenia, horse chestnut, Japanese maple, maidenhair fern, mountain ash, poinsettias, and sweet peas). Insecticidal Soaps will kill beneficial insects and mites that come into contact with the spray.

Boric Acid is manufactured from Borax and kills pests that ingest it. It is available as dusts, baits, or as a liquid. Boric acid is used primarily as a bait for control of ants. It should be kept out of reach of pets and children, and may kill plants that are exposed to it. It is extremely persistent in the environment.

  • parasitic nematodes are widely available for use on lawns to manage white grub populations. These are microscopic worms, which kill both June Beetle and European Chafer larvae. They are living organisms and must be handled with care when being applied to lawns. They must be kept cool before application (keep refrigerated) they must not be exposed to light
  • they are mixed with water, and applied to lawns using a hose-end or back-pack sprayer. This must be done at dusk or on an overcast day to avoid exposure to light. Do not let the nematodes sit for more than 2 hours after they have been mixed with water.
  • place the nematodes where there are grubs. Water the lawn area thoroughly after applying the nematodes. Nematodes must be applied to moist soil, with a temperature of at least 15°C.
  • nematodes will stay in the soil for 60 to 90 days. It is best to apply nematodes just after eggs have hatched if conditions are not too hot and dry.



White grub damage appears as large dead patches on your lawn and is most severe in the fall and spring. Damaged areas will feel soft and spongy when you walk on them before the grass actually dies. The affected areas lift easily because the roots of the grass have been eaten by the grubs.

You will often find the C- shaped white grubs under the areas that you lift. Five or more grubs per 0.1 m² (10 cm²) are enough to seriously damage lawns that are not irrigated. Raccoons, skunks and other small mammals may cause secondary damage on infested lawns by digging up turf searching for a meal of grubs.

Identifying different grubs

Larvae of June Beetle and European Chafer look similar. The only way to tell the difference is to look at their spines. On the June Beetle, the spine is in two parallel lines that join at both ends. On the European Chafer, the spines form a narrow "V", with the top ends diverging. For more information see The Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs fact sheet, Grubs in Lawns.

White Grubs White Grubs

Managing white grubs

  • Healthy, vigorous lawns can put up with grub feeding. They have a larger root system, and root tissue lost to grub feeding can be replaced. Correct cultural practice and adequate irrigation of turf areas (at least 2.5 cm per week) will minimize damage to grass even if grubs are present.
  • Adult beetles prefer to lay their eggs into grass areas. Replace damaged turf with other types of plants. (NOTE: Endophyte enhanced grasses resist attack by insects that feed on the blades of grasses. They do not resist attack by root feeding white grubs).
  • Parasitic nematodes (microscopic worms) can be used to kill both June Beetle and European Chafer larvae.
  • keep them refrigerated and away from light
  • mix with water and apply to lawns using a hose-end or back-pack sprayer at dusk or on an overcast day to avoid the light.
  • Do not let the nematodes sit for more than 2 hours after they have been mixed with water.
  • Water the lawn area thoroughly after applying the nematodes. Nematodes must be applied to moist soil, with a temperature of at least 15°c.
  • Nematodes will stay in the soil for 60 to 90 days. Figure out which species of grub is attacking your lawn and use the nematodes to attack the larvae. It is best to apply nematodes just after eggs have hatched if conditions are not too hot and dry.

When to find grubs

Find out what time of year you will see grubs.


To get rid of earwigs you must follow different steps:

  • Clean up piles of firewood, plant debris, and loose organic mulches. Caulk around foundation cracks and crevices. Put weather stripping around doors. Inorganic mulches (e.g. stone) are less attractive to earwigs.
  • Use traps to catch and eliminate earwigs. Several effective traps can be made from common household materials. For example:
    • Use 30 cm lengths of rolled up moistened corrugated cardboard or newspaper, bamboo canes, burlap, canvas or garden hose.
    • Pitfall traps can be made by burying a shallow can (e.g. a tuna can) with the lid removed, in the soil and baiting it with vegetable oil.
    • A small cardboard box (with a lid) can be converted into an earwig trap by punching 0.5 cm holes in the side near the bottom, and baiting it with bran or oatmeal.
    • Commercial earwig traps may be purchased at garden centres and hardware stores. Place traps in areas where earwigs are most likely to hide during the day. Check traps daily (during daylight hours) and empty earwigs into a bucket of soapy water.
    • Earwigs are killed when hit with a spray of insecticidal soap, especially on hot, sunny summer days. Locate daytime hiding places and spray liberally. Remember, the insect must be hit with spray for insecticidal soap to be effective.

Hairy chinch bugs

Chinch bug damage appears suddenly in mid-August as sunken brown patches of dead grass on lawns, often with weeds growing in them. Damage will probably be noticed first near hedges, trees or garden beds. The dead grass is firmly attached to the ground, as the roots are not damaged (unlike white grub damage). To verify that hairy chinch bug is responsible for the brown patches, remove the top and bottom of a large can (a coffee can is ideal) and twist it through the turf and into the soil in an area adjacent to the damaged grass. Fill the can with water and scrape the turf inside with your fingers. If hairy chinch bugs are present, they will float to the surface of the water after a few minutes. More than 20-25 bugs per sample indicate that you have a problem.

Identifying hairy chinch bugs

Hairy Chinch bugs are tiny (approximately 5 mm) black and white insects, with six reddish legs. Their wings are white, with a dark spot on the outer margin and are held flat over their back.

Getting rid of hairy chinch bugs

  • Hairy Chinch Bugs thrive in hot dry conditions. Water lawns regularly beginning in late May to reduce the pest population.
  • Chinch Bug does not like to feed on grasses infected with the fungus Acremonium. Plant endophyte-enhanced varieties of grass.
  • Reduce excess thatch through proper lawn care practices.
  • Chinch bugs prefer feeding on soft young grass. This type of growth is stimulated by applications of high nitrogen fertilizers. When you suspect you have a problem with this pest, modify your fertilizer use.

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When to find grubs

Two different species of white grub commonly attack lawns in the Ottawa area. They are the immature stage (larvae) of two different species of scarab beetle, the June Beetle and the European Chafer. Both species of grub are C-shaped, with soft, wrinkled white bodies, a brown or tan head and 6 brown spiny legs. They range in size from 3mm when newly hatched, to 2 to 4cm when full grown. They can be found in the soil, feeding on the roots of grasses, weeds or almost any roots they find. They appear at different times of the year which may affect how and when you can get rid of them.

May or June Beetles require three years to complete their life cycle. Adults are large brown beetles found feeding on the upper leaves of trees in late May or early June (or at porch lights or banging into screens in the evening). They lay their eggs in the soil in grassy or weedy areas. These eggs hatch in a few weeks (mid-June), and larvae begin feeding on roots and decaying organic material. When cool temperatures arrive, the larvae move below the frost line to spend the winter. In the spring, when the soil warms, larvae return to the root area and resume feeding. When fall arrives, the second year larvae move below the frost line to spend the winter. The third spring, June beetle larvae move to grass roots to feed for a short time, then pupate. Adults emerge from the soil the following spring. In infested areas, one, two and three year old grubs may be present together.

The European Chafer requires only 1 year to complete their life cycle. The adult European Chafer is very similar in appearance to the June Beetle, but is usually present and laying eggs beginning in late June to mid July, about the time that hybrid tea roses are in full bloom. Their larvae begin feeding immediately following hatching as long as moisture is present in the root zone. They reach their full size by the end of September; however can remain feeding until November or December, when they move down in the soil to overwinter. They migrate back to grass roots and resume feeding in early spring the next year, even before the snow melts. They pupate by mid to late May (approximately when Bridal Wreath Spirea is at full bloom) and adults appear mid- to late June.

Approximate time for white grub feeding in Ottawa

June Beetle
Year 1: June to September
Year 2: April to September
Year 3: April to May

Year 1: March to May and August to November