How to Get Rid of Grubs in Your Lawn

by kajohu

Here are some safe, natural methods for getting rid of grubs that kill your grass. These include the larval form of Japanese beetles, European chafer beetles, and other scarabs.

It's disheartening to find white c-shaped grubs under your nicely tended lawn. They're destructive, killing patches of your grass by eating the tender, juicy roots underneath. To make matters worse, other animals such as skunks and raccoons may cause further lawn damage by digging into the ground to find these tasty treats.

What can you do to get rid of these destructive insect pests? You want to keep your lawn looking nice, but you don't want to kill the beneficial insects in your yard.

Here are a few natural methods (not insecticides) for controlling white grubs in your lawn. These are safe for humans, other animals, and beneficial insects.

You've Found White Grubs in Your Lawn -- Now What Do You Do?

Treating a white grub infestation in your lawn

Maybe you've noticed patchy areas in your lawn with dead or dying grass, even though you've been watering your lawn.  And maybe you've also seen evidence of animals, such as skunks or raccoons, digging in the patchy areas of your yard, further damaging your lawn.   You wonder what's in the grass that's attracting these animals, and what's killing your grass in the first place, so you pull up a small area of sod to check to see what's going on.   And there they are -- many c-shaped white grubs.   Yuck.

These grubs have been eating the juicy tender roots of your grass, causing patches of your grass to die.  They also make tasty treats for skunks, raccoons, crows, and other animals who dig up your lawn in search of them.

Now what do you do?  How do you treat your lawn to get rid of these destructive grubs?  If you're like many of us, you're trying to reduce your use of pesticides that can also be toxic to people, pets, birds, and beneficial insects.

Here are a few safer, more natural methods you can use to control the grubs in your lawn.

What Are White Grubs?

What grubs are most common in the lawn?

These c-shaped white grubs that you may find in the soil under your grass are the larval forms of certain beetles. In my area (Michigan) the most common kind of grubs are the Japanese beetle larvae and the European chafer (commonly called June bugs) larvae.

European chafer beetle grub

Depending on where you live, you may have different species.

Some lawn grub treatments work better on some species, so you may want to check your local gardening centers for information on the white lawn grubs that are typical where you live.

Shown here is the larva of the European chafer (CC BY 3.0)

Treatments for Grub Control in Your Lawn

Three natural treatments that you can use to get rid of grubs in your yard are:

  • Neem oil
  • Beneficial nematodes
  • Milky Spore disease

Let's take a look at each of these methods.

The neem tree, or Indian lilac, is a tropical, evergreen tree that is native to India.   Oil expressed from the seeds of the olive-sized neem fruit is used for many purposes, including cosmetics, medicinal preparations, and to control certain insects.

Neem oil has certain compounds that mimic hormones in insects that control breeding and eating.   When neem oil enters insects' systems, it blocks their regular hormones, and their behavioral patterns are changed.    They may not mate or lay eggs, or eggs won't hatch.   They "forget" to eat, so they die. 

Neem oil affects "chewing and sucking" insects, including the larval grubs and the adult beetles.

As you can see, neem oil insect-control products don't kill insects quickly like other pesticides do, but it does control lawn grubs well.  You have to give it some time to work.

The Insect Control: Grub Beater shown below is made from neem seed oil, and it controls a number of different insect pests including white lawn grubs. Azadirachtin is the active ingredient in neem oil.

It disrupts feeding, so grass roots are left undisturbed; and it disrupts mating behavior and molting.  Grub Beater also acts as a repellent, keeping bugs from returning to the area.

Nematodes for Grub Control

Beneficial soil nematodes eat up grubs and look for more

These NemaGlobe Nematodes are beneficial nematodes that will wipe out your lawn grub population without the use of dangerous chemicals.

For best results, soil temperature should be about 70 degrees F, and watered well with the nematode application.   May take 2 - 30 days to see results.

Nematodes, or roundworms, are small, sometimes microscopic, worm-like animals.   There are species of nematodes in all habitats around the world.  Some species are beneficial, and are used to control grubs and other harmful insects.

These beneficial nematodes are harmless to humans and other animals, plants, and earthworms, but they're deadly to certain pest insects, including grubs.   When nematodes are introduced, they enter the grubs' bodies and feed on them, multiplying rapidly inside the host bodies.

When the food supply (host grub) is gone, the nematodes move into the soil to find other food.  Once the grub population is gone, the nematodes die out too, since their food source has been eliminated.

Milky Spore Disease

Kill off lawn grubs with this naturally occuring bacterium

Milky spore works best during the times when the soil is warm (over 65 degrees F.) and the larvae (grubs) are actively feeding.

You can tell if the grubs are infected by checking their body fluids (cut off a leg to check).   Fluids will be clear in healthy grubs, and milky in affected grubs (thus the name).

Milky spore is a bacterium that is lethal to white lawn grubs of Japanese beetles, and often works on other grubs as well, such as June beetle larvae. 

Milky spore is not harmful to humans, pets, or beneficial insects, or birds.

When milky spore bacteria is applied correctly to the lawn, grubs ingest it and die within 1 - 3 weeks.  When they die, they release billions of new milky spore bacteria into the soil, which will be ingested by more white grubs.

This actually works best with greater concentrations of grubs, because the more grubs that are feeding, the more milky spore bacteria that will be released into the surrounding soil when the grubs die, thus adding more protection.

It can take 6 months to 3 years to control grubs with milky spore, but once established will provide protection for 10 - 20 years. 

Many Grubs Are the Larval Form of Japanese Beetles

Get rid of Japanese beetles before they produce more grubs
Japanese beetles can cause extensive damage to the leaves and flowers of many different kinds of plants. Here are some ways for getting rid of these destructive insect pests.

More About How These Methods Work

How Does Neem Insecticide Work?
About Neem Oil And Insects

Does Milky Spore Disease Control Grubs?
How does milky disease work?

Using Nematodes to Treat Lawn Grubs
Beneficial nematode worms control lawn grubs.

Read More About Lawn Grubs

Japanese Beetles, from Got Pests?
Information about the Japanese beetle life cycle, from grub (larva) to adult, with images.

White Grubs, from Got Pests?
Description of different white grubs that can be found in lawns.

LawnFAQS - White grubs in lawn
About white grubs and how to manage them.

Updated: 09/12/2015, kajohu
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Have You Had Grub Problems in Your Lawn? What Has Worked For You?

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katiem2 on 04/06/2013

With the mild winter we had I don't want to battle brown spots in my lawn, onto of it and thanks for the helpful guide to a great lawn. :))K

kajohu on 11/24/2012

Thanks, Peter. This is good to know.

Peter Sonnes on 11/24/2012

The best time to treat them is during warm weather, when they are usually feeding. As long as no grub infested area is left untreated, grub removal is easily achieved.

BrendaReeves on 07/17/2012

I hate those ugly critters. I killed off all of my grass so I can plant a new lawn, so I don't have the problem right now.

katiem2 on 07/17/2012

What a nasty problem to have and yet all to common. Thanks for the organic info on controlling grubs. I prefer to use organic and these yard destroyers are hard to get rid of once you get them. I will continue with control methods using your tips. Thanks :)

dustytoes on 07/16/2012

Thanks for this list of organic type ways to control the grub infestation. They can multiply quickly unless you get control of them. I rented a house once where I found many grubs anytime I dug a hole.

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