Endophytes: Natural Pest Repellents

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What Are Endophytes?

Endophytes are small fungi that live in some grasses making the grasses harmful or deadly to a variety of grass-eating insects.  After observing cattle get sick after eating certain grasses, scientists in New Zealand discovered endophytes, opening a new frontier in grass research.

Are Endophytes Harmful for My Family or Lawn?

Endophytes live primarily in the lower stem and crown of grass plants, and deter surface pests such as sod webworms, armyworms, billbugs, cutworms, and cinch bugs.  Endophytes do not deter underground pests such as white grubs.  Endophytes are harmless to children and pets that may occasionally eat the grass, and are harmless to the grass itself.

How Do Endophytes Get into Grass?

Endophytic fungi get their start in turf by infecting the grass seed and then remaining inside the growing plant.  New seed produced by the infected plants will also contain these important fungi, but unfortunately, it is not currently possible to introduce endophytes separately into already established lawns.  Ongoing research is focusing on finding ways to insert endophytes into different grasses.

How Do I Ensure My Lawn Will Have Endophytes?

When buying seed, check to see if any endophyte grasses are listed on the label. Endophytes do not stay viable in unused seed for long, so store seed in a cool place and use it within nine months of the test date.  Contact your local Cooperative Extension Service (CSREES) for more information on endophytes.