“As pest management professionals it’s our responsibility to look out for our customers, their pets and the environment from the impact of mosquitoes,” Chris Swain, technical services manager, MGK Insect Control Solutions, told attendees at this year’s MGK Mosquito Conference in Houston.
The goal of mosquito control is to allow homeowners to enjoy their yards without the annoyance or health risks associated with mosquitoes, including the Zika and West Nile viruses. Mosquitoes, compared to any other animal, pose the greatest health risk to humans, of which the U.S. population has become increasingly aware. “Customers are thinking about a lot of things when they pick up the phone and call you for mosquito control,” said Swain.
Mosquito control has obvious advantages for customers and it can also be a good revenue source. “Year-over-year, mosquito control is continuously going up,” said Swain. “More and more people are looking for mosquito control.” It has the elements needed for increased revenue: low equipment maintenance, minimal product costs and it isn’t labor intensive.
“I think there’s a hidden profit for a lot of companies that have been providing mosquito control for a number of years,” Tommy Powell, technical field representative, MGK, told that same audience. “They’ll likely notice a decrease in callbacks, because they’re going out to customers regularly to treat for mosquitoes.”
In addition to residential work, there are commercial opportunities for providing mosquito control, including recreational areas, weddings, sporting events, churches and restaurants. Tent rental companies are a natural partner for prospecting mosquito control business.
EQUIPMENT ESSENTIALS. Backpack mist blowers are Swain’s application equipment of choice for mosquito control. They’re effective, provide the best coverage, use about one-third less product compared to a truck-mounted sprayer, there’s no dripping and there are no hoses to drag. Another advantage of backpack mist blowers is being able to easily treat the underside of foliage, because of the forced air. Technicians may forget to turn the sprayer wand upside down to treat the bottom of leaves. Using a mist blower eliminates that problem.
If you encounter a well-groomed yard or outdoor area with a built-in grill, wood fireplace, lighting and dining table/chairs, you know the homeowner is using the space a lot. Areas like these are generally inappropriate for using a backpack mist blower. There are too many items to avoid and too many opportunities for drift. “Any tight areas, a hand-held, pump-up sprayer comes in handy. You can directly target areas for treatment and avoid drift,” Powell said.
Mosquito misting systems are another option. Since many biting insects are active at night, the systems can be set to treat during the evening and nighttime hours. You can, however, recommend the system treat during the day depending on your customers’ mosquito prevention needs. Mosquito misting systems provide this type of flexibility.
THE RIGHT PRODUCT MIX. There are two factors for choosing the right product for a job: one is the product characteristics, and the other is how often you’d like to schedule treatment. “Pest management professionals have different choices for products and they use them for a number of different reasons,” said Swain. “Some people look for products that have short residual, others look for long residual. Some people want to go back out in a week—others every two, three or four weeks. So product choice is based, in part, on what you’re trying to accomplish. It goes back to meeting your customer’s expectations.”
Swain recommends using a tank mix of adulticide — an insecticide that kills adult insects — and an insect growth regulator (IGR) for preventive pest control, as contact with the IGR can prevent the development of viable eggs or prevent pupae from emerging as adults. “If the IGR is going into standing water, it typically needs to be applied by itself, because you’re not supposed to spray standing water with a pyrethroid-based insecticide,” explained Swain. “You could put the IGR in a separate sprayer. Make sure you read the technical label.”
“Initially, mosquitoes are going to die from the adulticide,” said Swain. “The IGR will stay on the foliage after the adulticide loses its effectiveness, so the mosquitoes have the opportunity to pick it up later.”
“We also recommend PBO (piperonyl butoxide). It’s used to treat MFO-based (multifunction oxidases) resistance — a genetic resistance,” added Swain. “You can also add surfactants, which tends to help with penetration of the cuticle.”
OBSERVE AND DETERMINE. Conducting a thorough inspection will provide you with the information you need to develop a treatment strategy and the cost of treatment. During the inspection, identify breeding and harborage sites, areas to avoid, and which equipment and products to use — all necessary to determine the cost of treatment.
There is technology at our fingertips, but it may not always be the best solution. “Some people use Google Earth and won’t even go out to the house to provide an estimate,” said Swain. “I’m old school. I like to go to a house. It’s tough for me to see what I’m getting into if I’m physically not there.
“I take notes during the inspection so I can have a conversation with the homeowner about what I found. I’ll go over everything I’ve learned, talk about conducive conditions and listen to gauge their feedback,” said Swain. “I want to make sure they understand what I can deliver.” If customers don’t have realistic expectations, you’ll likely get repeated callbacks from dissatisfied customers — a cost in terms of time and labor.
“If there’s a creek out back, which is a continuous conducive condition, I explain that it’s an area I can’t treat and that adult mosquitoes will be emerging daily. I’m probably not going to be able to get 80 percent control, if that’s what they expect,” said Swain.
The post-inspection conversation is also your opportunity to informally interview customers and determine if they’re going to be a good fit. If their expectation of successful mosquito control is unrealistic, they may not be the best customer for you.
PREP TIME. “Pre-treatment is usually a walk around the property to see what areas you’re going to treat and to remove unnecessary items,” said Swain. Check wind direction to help avoid potential drift issues. Remove everything that should be excluded from treatment, from tables, chairs and flip flops, to toys and the dog’s water bowl.
Pick up everything you can before you begin treating. “It’s difficult to pick up a toy with a three-gallon sprayer on your back,” said Powell. “You have to take off the sprayer, pick up the toy and half way around the yard you’re going to find something else that needs to be picked up.”
This is the time to empty anything that has collected standing water. “You’ll be able to identify what you can dump and what you can treat,” said Swain. “Things like children’s swimming pools, tires or other items collecting water — dump them out. There’s no need to treat it with a larvacide if the water can be removed.” Before treating other areas of standing water, be sure it doesn’t run off into an active waterway. It’s critical to always use products according to label instructions.
“While I’m walking around, I’m also determining what equipment to use. Backpack mist blowers are one of my favorite pieces of equipment,” said Swain. An average 5,000-square-foot yard typically can be treated using a 3.7-gallon backpack mist blower. “I’ll use a power sprayer if I’m treating a large area, like three to four acres. I don’t want to keep filling up my backpack sprayer, so I’ll use a truck-mounted, 25- to 50-gallon sprayer and deal with pulling the hose around. That’s another reason I like the backpack mist blowers — there’s no hose to deal with.”
Be on alert for decorative ponds, fruit trees and vegetable gardens. “As a general rule, treat 20 feet away from a pond — be more safe than sorry. If you get it in the pond you’re going to kill the fish — all of them,” said Powell.
To avoid issues with product drifting into backyard ponds, some companies cover them with a tarp. They place a large “X” on the side of the tarp that always faces up, so that the wrong side isn’t accidentally placed on the water at the next job, causing the problem you’re trying to avoid. It’s safe to treat around swimming pools when done correctly, said Swain. “We try to have our backs toward the swimming pool and treat in the opposite direction of the pool, not towards it. It also depends on which way the wind is blowing.” Some companies use tarps to cover pools for safety.
Common sense prevails when it comes to what not to treat. Areas you absolutely must exclude from treatment include: natural bodies of water; surface water, like ponds; wetlands; food surfaces; fruit and nut trees; vegetable gardens; and anything that isn’t on your customer’s property.
“I teach technicians that if they don’t know what a plant is, assume it’s an edible,” said Powell. If you spray pyrethroids on a tomato plant, for example, the fruit can’t be eaten and the plant should be removed. You’ll be purchasing your customer a replacement plant. “If it’s not on the label, it’s a legal issue at that point,” said Powell, “With one product you may be able to treat around a fruit tree, but you can’t treat it directly.”
Don’t forget to look in the neighbors’ yards to check for kids, pets, gardens and anything else that could be problematic.
TREATMENT. “We focus on treating vegetation,” said Swain. “Mosquitoes rest on vegetation 90 percent of the time.” Treat all mosquito resting and breeding sites, including: shrubs; overgrown or non-mowed grass; standing water; and areas with little or no air movement, such as soffits, and entry areas. The target area is from 6 inches to 20 feet vertically. “You’ll find Culex mosquitoes higher than 20 feet, but they’re not as likely to bite like other mosquitoes,” said Powell. Focus on the lower portion of trees. Check for animals that may be hiding in tree holes before treating the tree.
IGRs can be used in water that’s contained, such as decorative fountains. If the water flows into a water source — or if you’re not certain if it does or not — don’t treat it with an IGR. “Avoid any kind of active, natural waterway. If it’s got fish, you shouldn’t treat it,” added Swain.
“I’ll treat the grass when I’m walking around, especially if it’s unmowed, but I don’t spend a lot of time on it,” said Swain. “Some people don’t treat the grass and focus only on the high vegetation.”
Communicate with your customer the importance of keeping people, pets and sprinklers off treated areas until the product is dry.
POST-TREATMENT. “Post-treatment is going to vary by company and how they do things. We generally recommend going back in a week or two. Some don’t go back out at all, while others go out every week or two,” said Swain. “Be aware of product retreatment intervals, so you know how often you can use a product. And most important, continue to communicate with your customer.”
Customers should be included in your post-treatment plan. Talk to them about their involvement in controlling mosquitoes, such as eliminating sources of standing water, trimming excessive vegetation and other ways they can help keep the population down.
IN SUMMARY. Mosquito control services provide customers with what they want and need: a yard they can use with minimal annoyance and risk of mosquito-borne diseases. For you, it’s another revenue source with minimal requirements to begin treatments.
The author is owner of Perspective Communications and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.