Zika started it.
Mosquito control services have been around for decades with misting machines mostly used in municipal or commercial livestock facilities, says Jeff White, president, MosquitoMax, Houston. “But the demand is up because of Zika. When the CDC said it was an emergency two years ago, mosquito control, in general, increased.” White’s business installs and services the misting system, which is a tankless device that disperses the repellent on a timed basis. (The company sells this equipment to other businesses, too.) It also makes a larvicide dispensing product that fits into French drains, catch basins and sump pumps to kill off larva so they don’t become mosquitoes.
“Ninety-nine percent of our business is mosquito misting, and that is how we control mosquitoes the best, in our opinion,” White says.
The more common control practice is using backpack misting sprayers for applying barrier applications. And because of Zika – and, of course, other mosquito-borne illnesses like West Nile, Lyme disease from ticks (the pesticide kills those, too), and the fact that bugs are a nuisance in the outdoors – there is an increased demand, as far as Matt Fisher can see.
Fisher is manager of Delaware Valley Turf in Philadelphia. “It’s a business opportunity, quite frankly,” he says. “When Zika came about and moved up the eastern seaboard, everyone started offering the service – and if you weren’t, you were losing out on potential business.”
Starting up a mosquito add-on service requires gaining the proper licensing, which varies by state. In Pennsylvania, Fisher says he and his applicator colleagues needed to get a general pest license. The company already had appropriate licensing for providing lawn care applications, which is its core business. Next came acquiring the equipment and training the crew. “We wanted to be sure we could provide the service so that it would be beneficial to the business, and to our customers,” Fisher says. That meant determining the frequency of applications and service approach. Fisher’s company went with backpack misters/foggers. “These are easy to use and we train our crews on the equipment so they can handle minor repairs if they have any issues,” he says. (And, they usually don’t.)
Marketing is also a key start-up piece. “We market in-house to our current customer base to let them know we offer the service,” Fisher says. “We let them know, ‘Don’t go outside to another business. Consolidate the bill and get the same customer service.’”
Delaware Valley Turf also advertises in local magazines, and this year it will consider a mailer advertising the mosquito service. The trick is with the timing. The last thing the company wants is to launch a mail campaign in late-March and end up with a snowstorm the next week. (Who’s thinking about mosquitoes then?)
“Ninety-nine percent of our business is mosquito misting, and that is how we control mosquitoes the best.” Jeff White, president, MosquitoMax
Joseph Holland, president of Majestic Lawn Care & Landscape in New York, also added a mosquito control service to his business two years ago. In his area, he says the competition is “not extreme,” and he’s actually surprised the service hasn’t grown that much. He has about 20 clients who elect to buy mosquito control now. This year, he plans to ramp up marketing a bit. “We’ll keep going at it because the Asian Tiger mosquito is here and it seems like we are getting more (insects) coming at us,” he says.
Holland also uses the backpack misters to provide a barrier service, and he offers an organic cedar oil application or a synthetic bifenthrin. “We spray every three weeks with either product,” he says.
Fisher’s service schedule is every 45 days, though the company will come out in between visits if there is unusual pressure. Larvicide is also part of Fisher’s and White’s programs, however Holland says his company sticks with the barrier control. An integral part of all programs is careful scouting before chemical application.
“We look for areas we deem as hot spots where mosquitoes inhabit or breed. Standing water is first,” Fisher says. Baby pools, containers and other obvious “vessels” that hold water (even a bottle-cap full is enough to breed mosquitoes) are easy targets. “If you can get results by simply dumping water out, that’s step one and it saves money, time and you don’t have to touch pesticides,” Fisher says.
Other areas are not so easy to “empty.” That’s where larvicides come into play in places like French drains or by sump pumps. Shrubs, trees and tall grasses also harbor mosquitoes, as do rock walls, wood piles and areas holding debris, Holland says. “Mosquitoes love cool, damp areas like the back sides of shrub leaves where they are not in the direct sun,” he says.
offering mosquito control.
Is mosquito control a fit for your service model? As for demand, Fisher doesn’t see it waning in Pennsylvania. “I’d say 40 to 50 percent of our lawn care inquiries also inquire about mosquito control,” he says.
In Houston, mosquito control can be nearly year-round, White says. “We have temperature sensors built into our sprayers, so they don’t mist if it’s below 50 degrees,” he says. Water temperatures have to be 50 degrees for larvae to grow. “Mosquitoes are less prevalent in winter, but if we have a warm winter, they’re still here.”
Fisher says mosquito control has been a smart add-on for Delaware Valley Turf, and it made sense because of managements’ experience in turf care, he says.
“We all have collegiate backgrounds in agronomy and turf management, so we are able to step into the entomology aspect and it made sense for us to add on mosquito control,” he says.
It’s a relatively low capital start-up requiring a backpack sprayer and product, Fisher says. Some landscape contractors subcontract mosquito control to his firm. So, decide if you want to take on the service, or partner with a company that offers it. “If you are able to market the service and take on customers without stretching yourself thin and sacrificing results in your core business, then go for it,” he says.