Defeat the destroyers

Defeat the destroyers

Features - Lawn Care

Preventative programs can stop grubs and chinch bugs from obliterating your lawn.

April 24, 2013
Lindsey Getz

Chinch bugs and grubs can destroy even the best-kept lawns. Both insects have the power to destroy turf quickly and no lawn care operator wants to be dealing with a turf that has one of these infestation problems.

That’s why the best LCOs sell their customers on preventative maintenance. Getting customers on a preventative program is a win/win scenario for everyone.

Preventative care. When customers don’t protect their lawn from insect infestations, it can reflect negatively on their lawn care company – even though they certainly didn’t cause the problem. Jack Robertson, president of Jack Robertson Lawn Care in Springfield, Ill., admits that he’s actually had customers cancel their service because they had grubs – even though they declined to get a grub control package in the first place.

“Customers want to hold someone accountable for their turf problems and unfortunately that means even a great lawn care operator can get the blame,” Robertson says.

“It just shows the importance of selling the customer on preventative maintenance.”

Robertson always provides reminders for customers who are not set up for grub control and says it’s not a hard upsell to get them interested in a preventative application. However, the timing of the sell can be tricky.

The prime time to sell the service is in the spring in order to package it in with other landscape services. But this isn’t the time when grubs are a problem. “Customers will often say ‘I’ll get the application if I develop a problem,’” Robertson says.

“But we like to explain that that’s often too late and preventative maintenance is really the way to go. At one point we were even handing out little rubber grubs as a marketing effort to give customers something tangible at a time when grubs are out of sight, out of mind.”

Down south, where the warm season turf makes chinch bugs the primary problem, Jeffrey Johns, president of Coastal Greenery in Brunswick, Ga., deals with the same scenario – a necessary focus on prevention.

He says that customers simply can’t have a great looking turf if they have a chinch bug problem – a bug that can be so destructive it can often ruin turf overnight.

“Chinch bugs can be a nightmare and preventative maintenance is a necessity here,” Johns says.

“We roll that service into an overall package. I don’t have customers calling me to ask how much I’ll charge for a chinch bug application.

“Instead, it’s more of a concentrated effort on an annual maintenance program that incorporates chemical application.”

Johns says it’s not a hard sell. Over the years he’s come to find that packaging his services together is the best approach with his customers.

He calls it the Total Care Program and the monthly fee incorporates everything from the mowing and pruning to total plant health care on a property.

“I’ve found that customers don’t even want to hear about a potential chinch bug problem – they just want to visually see a lush green turf,” Johns says.

“They trust us to be the experts in knowing what’s required to achieve that. As a result, we never want to be reactive to any situation. With chinch bugs, by the time you react to them, it’s often too late and you have to replace sod.

“So selling a program that takes an upfront approach is easy. In the long run it’s saving the customer a lot of money by preventing costly problems.”

A different approach. Regardless what kind of insect control you’re focusing on, there’s an increasing interest in Integrated Pest Management (IPM), or what the EPA calls an “effective and environmentally sensitive approach to pest management that relies on a combination of common-sense practices.” IPM is the approach that DiSabatino Landscaping, in Wilmington, Del., has taken to insect control. Jason Gaskill, certified arborist and partner in plant health care for DiSabatino, says that spraying broad spectrum pesticide for chinch bug control can offset the natural balance of the turf.

“You may kill a million chinch bugs, but you also kill the bugs that eat the chinch bugs,” he says.

“So even if you only leave behind a few chinch bugs, because you’ve killed off their natural predator, there’s no longer any pressure against the chinch bug population and you may actually build it larger.”

Though the company doesn’t do grub control in their area, Gaskill says that there’s IPM science behind this practice as well.

“IPM for grub control focuses on lifting a piece of sod and taking an actual grub count to determine the course of action,” Gaskill says.

“There’s a lot of research that shows there is a threshold for how many grubs are a true problem. Some contractors are putting down pesticides unnecessarily and that’s doing a disservice because it’s costly and wasteful. In addition, you might not really be getting to the root of the problem.

“A few grubs may lead you to believe you have a problem and need to spray. But you shouldn’t be putting pesticide down for only one to three grubs in a square foot,” he says. “Plus, focusing on the grubs might be distracting you from something that is really causing the problem.”

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For example, you can learn more about chinch bugs – and how to keep your customers happy – with technical information from Joe Chamberlain and Valent Professional Products. To listen visit