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Ask Anything: 10 questions with pest control expert Burns Blackwell

Posted May 5, 2009

Editor's Note: Due to the large volume of questions sent in by viewers, Burns Blackwell agreed to answer more than 10. His responses are below.

1

About how much should a good pest control program for a home here in North Carolina cost? – Bill Gilson, Cary

As with most things, you can get quite a range of prices as you search for pest management services. It is always a good idea to get several estimates from reputable companies. Make sure the company has a good rating with the Better Business Bureau and is a member of the N.C. Pest Management Association.

Most companies will price general pest services and wood destroying insect services separately. A general pest service can run anywhere from $75 to $150 depending on the size of the home and the degree of the problem. A general pest quarterly service usually averages approximately $80-85.

When comparing companies, make sure you are comparing “apples to apples.” Some companies cover some insects like fire ants and flying insects in the service, some will charge extra for these services. Finally, make sure you compare the company’s guarantee on the service and if they charge for call-backs. Most wood-destroying insect services are priced by square foot or linear foot.

And remember, you get what you pay for, so sometimes the lowest price may not be your best option in the long run. To find a reputable, well-trained pest management company in your area, visit the North Carolina Pest Management Association’s Web site: www.ncpestmanagement.org.

2

What is the best and safest way to get rid of fire ants? – Renee Hobbs, Clinton

Fire ant control can be difficult. I am hesitant to say you can get rid of fire ants permanently on your property, but they can be successfully managed if you stay on top of them. Although baits are slower acting, they are a better long-term solution to controlling fire ants.

Some baits contain insect growth regulators that can provide long-term control (some up to a year). Baits contain a very small amount of an active ingredient, so they are generally recognized as safe to apply to areas where children and pets frequent. The main goal with any treatment is to eliminate the colony via the queen, if not you will only have limited success.

I would not recommend some of the home remedies such as grits, gasoline, or treating mounds with large amounts of water. When you disturb a fire ant nest, you run the risk of causing the ants to move, thus making your problem worse.

3

What's the best way to get rid of those tiny black ants commonly known as "sugar ants"? I have tried everything including calling an exterminator and they keep coming back. – Mark Matthews, Wake Forest

Ants can be one of the most challenging insects to eliminate for homeowners and pest management professionals as well. These "sugar ants" are most likely Odorous House Ants or Argentine ants that will readily nest anywhere inside or outside your home. Liquid sprays of insecticides will kill them, but they will usually be back before long, unless you directly treat the nest.

The question is where is the nest located? It could be inside the house or outside. Inside, baits may take longer, but will eventually eliminate the whole colony, as long as they continue to feed on the bait. A pinch of boric acid in pancake syrup and peanut butter makes a good bait.

If you have had or continue to have ants the best thing would be to find a pest management company who will spend the time to locate and destroy the nest sites. That is the ultimate answer to the problem. But be patient, it may take a few weeks and sometimes even months to eliminate ants. Their colonies can be quite large, often in the thousands.

4

What is the best way to be rid of spiders? Thank you. – Audie Durelli, Clayton

If the spiders you notice are located outdoors, you are most likely dealing with web-building spiders. Knock down the webs with a broom or a blast of water from your garden hose and clean behind your shutters (a great hiding place).

Spiders usually like to build their webs around outdoor lights so keep them off whenever possible or use a yellow “bug light” that reduces (but doesn’t eliminate) flying insects.

If you notice spiders indoors, you are most likely dealing with hunting spiders, which means they move around a lot more. This makes targeting them with a pesticide difficult. Your best approach is to vacuum under and around furniture frequently.

5

What is the best way to get rid of roaches? Even the pest control folks didn't seem to help. Thanks. – Susan Kelley, Zebulon

The first thing to determine is what type of roach you are dealing with. If it is a roach that infests inside, like a German roach, that treatment will be different than for outdoor roaches.

As with ants, baits are very effective for treating roaches but take a little longer. Liquid sprays can work faster but you run the risk of the roaches moving into wall voids and areas that are not treated, which can make the infestation worse.

Roaches are adaptable pests, which is why they have survived for so long. If one product is not working, it may be time to try a different formulation. There are numerous products available for roaches that are available to pest management professionals, so if you are not seeing results, suggest to your company that they try something else.

Finally, good sanitation is essential to your success in eliminating roaches. All possible food and water sources should be eliminated or even the best bait in the world will not be effective.

6

I just purchased a new home which was constructed in 2008. How soon should I have it checked for termites and how often after the initial visit should I have a technician visit? – Tabitha Rice, Durham

If you currently have a relationship with a pest management company, you should first call them to request an inspection. However, if you do not have regular contract in place, you should first investigate the property’s pest management history. Contact the seller or the builder and find out if the home was treated for termites during or after construction. If so, contact the company that performed the treatment to get details about any available warranty and/or guarantee. Find out if the warranty covers damage repair and/or replacement.

Many pest management companies offer free inspections – an incentive to at least have your home reviewed by a professional. Even if your home does not have evidence of active termites, the inspector may identify other concerns such as powder post beetles, carpenter ants, carpenter bees, moisture damage or poor ventilation. The inspector can also let you know of any conducive conditions that you should remedy such as wood in contact with the home or leaf debris buildup.

It is possible that insect activity and/or damage may be present and remain undetected even after a thorough inspection. Inspections are only of visibly accessible areas and termites can be hidden. Even if your inspection does come out clear, you may want to consider a preventative treatment plan to protect your home.

Annual inspections are also a good idea. The North Carolina Pest Management Association has developed a program designed specifically to train wood destroying insect inspection professionals. The pest management professionals that go through this program face a rigorous training curriculum that helps set a standard of professionalism in the industry. Because North Carolina is an area with high infestations of subterranean termites, it can be important to take preventive steps to help avoid serious damage. You can find an accredited WDI professional by visiting www.ncpestmanagement.org.

7

How do you get rid of ticks in your backyard? We have a wooded backyard and a ton of ticks. Help! – Patricia Halsey, Chapel Hill

It would be difficult to eliminate all the ticks in your backyard in an environmentally-sound way, but they can be managed. Oftentimes, the sources of the ticks are deer, squirrels, and ground-nesting birds. Habitat modification is important in tick management, like keeping overgrown weedy areas trimmed back where these animals may nest.

A pesticide can be applied to outdoor areas, either by a homeowner or by hiring a professional. Always make sure you read the label and follow the instructions regarding dilution rates and application. Take the usual precautions when working outdoors; use repellants (DEET or alternatives on your skin and clothing).

Tuck long pants into your socks to keep ticks off your legs. And consult your veterinarians about the best options to protect any pets. A good resource for additional tick information is at: insects.ncsu.edu/urban. Look under “Biting and Stinging Pests.”

8

I have a small stream in my backyard and have seen a few snakes. Is there anything I can do to keep them out of my yard? – Sara Williamson, Fuquay-Varina

Make sure all holes in the foundation of your home are sealed. If your house has a crawlspace, have a tight fitting door. This will help keep rodents out, which attract snakes. Make sure the yard is not cluttered with debris that snakes may hide under. Depending on what type of snakes you have, there are some repellants for snake that are effective in keeping them out of unwanted areas. You could also try moth balls scattered around the perimeter of your home.

9

I had a bat get into my house a few weeks ago. I don't know how it entered but I do not hear or smell any evidence of others in my attic. Should I be concerned and if there is indeed an infestation, how do you get rid of them? – L. Thornton, Wendell

You should have the attic checked for any further evidence of bats by a pest management company that handles wildlife and bat abatement. They will advise you if there are areas where the bats are entering or nesting in the attic. If so, these areas will need to be fixed with screening or other material where the bats are able to leave but can't get back into the attic.

Yes, bats do warrant a concern because they can carry rabies and harbor ectoparasites. If an infestation is discovered, bats cannot be removed at certain times of the year due to their young being unable to leave, so this will need to be taken into account when timing the bat abatement service.

Bats are a beneficial animal, due to the amount of mosquitoes and other insects they eat so if they can be removed unharmed that is always preferable.

10

Knowing that there are many "green" efforts being made in our communities, what are the best methods for pest control that are child and animal friendly as well as environmentally-friendly? – Heidi LeCount, Raleigh

The pest management industry is constantly developing new and more effective products and methods that fit in well with many communities’ and homeowners’ “green” efforts.

Integrated Pest Management is a term that has been around for decades in the industry, but reflects pest management professional’s efforts to solve pest problems using the least amount of product and, instead, uses implementation of other methods (such as exclusion, trapping, and habitat modification) before or in conjunction with limited use of insecticides.

Many insects can be controlled using baits, which have low toxicity and can be applied in a manner where children or pets will have limited if any exposure to the active ingredients. There are also many botanical-based products available now that are great to use in sensitive environments or where people want a “green” option for treatments.

An increasing number of pest management professionals are offering these types of services as demand for them increases. Check around to find someone in your area who can offer the type of treatments that are best for you and address your environmental concerns. The N.C. Pest Management Association can also help you locate a provider in your area.

 


 

EXTRA QUESTIONS ...

 

We have a cabin in the mountains and we have a lot of problems with carpenter bees. What can we do to get rid of them and keep them from coming back? Do we have to use a professional exterminator? Thanks!! – Donna Smith, Garner

Carpenter bees prefer to nest in weathered and unpainted wood, so if painting is an option that could deter them. They also tend to infest the same areas each year if they are left untreated. If it is just a few holes, they can be treated individually with a residual insecticide. If you are experiencing problems with a larger area or the entire house, you can treat the siding and boxing with a repellant product in the spring. You will probably need to do this each year if you notice them returning year after year. All carpenter bee holes should be sealed with caulk or wood putty 24-48 hours after treatment or the bees will continue to use these holes.


The bed bug situation is getting out of control in the hotels. Not only across NC but the US. What methods can be used to help eliminate and prevent them in hotels and from bringing them home from hotels when you stay and work in them? – Susan, Kenly

Bed bugs have definitely made a comeback in the last few years and they don’t seem to be going away anytime soon. With people traveling more these days, it is easy to take bedbugs with you in suitcases as you are leaving a hotel. They have been found on airplanes, subways, trains, and most forms of mass transit.

Bed bug treatments are intensive and can be quite costly due to the time and materials involved in treating an infestation. To prevent bringing them home with you, I would inspect the hotel room upon check-in for any signs of bed bugs. Check the mattress, box springs and the bed frame for live insects, blood, or insect fecal matter. If you notice any of these, alert the hotel immediately and ask to be moved to another room. Inspect all baggage that you bring home for bed bugs and wash all clothing in hot water and dry on high heat if you find any.

There is only so much you can do on your end to prevent them, so a lot of the burden must fall on the hotels and hotel staff to notify a pest professional and treat any infestations they find in a timely manner. As with most insects, the sooner you start treatment the easier it is to reduce the population before they get out of hand.

They also make mattress and box spring encasements/covers specifically for bed bugs that are very effective in keeping them in (or out) depending on the circumstances. I’d recommended finding a pest professional to properly treat a bed bug infestation. This is not something you want to try on your own.


Is there any product to put on one's lawn to rid it of mosquitoes? I have no children at home and my pets are strictly indoors. – Chel Douglass, Garner

Sure, there are a few things you can do to combat mosquitoes in your yard. There are many products designed to fight mosquitoes. You can put down any lawn insecticide and kill a few mosquitoes, but don’t forget to treat the areas in and around your shrubs as well as those are popular mosquito breeding grounds.

Most of our problems in urban settings are with the Asian Tiger Mosquito, which breed in primarily stagnant water in "MMOs" (man made objects), such as carelessly discarded containers, old tires, bird baths, clogged ditches, etc. One of the easiest ways to contend with these types of mosquitoes is to clean out any areas where stagnant water can accumulate.

Get the neighborhood together on a weekend to get rid of these containers, tires, and any junk that's clogging drainage ditches. And do the birds a favor by rinsing out the bird bath which flushes the mosquito larvae away and gives our feathered friends some fresh water. Doing all of this will reduce the amount of mosquitoes in your yard, but you still might encounter some that come over from your neighbors or surrounding properties.


In 2007 I moved into a new home after having some items in storage. After a few months I noticed a few moths and they began to multiply. We have been battling moths for nearly 2 years and I have had two pest control companies treat our home and offer advice. I have followed all instructions to get rid of the moths and have emptied the closets, washed or dry cleaned ALL clothes and cleaned the closets thoroughly. I'm extremely neat and clean and this is driving me nuts, not to mention the moths are eating my clothes! Can you offer any advice? Thank you! – Leah, Raleigh

It is important to make a proper identification of the moth. This will help determine if it is a clothes moth and not some other type of stored product moth. A clothes moth will eat silk and wool but not synthetic fibers. If you are in fact dealing with clothes moths, there are pheromone traps for moths that are available that can be quite effective.

If you have not tried moth balls yet, that could also provide some relief. If your pest management company is not able to provide you with a proper identification on what type of moth you have, you can take them to the Wake County Cooperative Extension Center on Carya Drive in Raleigh.


What can I do to get rid of slugs? I had a real problem with them last year and wanted to know if there is something I can do now before they get started again. Thanks for your help! – Kay Jobe, Nashville

You are smart to want to start the battle early with the slugs. There are some slug baits that are available for homeowner use that are a lot less toxic than earlier versions. Beer traps are also fairly effective if you start early enough. Place beer in a shallow dish (or they make beer traps) and put these in your garden. If you do this nightly for about a week you should put a good dent in their population. You can monitor them throughout the summer and replace with beer as needed.

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