Urban & Suburban Pests Preventing and Eliminating Pests

There are a great many wonderful things about living in the Sunshine State: the superlative sunshine being a big one of course. Then there's the natural beauty of both the coastline and semitropical interior; the beaches, the lush vegetation, the flowers. And don't forget the diverse wildlife.
Ah, yes. Wildlife. In a diverse set of interlocking ecosystems like Southern Florida's, that can range from vivid pink flamingos and jewel-like lizards to critters with far less charm, like giant palmetto bugs and aggressive fire ants. Whether you live in the heart of an urban enclave or in a more rural HOA surrounded by wetlands, pest like these will likely find their way into your space at some point. Dealing with them effectively—and safely—requires a joint effort from managers, staff, and residents alike.

Who Goes There?

But what constitutes a pest? Just because you don't care for the look of a particular animal doesn't automatically make it a threat—or even a nuisance. Adrian Hunsberger is an urban horticulture agent with the Florida Cooperative Extension Service (FCES), a partnership between state, federal, and county governments with an office in every county to provide scientific knowledge and pest control expertise to the public. According to her, “There are 10,000 species of insects in Florida, but only about 50 of them are considered pests. Not everything needs to be treated, there are many beneficial insects.” She does not recommend going overboard with aggressive preventive or proactive treatments, but rather using a “wait and treat” approach when a problem actually presents itself.
But say a pest issue does arise—what to do? According to pest pros, the first step to dealing with an infestation is to figure out what exactly it is that's invaded your home. Homeowners on the 23rd floor in Miami won't usually have to worry about bees, termites or carpenter ants invading their abode, for example – but those living in a more spread-out suburb adjacent to undeveloped land very well may.
One good resource for both pest control professionals and HOA administrators is the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) which, along with Florida A&M University (FAMU), has had entomology and nematology programs (the study of insects and worms, respectively) in place since 1915, says professor John Capinera, chairman of UF’s entomology and nematology department. Under that umbrella counties have been grouped regionally into five districts in order to meet the needs of the local communities with programs for the public and training and certification for professional pest control operators.
The FCES also has trained professionals in each office who work both locally and statewide, sharing resources and information with each other and the public they serve. The University of Florida website (www.ifas.ufl.edu) links it all together.

Integrated Effort

Chris Dewey is the Florida Friendly Landscaping Program Coordinator for the Pasco County Cooperative Extension. He specializes in working with builders, developers, and HOA/COA communities. His office offers educational services in Pasco through a three-way cooperative arrangement between the Board of County Commissioners, the University of Florida, and the United States Department of Agriculture. Like his counterparts in the Miami-Dade region, Dewey says he's not a big fan of aggressive proactive pest treatments. He teaches ‘Integrated Pest Management” (IPM) as a basis for landscape management and an alternative to broad spectrum, “kill everything” chemical treatments that are applied on a one-size-fits all seasonal schedule. By contrast, IPM identifies the pest or disease afflicting a lawn or landscaping scheme and targets treatment with the least toxic product necessary to get the job done.
Understanding what type of pests you’re trying to eliminate inside and outside and what kind of damage they are  causing helps pest control professionals partner with your building or HOA to create an effective treatment plan.  
“Florida is the buggiest state in the United States,” says Jim Maler, president and CEO of All Florida Pest Control & Fertilization, with offices in Miami, Orlando and Palm Beach. “South Florida is worse than the rest of Florida; new bugs are coming in all the  time and service calls for ants, fleas, ticks, roaches and especially bedbugs  have increased in the last year or so.”  
Maler also explains that termites are a huge issue in Florida. “We’re the only place that has all four types of dry wood and three types of  subterranean termites, including the most destructive termite in the world.” Chinch bugs, fleas and ticks are also common Sunshine State pests, and recently the fichus white fly has been attacking trees. “It came from the Caribbean and tore right through the fichus trees and bushes,” Maler says. “Now the spiraling white fly is much worse because it’s larger, multiplies quicker, and attacks everything including palms, fichus  bushes and trees - so we went from one bug that only attacks one type of plant  to one that attacks everything.”  

Bug Beaters

Fortunately, there are ways to counterattack – many of which are leaps and bounds ahead of their harsher, less environmentally-friendly predecessors.
According to Robert Benham, general manager of Guarantee Floridian Pest Control in Miami,  taking an educated, target approach such as is used in IPM “Is far more effective than whatever you’re going to put down at that point. By having the ability to identify the specific problem and treat the problem, it’s greener than going in and spreading everything.”  
For example, let’s say your building has an ant infestation. Instead of a general spray, the IPM  program focuses on knowing how they are getting into the building. Is there  food around? Are there holes in a wall? These are the things that need to be  taken care of first. No access? No food? No bugs.  
If bedbugs are the issue, to slow the spread in a building, management should first remove  clutter and dispose of any already-infested clutter, such as boxes, papers,  toys and other objects in the common areas. Orkin Technical Director and Entomologist Ron Harrison says that adult bedbugs can live for more than one year without feeding and survive temperatures up to 113 degrees Fahrenheit as well as below freezing, which makes them difficult to  control. Harrison also explains that it's critical for bedbug eradication efforts to cover enough area in the affected building to make sure the bugs don't simply flee from the heat or cold into an adjoining unit or floor.  
In addition to thermal or cryo treatments, next-generation botanical-based sprays can also be used to give bugs the boot. “The majority of what you put in the house is bait and that’s a growth regulator,” says Benham, and says one example of a non-chemical treatment for ants is simple boric acid.  According to the EPA, boron occurs naturally in water, fruits, vegetables and forage crops, and is an essential nutrient for plants as well as  an essential element for many organisms. Used as an insecticide however, boric acid acts as stomach poisons in ants, cockroaches, silverfish and termites, while others abrade the exoskeletons of the insects.
For some bugs, combinations of treatments may be used. “Bedbugs habitate around the beds, for example, so you would want an all-natural  product,” says Maler. “We spray conventional products on walls and in cracks, but spray the bedding  with cedar oil. It’s another powerful tool in the tool box.”  
Outdoors, Maler says the all-natural products do not last as long as traditional  products, so lawns and landscaping usually need to be sprayed more frequently. “There are plenty of people who don’t mind extra service as long as kids and pets are around safer stuff,” he says.
Tree trunk injections are also another way of solving outdoor insect issues. They are considered environmentally friendly and cost effective since the  injections are put directly into a tree’s vascular system, eliminating the use of airborne sprays. “If you’re spraying the heads of the palms, it’s drifting and chemicals are going into the air,” says Maler. “Recently we started injecting palms and trees with medicine, and it’s much more of a potent result. The product goes directly into the trees as  opposed to exposing the air.” The injected insecticide spreads through the tree over about  four weeks, and the tree is protected for two years.  
Horticulture Agent Elizabeth Bolles is a trained entomologist and has been part of the Cooperative Extension serving this area for 14 years. She says she finds that the interest in using less toxic soaps and oils for pest control is growing. This is particularly true for HOA residents and board members interested in gardening with children. As the shift continues, Bolles says she finds that education is the best tool for obtaining satisfactory outcomes. “The palm tree that grows well in Miami might not survive a panhandle winter,” she says. “Choose the right plant and respect the eco-structure.” This advice serves property managers as well and can save valuable community resources.

Doing Your Part

According to Dewey, unlike a broad-spectrum 'shotgun' approach to getting rid of critters, with an integrated pest management plan, “You are paying for knowledge, not just application,” he explains. “Science can justify using 80 percent of the pesticide and saving 20 percent of the cost.” Dewey recommends finding one company that can cut, prune, irrigate and spray, rather than trying to contract and coordinate with three or four different providers. Additionally, he recommends that condos and HOAs develop one specific contract in detail rather than just rubber-stamping the generic one generally offered by service providers. “Industry statics show that 15 percent of property value is landscaping,” he says. “Don’t settle for a contract that just mentions 'fertilizer. List the product, application frequency and scheduled times you agree on.”
And while the assessment of the scale and nature of a pest problem, as well as the application of control technology should be left to professionals, building and HOA residents can help keep their community pest-free by taking on some preventive responsibility. As one pest pro puts it, “Extermination is no substitute for sanitation.”
That means not only keeping one's own unit clean and eliminating pest-attracting conditions like clutter, standing water, and mildew, but alerting management when there's more than just an occasional random critter-sighting. In some condo buildings, each unit is responsible for pest control within that unit, while in others the association's overall contract includes both common area treatments as well as individual units.
Bolles says she would like to see both private citizens and professional pest control operators use the extension centers resources before undertaking any landscaping or treatment plan of action. Her final piece of advice for Florida landscapers and pest operators pretty well sums up the best approach to property managers statewide: “Always consult your local extension office—the information you receive is research-based and unbiased.”
Whether you live in a glass-skinned high-rise in the heart of your city, or in a lushly-landscaped HOA, keeping your home and common areas free of pests should be a community priority from the administration on down. New technologies and greener methods for dealing with both urban and suburban pests can help, but pest control is one issue that truly starts right at home.    
Dani Braff is a freelance writer and a frequent contributor to The South Florida Cooperator.

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