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Folks new to Florida quickly discover that our climate is ideal for many insect pests and plant diseases. Plant pathologists often joke that they move to Florida to study plant diseases because of the warm humid climate and then move back to the Northwest in retirement where there are less disease issues. The same can be said of entomologists, who have a full plate trying to keep up with managing our many pest problems plus the new ones arriving from other countries on a regular basis.

Many homeowners are simply overwhelmed at having to manage a landscape and home pest problems. Others desire a pristine landscape free of weeds, pests and diseases but don’t want to handle chemicals themselves. Those of us that have lived here for a while realize that there is no such thing as a pristine landscape and the idea that your home will be completely free of pests is also unrealistic. But for those who don’t have the time or desire to manage these issues, there are lots of options for hiring pest control services. In addition, there are pests like termites and bedbugs that homeowners should not tackle themselves. Before signing on the dotted line, do a little research to find out information about the company and what services they provide.

The Extension Service is often asked to make recommendations for a pest control or a lawn care company, and that is one thing we don’t do. However, we can advise homeowners how to make educated decisions. When selecting a service, the two biggest factors to look at are the effectiveness of their program and their customer service. I always suggest that a homeowner should check their neighbor’s lawn/landscape and find the ones they like. Ask them if they have a pest control company, how long they have maintained their property, and if they are happy with their services. A referral from a happy client is one of the best ways to select a company. You might also ask about other experiences they encountered where a company did not meet their expectations.

If you have family members that are sensitive to chemicals, this needs to be discussed with the company up front. Can the company provide services using a more organic approach? Some pest control companies offer an Integrated Pest Management approach that uses pesticides as a last resort. This approach will be more expensive because it will likely require more trips to the property.

It’s a good idea to get bids from several companies. Compare the number of trips the company plans to make over the course of a year and what services they will provide. If they have to make an additional visit to control a problem, is there an additional charge? Did they measure the square footage of your lawn/landscape area and is that number accurate? This will determine how much fertilizer and/or pesticide is applied so it’s important that the number is accurate.

Ask the company for references from other clients so you can drive by and inspect their landscape. You can also check with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS), which publishes a quarterly report of companies cited for disciplinary actions.

Ask for the pesticide license number of the business or person; pesticide and fertilizer applicators must be certified and licensed. To verify, you can call FDACS at (850) 617-7997 or search online at app1.flaes.org/ceu. Also ask if the business has a certificate of insurance. By law, commercial pesticide applicators must have either insurance or a surety bond.

It’s important that the company belongs to professional associations so they keep up with the latest research involving pest/landscape management. Sometimes, the association names will be posted on their vehicles or included on their letterhead. The key ones in Florida are the Florida Nursery, Growers and Landscape Association, Florida Pest Management Association, and the Certified Pest Control Operators of Florida. UF/IFAS Extension also offers certifications in Best Management Practices and continuing education credits required for pesticide applicators.

When looking at the contract, make sure the name and the address of the company is included and that you understand the terms of the contract; if not, ask questions. It is very important to be an informed consumer. Is the contract for a specific time frame, like one year, or continuous until you decide to discontinue? Are there penalties if you decide to cancel the contract? Make sure you read it from start to finish, including the fine print.

Termite service agreements are always a little confusing. There are retreatment service agreements, meaning that if termites are found, the company will come back and retreat your property. They are not responsible for any damage caused by the termites. Other service agreements include both retreatment and damage replacement but there is typically a limit on the amount. Obviously the retreat and repair service agreement is preferred because the company has more of a vested interest in your property. Are Formosan or drywood termites included in the contract? Will they not honor your contract if they have noted that the landscaping or mulch is too close to the structure during termite inspections? All of these questions should be clarified before signing.

Does the company have a good rapport with their customers? Are they receptive when you call and respond to questions regarding your concerns? This may not be obvious until you are under a service agreement with the company but it would be a good idea to get a handle on this before you make your selection.

If a pest control or lawn care company is taking over your property to resurrect your lawn, don’t expect a miracle. It may take up to a year to turn a property around, and that also depends on you. If you are responsible for irrigation and mowing, make sure you are following recommended practices. Pest control companies will often let you know they are coming the next day to make a treatment. They will also leave information regarding the treatment along with what you should do following the treatment. You may need to irrigate for the treatment to be effective or avoid mowing for several days so a herbicide will be taken up by the plant. Unless they have total control of your landscape (mowing, irrigation, fertilization, pest control service), this is a team effort. Again, be an educated consumer and be observant of your home and landscape. The sooner that you can report a problem to the company, the easier it will be to correct.

For more information on selecting a professional pest control service, go to: edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pi075 and edis.ifas.ufl.edu/mg237.

Terry Brite DelValle is a horticulture extension agent with the Duval County Extension Service and the University of Florida/IFAS.