Spring bloomed late this year, but as suddenly as our lawns have turned green, so has attention turned to tick and lawn care. It’s helped by anecdotes of more tick sightings and Facebook posts of ticks on the rise. With this region of Connecticut as the epicenter of tick-borne Lyme disease, tick prevention is a hot topic.

frank in truck[2]

Some homeowners are exploring organic options. GOOD Morning Wilton talked with Frank Clancy, one of the owners of GreenSprays, a Milford, CT-based company with several Wilton clients. Among the services GreenSprays says are the most popular are their natural tick and grub treatments.

“This year we’re getting a lot of feedback from customers saying, ‘It’s the worst tick year ever!’ I don’t know if it’s the worst ever, but we’re definitely seeing an increase yield of mice, and mice lead to more ticks. The mouse is the preferred host of pretty much all ticks,” Clancy explains.

So it’s not the dastardly deer we think of as the prime carrier of ticks, as much as it is mice? Clancy shared his extensive knowledge, explaining that the white-footed field mouse is the best reservoir for the Lyme disease bacteria, Borrelia burgdorferi. According to Clancy, mouse blood is the favored environment for this bacteria to thrive.

“When you’re a baby tick, hatched from the thousands of eggs your mom made in leaf litter, and you’re sitting there on the bottom of a forest floor, the most likely host you’re going to encounter is a white-footed field mouse. It’s at that point the tick latches on to preferably the ear of the mouse and begins to have a blood meal and becomes infected with Lyme.”

Sadly, this beautiful place where we live makes it prime to be tick central.

“When you think of the elements of Fairfield County that make it so charming–stone walls, all of the beautiful forests and woodlands–unfortunately it’s a great habitat for field mice. So you have millions of mice, and hence millions of ticks. Each mouse generally has between 12 and 15 ticks on it.”

Clancy describes how once that baby tick feeds and drops off the mouse, it will crawl back under the leaves out of the sun because they don’t like light or other insects. Conserving energy and using as little energy as possible, they stagnate and grow, until they get hungry and search out meal number two–entering their second stage. That stage, says Clancy is when people are most likely to be infected with Lyme from a tick bite.

“At this point it’s grown from the size of an almost invisible pollen grain to the size of a cracked grain of black pepper. It’s still tiny, but still infected with Lyme. That’s the dangerous tick.”

One of the tools in Clancy’s arsenal is a simple but clever trick:  “We place small cardboard tubes at 30-40 ft. intervals around a property. These tubes are filled with compacted cotton balls soaked in permethrin.  It’s very safe for humans and small mammals, but is very toxic to ticks. I actually spray it on my boots and pants to keep the ticks off of me. The mice gather the cotton–when they find good bedding material they scurry it away to build a nest, which they’ll use up to two years. They get covered in permethrin, and all the ticks on the mice die before they reach stage two.”

frank greensprays spraying

Clancy uses the tubes in conjunction with the organic spray his company makes. “The botanical oils we use penetrate the insect really well. They breathe through their bodies, and the oil clogs that, and they can’t breathe. It disrupts sensory organs–it’s devastating if you’re a bug. It targets all life stages of the ticks and gets into the leaf litter. It’s an active way to eliminate the ticks.”

The third prong in the approach Clancy recommends is habitat reduction:  “If you’re able to put nice wood chips or mulch around, it makes the habitat unfriendly to ticks. Do spring and fall cleanup; don’t let leaves build up in areas near your house or in areas where your children play. And tick checks–there’s never going to be a substitute for a good tick check. Check each other when you come in from the outdoors. A lot of times they’ll come in the house on your shoes or legs and work their way up.”

Taking those steps, says Clancy, reduces your risk of contracting Lyme “hundreds-of-fold, as compared to doing nothing.”

Why choose organic?

“It’s like the food that you choose to eat. It’s an active choice. There’s definitely environmental and personal health benefits to using organic products versus synthetic. Like any pharmaceutical, there’s testing done, but the long-term testing, the real life effects we can witness over time, with a lot of those technical materials we don’t know what the effects will be in 10, 15 or 20 years. To broadcast those materials over a wide area, if your not careful, a lot of those synthetic products are toxic to fish and aquatic organisms. Most of the topography of Fairfield County has wetlands, streams and you have to think about runoff.”

But it’s not just the residual effects of chemicals in the environment, says Clancy. It’s how the bugs are growing immune to the synthetic products on the market.

“Another benefit of organic over synthetic–a lot of time, insects actually build up a resistance to synthetic products. You’re putting the material down thinking it will kill a population of insects, but 20-30 percent of the insects survive because they’ve adapted. Whereas organics are mostly botanical oils, and no study shows any resistance to natural oils, because it interferes with the way the insects naturally function. There’s no resistance. And you can use them in unlimited amounts without causing environmental harm and achieving your pest controls at the same time.”

When Clancy’s talking about environmental harm, he’s not just talking about runoff. He’s also referring to coming in contact with an insecticide–for adults, kids and pets and other creatures. There’s also recent news media reports linking common grub pesticides called neonicotinoids causing honey bee colonies to collapse.

“That’s why we’re excited about our new Green Sprays organic grub preventer. It’s an organic alternative that’s meant to replace neonicotinoid options. I think within the next year or two, Connecticut will ban a product called Merit used for commercial grub prevention, as they determine the direct link. They analyze the hives, and they find those insecticides in some of the collapsed hives.”

The one drawback to organics, Clancy says, is how long the organic lasts. “People think the synthetic will kill more ticks or grubs, but we think organics are just as effective if not more so.”

Clancy stands by his product as a small business owner. “Most organic companies are like us. We make our own product, we buy our own oils and mix everything ourselves. We have to create our own product and market, especially facing the big chemical companies.”

What about grub treatments?

Clancy said there are organic options for other types of lawn treatments, including those to combat grubs.

“It’s not too late for a grub preventer.  It works by disrupting the larval stage of the grub. It’s so tiny, it’s the size of about a quarter of a grain of pepper, like a speck.  That little egg is very susceptible to the botanical oils. There’s a 5-6 week window when we like to apply it, where it’s the most effective–as soon as you start to see those brown beetles or the green-headed, shiny orange beetles. We’re behind a few weeks this year. Normally you see grubs turn into beetles around July; sometimes you see it in June. They’re unisex and they all lay eggs. We put down the preventor, and once the eggs contact the botanical oil barrier, they aren’t able to hatch and start eating the turf grass roots. By the time the eggs hatch and the insect starts to grow, it gets tougher and more difficult to control.”

But should you treat for grubs only if you think you have a problem or should everyone use a grub preventative treatment?

“Everyone should do a grub preventor because it protects what you have from being eaten at the roots. Most lawns are affected by grubs because their favorite food is turf grass roots; when they turn into beetles they want to eat your vegetable gardens and flowers. You usually know you have a grub problem when it’s in the advanced stage–when you’re seeing raccoons, skunks in your yard and their digging because those grubs are a delicious source of protein for those small mammals. They just scratch down there and have a feast. The problem is you come out and get sprayed by that skunk, and you come to realize you have a grub problem. When you put this grub preventor down is sort of like a bubble over your grass and beds, so when those eggs fall over your yard, as soon as they come in contact with that material, they’re instantly desiccated, and they die.”

Clancy says the botanical oils he uses are good not just for small grubs but for larger ones too. “The oils disrupt the grubs’ sense of wanting to eat and other functions. They work well for all insects. When they’re exposed to cedar wood oil, peppermint oil and clove oil, their sense of direction, belonging, hunger, being able to forage is eliminated. The bug is confused and disoriented and as a result it quickly dies.”

He adds that some of the botanical oils are great alternatives to putting topical insecticides on pets. “Lemongrass oil, orange oil–a few drops of citrus oils in a spray bottle. You can spray it on your hand, you can spray it on the bottom of your pants, you can spray it on your animal. It’s a great all-natural, all-around insect repellent that’s not outrageously scented. It’s pleasant smelling and ticks and bugs have a real aversion to the citrus smell.”

While there may be more steps if you opt to go the organic route, Clancy said the health benefits outweigh everything. “At least they’re natural steps.”

To find out more about GreenSprays’ organic tick and lawn treatments, visit their website or call 203.916.3666.