Spotting an active gardener is easy – just check for dirt under their fingernails! And if you notice small red sores on the hands above those dirty nails, then you know that person is borderline clinical in their level of devotion to their plants. They are willing to brave the pain and misery of fire ant bites to remove encroaching weeds from their cherished flowers and vegetables.
Fire ants are the bane of my life! I’ve been bitten so often that a day in the garden without a fire ant encounter is exceptional. They have even injected their nasty venom into my trusty garden companion, our dog Shelby.
The red imported fire ant was introduced from South America through the port of Mobile in the 1930’s. They now infest over 325 million acres from California throughout the southern U.S. and Puerto Rico. Early eradication efforts failed due to the ants’ biology and ability to rapidly reproduce. Imported fire ants disturb native habitats and our home landscape and have created an enormous impact on our economy. Fire ants are estimated to have a $1.2 billion impact on the state of Texas alone!
The Fall is the best time to control fire ants around our homes, so start your battle plan for next year now. Fire ant colonies have been growing all summer and will have reached their peak size by the end of September. It is best to attack these colonies before cooler weather sends them deep into the ground.
For Fall treatment, it is best to use a fire ant bait product. Fire ant baits work when worker ants pick up the bait and transport it back to the colony. Because the active ingredient is relatively slow acting, there is time for the material to be fed to the queen. Baits are also effective at controlling mounds that are not large enough to be seen; which are the ones that catch me off guard.
Here are a few things to remember about using fire ant baits:
- Do not disturb the mounds or apply baits directly to the mounds
- Used a broadcast spreader and apply bait over entire yard
- Treat yard in the late afternoon when temperatures are between 60 and 90 degrees
- Treat when there is no rain expected for 24 hours
- Once you open a bag, try to use all the product within a few days. The oil carrier can degrade over time and the ants may not take it if the product sits
- Follow the label on the product; it’s the law!
There are a number of home remedy treatments for controlling fire ants but it should be noted that they rarely eliminate colonies and some of the remedies are simply old wives tales. Boiling water poured on an active mound can be effective but only if enough water is poured onto the mound to fully kill all ants. This method is time intensive and potentially dangerous to the individual schlepping boiling water around their yard. Boiling or hot water can also kill or damage nearby plants, turf, and non-target soil organisms. Grits are often rumored to work because the ants will explode after eating the grits due to the expansion of the dry starches. The truth is only the larval stage ants digest solid foods with workers only feeding on liquids or greasy materials.
Perhaps the only thing these pests are good for is creating interesting artwork. Check out the artwork created from pouring molten aluminum down their mounds!