Planting? Control fire ants around your garden
Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 14, 2016
Homeowners breaking ground in gardens this spring may find the plot is teeming with life coming out of the winter season—a different kind of life than they would like to see. Fire ants are common in Alabama, and common in yards, flowerbeds, playgrounds and gardens.
Dr. Kathy Flanders, an Alabama Cooperative Extension Entomologist, said there are several approaches to fire ant control at home and in the garden.
Treating individual mounds with a bait or contact insecticide
Broadcasting a fire ant bait that the ants pick up and take back to the nest and feed to the queen
Broadcasting a long residual insecticide across the area that will kill smaller colonies and prevent new colonies for a period of time
Control In and Around the Garden
Flanders said she recommends fire ant bait as the main means of fire ant control, as baits have a tiny amount of active ingredient placed on a biodegradable carrier particle along with a food attractant. For maximum control the baits should be applied in spring and fall.
“Baits are relatively inexpensive and are environmentally sound,” she said. “The fire ants in the area generally pick up most of the bait particles in a short period of time, meaning there is minimal impact on non-pest ants.”
Baits are most effective when they are broadcast across the infested area. That way, they can control the fire ant colonies that you can’t see because they haven’t built mounds.
If there are only a few nests to worry about, Flanders recommends the individual mound treatment option.
In compliance with the product label, each mound should be treated when it is warm outside, but not too hot. In the winter, this means treatments during the middle of the day. During the summer, it is best to treat in the morning or evening. These times are when the ants are closer to the surface and therefore, the mound treatment is most likely to affect the queen.
Flanders said to control a colony, you have to kill the queen(s). It may take one application—or it may take two or three. Follow the directions on the label for vegetable gardens and for fire ant control.
Whether it is a big or small colony the queen must be killed, otherwise the mound will require additional treatments.
“Most of the treatments say to water the treatment into the mound,” she said. “Best results are obtained when using two gallons of water per mound.” On the other hand, certain dusts should be sprinkled on and around the mound according to label directions.
Fire Ants in Vegetable Gardens
Fire ants are like humans: they eat many different foods. Gardeners should not be surprised if they see ants crawling on leaves, flowers and fruits in the garden.
“Fire ants are interested in fats, proteins and sugars. They come to plants to feed on nectar in flowers and extrafloral nectaries,” Flanders said. “They also protect aphids on plants because the fire ants feed on the aphid excrement, honeydew. Fire ants also feed on seeds and on other insects.”
When controlling fire ants in the vegetable garden, be sure to use control products that have vegetables on the label. If the vegetable garden is small, most fire ant colonies can be killed by broadcasting a fire ant bait around, but not in the garden. This is helpful if you can’t find a fire ant bait that can be used in a vegetable garden. There are more fire ant baits that are legal to use in home lawns and other grassy areas than in vegetable gardens.
For more information on fire ant control in the garden, visit www.aces.edu.