This is officially the worst year I can remember for having these little jerks in my yard. When considering insects, I always try to find redeeming qualities in them, or reasons why I can at least appreciate their existence. With fire ants, there are NONE. I hate them. They destroy my otherwise happy yard, make me sacrifice my organic gardening beliefs, they bite my sweet stupid dog on the nose, they infest my beautiful mixed pots, and this year they’re everywhere! They have made mounds in my shrubs and grass, they are coming in through gaps in doors and windows, they are using the weep holes in my house as their new favorite homestead, and they’re in my bed! And by bed, I don’t mean flowerbed or raised bed, I mean sleeping bed. Because of afore mentioned sweet, stupid dog, we are forced to keep cat food up high on my nightstand. In ONE day, fire ants moved in, found said cat food and created a fancy feast fueled metropolis between our mattress and box spring. Clean-up was NOT my idea of fun after a long hot work day…
I did learn something valuable after lots of panic and ant bites. The most effective way to catch and kill hundreds of fire ants in a similar situation, when burning your mattress is out of the question, is to quickly get a gallon zip-lock bag before disturbing the ants and brush as many ants as possible into the bag (before getting stung), and then seal the bag and throw into your freezer to deal with later. Next, use a wet paper towel to smear the rest of them into a paste. Luckily, that night I had some food grade diatomaceous earth on hand to poof into the carpet and around window entry points. I also used bleach to wipe away their nasty little pheromone trail so that more wouldn’t follow. Disaster averted. Or so I thought. A few days later, I found the mother load. In a failed attempt at a diet, my brilliant, wonderful husband hid a box of cheez-its from himself in our spare bedroom closet. You can probably guess where this is going. Cheez-its and box became the perfect fire ant mound, along with my spare blankets and my mother-in-law’s bathrobe. After briefly considering locking my husband in that closet, I got to run the previously described fire ant drill all over again. While I was picking fire ant carcasses off freshly washed blankets, it occurred to me that this means war. So, with a million different products and exterminator services out there, what do you do?
First, I’ll tell you what you don’t do. A young man rang my doorbell last night offering his company’s ‘all natural’ extermination services. At a discounted rate of $50 for the initial treatment, and only $99 every 3 months after that, he would inject the light sockets in my house with a ‘natural, completely organic plant oil’ that was guaranteed to kill and keep away fire ants. I say BALONEY! Don’t get suckered- if that were possible, the big box stores would have aisles devoted to it, and we’d have all been doing that years ago.
Here’s what does work. Know your enemy. A colony of fire ants has different ranks. Older worker ants leave the colony in search of food. They find food and return it to the colony where it is fed to the larvae. Fire ants do not eat solid food. Their larvae convert solid food to a liquid that is then regurgitated and passed from ant to ant as food. Unfortunately these little jerks are smart. If an ant becomes sick or dies after eating, the queen won’t be fed that food, and she will continue laying eggs and making more fire ants to rebuild the mound population. Actually killing fire ants and destroying their mounds calls for a multi-step assault, a slow acting insecticide, and a little patience (this may take a week).
A slow acting insecticide is important because you don’t want the first ants that eat the poison to die or become sick until after the food has been given the green light and fed to the queen. Look for a product that says fire ant ‘bait’ instead of just a general insecticide. Broadcast your bait, and then wait. Its best to broadcast when you have a window of 12 hours with no rain or irrigation. You may still see ant activity afterwards, but know that back in their mound they’re feeding. Resist the urge to destroy the mound immediately with the jet spray of your hose, molten lava, or any other ideas you may have….let the queen eat in peace. Five to seven days later, have at that mound (if its still there). You can dose it with a fast acting ant killing insecticide (be sure to follow label instructions) or use my favorite, orange oil. Mix ¼ cup orange oil to half a gallon of water and pour directly on the mound. Any ant this mixture touches will die almost immediately. You can do this! I have 3 more days until the orange oil comes out.
Enchanted nurseries are stocked with everything you need and ready to help you win the fire ant war! We also carry several organic fire ant killers that are pet friendly and safe to use in vegetable gardens.
Come get some ant killing supplies and a popsicle, and I wish you luck!