The days are getting longer, the trees are budding and spring is here. As our soil temperatures are warming up, so are our fire ants. With the showers we’ve had and likely more to come, I believe we will be seeing a lot more fire ant mounds.
Fire ants made their first appearance in the United States in Mobile, Ala., in the 1920s. The ant was imported on cargo ships coming from South America, thus the name “Red Imported Fire Ant.”
Fire ants were first noticed in East Texas in 1957. By the mid 1980s they had made their way to Somervell County. Like juniper trees, these ants will be very difficult to get rid of – ever. So our best bet is to treat and try to manage them.
The Texas Two-Step method gives excellent control of fire ants, particularly in large lawns and neighborhoods where mounds exceed five per one-quarter-acre yard. When properly applied, this method causes little risks to people, pets or the environment.
The first step is to broadcast fire ant bait – a product containing a food plus an insecticide – over the whole yard. When collected by worker ants, bait particles are carried to the colony and shared with the queen and other ants. Baits work best when scattered lightly over the whole yard. Handheld seed spreaders are ideal for applying baits. Set the spreader on the smallest opening and make one pass over the area to be treated. The recommended rate for most products is one to one-and-a-half pounds per acre.
Then be patient. Baits work slowly. Some products begin working in two to four weeks and some require two to six months. Apply bait at the right time. Baits are only effective when fire ants are actively searching for food. The baits will be removed from the soil surface within a few hours if applied during peak foraging time.
The best way to test this is by putting out a potato chip in the yard. If fire ants are actively foraging they will find this potato chip within 30 minutes. Also, only use fresh bait and do not apply if rain is expected in the next 12 hours.
Applications work best if applied in the cool of the evening or early in the morning. Some common insecticides that can be used in the home lawn include Amdro®, Logic®, Distance®, Spectracide Fire Ant Bait®, Eliminator Fire Ant Bait® and Extinguish®.
The second step is to treat individual mounds. Mound treating is the fastest way to get rid of individual colonies. It is not necessary to treat all mounds, just those around houses, patios or in high-traffic areas. When treating the individual mound, try not to disturb it. Also, some of the products require that you water the product in. Generally, one to two gallons of water poured gently over the product with a water can is sufficient to get the job done.
Fire ant baits and mound treatment pesticides can be found at most nurseries, garden centers and feed, hardware or pesticide specialty stores.
Some “organic” means of treating fire ant mounds are products that contain citrus oil, pyrethrum, rotenone or pine oil. You can also use boiling water, about three gallons per mound. However, this could be hazardous to the person carrying the water. Boiling water and the organic products also can be lethal to the grass or plant roots where it is poured.
By using any of these methods, you can reduce the number of fire ants in your yard. But the best way to eliminate the pest is for everyone to get involved. Work with your neighbors and have everyone treat to help ensure a higher rate of control.
For more information about the Two-Step Method or anything else, contact the Texas Agrilife Extension Service – Somervell County office at 897-2809.