Fire ants can be a nuisance in the vegetable garden. In addition to being a stinging insect, they can damage some vegetable crops, such as okra and Irish potatoes. Occasionally they may feed on tender seedlings of corn, cucumber and watermelon.
There may not be one best method for fire ant control, especially in large areas. Your objective should be to find the method or methods that are most cost-effective, environmentally sound, and fit your tolerance level for fire ants.
In areas where these ants do not present problems, doing nothing is one option. Another option is to implement an integrated pest management program (IPM). IPM incorporates biological pest control methods and selective use of insecticides.
A vegetable garden that is frequently tilled may have fewer fire ant mounds because tilling disturbs the fire ants and causes them to move. However, some mounds will persist, such as those that are too close to the individual vegetable plants to adequately be disturbed by tilling, or in gardens that are heavily mulched for weed control. In these cases fire ant baits or mound treatments may be necessary.
Gardeners who have tried to eliminate fire ant colonies know there is no shortage of advice on how to get to rid of the mounds, but few truly effective methods. But does that mean you need to turn to a toxic solution?
Effective. This is one of the simplest ways of dealing with one or two problem colonies. Basically, the procedure is to rapidly dig the mound and a foot or so of soil under the mound and dump it into one or several large buckets. Sprinkling the bucket and shovel with baby powder or cornstarch before you starts keeps the ants from climbing out of them. Remember to tuck your pants into your socks to keep the ants where you can see them.
Dig up the soil at a time of day when most of the colony is in the mound. In the spring, the best time is usually mid- to late morning. In the summer, it might be early morning.
Once the ants are in the bucket, you can choose to drown the ants or simply to carry them to some place where they are not a problem. If you choose to drown the ants, add a generous squirt of dish soap, water from a hose, and stir to mix the soap throughout the mud in the bucket. The soap breaks the surface tension and drowns the ants much more quickly. It usually takes overnight to kill the ants. In the heat of the summer, they will probably drown faster, but on cool days in the spring, it may take longer. It is best not to fill the buckets more than three-quarters full of ants and dirt so there is room to add the water.
Effective.Pouring hot water on the mounds is effective and environmentally friendly, but may require 3 or 4 applications to kill the colony. Water should be at least scalding hot, but does not need to be boiling. This works best when you use 3 to 4 gallons of water in each application. WARNING: Hot water kills grass and shrubbery and may cause severe burns if spilled onto skin.
Effective. Little crystals of silica are supposed to scratch the ant’s cuticle so they dehydrate and die. Indeed, if you take a colony of ants and shake them up in bag with diatomaceous earth, about half die. But when you use it on ants outside they usually find ways to avoid it so not many ants are killed. They will not eat it in food and foraging ants do not track it into colonies where it might kill the queen or young fire ants.
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