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Waging war on fire ants

Q: Fire ants have invaded my yard. I’ve tried pouring hot water on them to no avail, and I am hesitant to use chemicals. Do you have any suggestions?

Victoria DeMonte, Bush, LA

A: Dorothy Pashley Prowell, professor of entomology at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, replies: Fire ants are bothersome pests for gardeners throughout much of the southeastern United States. They deliver a painful sting—usually a number of ants all at once—hence, the sensation of fire. Introduced from South America to Mobile, Alabama, in 1918, they have been expanding their range ever since. Fire ants cannot tolerate cold winters and will not likely expand north of the Mason-Dixon line. 

Unfortunately, there is no easy way to control fire ants, with or without chemicals. The best defense is annoyance, as they are tempted to move their mounds once disturbed. There are a number of ways to do this. Jab a long stick into the mound opening, being mindful that they will try to attack. Or insert a garden hose at the entry to the colony to saturate the area; they tend to make their homes in dry areas and don’t like wetness. Also try broadcasting instant grits around the mounds on a dry day for the ants to ingest. The grits will expand, killing the ants, and thereby severely limiting the colony.

If you don’t have the time or patience to devote to this regimen of control, try using a chemical product benign to humans and domestic animals called Logic. It contains a hormone that interferes with the fire ant’s genetic development. It is sold at hardware stores, and directions are provided on the label.

My unscientific observation is that, once disturbed, the ants will relocate half of the time. But this outcome will most likely be short term, as new colonies will eventually move in and set up shop. Sadly, I’m just learning to live with the situation.

From Fine Gardening 58, pp. 12