Ask The County Agent: Now is the time to treat for Fire Ants
By Stephanie Butcher, UGA Extension Office Coordinator – Coweta County
Fall is the best time to treat for fire ants for a couple of reasons, (1) ant populations are at their peak after multiplying through the summer months, and (2) winter is tough on ants, so anything left over after the treatment will struggle. With a fall treatment, you should see much lower populations in the spring.
People often ask about the effectiveness of various “safer methods” for fire ant control that they have heard from friends and neighbors. Some of the more common ones include grits, gasoline, vinegar, and boiling water. There is a reason that the Extension office recommends research-based information. Some of these don’t work at all and others are just downright dangerous.
For example, will boiling water kill fire ants? Sure, it will. It will also kill your grass around the anthill and more importantly, how “safe” is it to run around your yard with a big pot of boiling water? I would never recommend boiling water as a “safe” alternative to the specially formulated ant baits and contact insecticides that are made specifically for controlling fire ants.
Here is what you need to know to treat for fire ants safely and effectively.
- No matter which fire ant product you choose, always read, and follow the label instructions exactly. The label is the law. You can find an assortment of fire ant products at local lawn and garden centers including baits like hydramethylnon (Amdro), s-methoprene (Extinguish), or hydramethylnon+s-methoprene (Amdro Fire Strike).* If you prefer a mound drench product, look for spinosad, permethrin or bifenthrin products. For a complete list of products available to homeowners, contact the Coweta County Extension office at 770-254-2620 or email [email protected].
- A two-step approach using bait and contact insecticide will provide the longest lasting control. Apply the bait product, wait 10 days, then check the mounds for activity. Apply a mound drench (or a second bait treatment) to any ant hills that are still active.
- Apply baits when temperatures are between 60 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit and ants are actively foraging. So how do you know if they are foraging? Throw a regular potato chip or two in the yard and check on them 20-30 minutes later. If they are covered in ants, then they are foraging. Don’t forget to look on the bottom side of the chip next to the ground. Fire ants don’t like to be in the hot sun, so they might be under the chip.
- When applying baits, do not disturb the mound or apply bait directly to the mound. Apply the bait around the mound but not on it. If you have a large area to cover, then it may be easier to use a broadcast spreader. However, do not use a spreader that has had fertilizer or other materials in it. Fire ants are very sensitive to contaminated baits. They will avoid baits that have been in containers that held fertilizers and gasoline. They will even avoid baits that have been in contact with cigarette smoke.
- When applying a contact insecticide as a mound drench, be sure to mix the proper amount into a gallon container such as a water sprinkling can. Pour the solution on top of and around the mound like a gentle rain. Otherwise, do not disturb the mound. Use a minimum of 2 gallons of solution per mound. Be aware that these products still may not give an immediate kill.
- Once a bag of bait has been opened, try to use the entire product within a few days. The oil carrier can degrade over time, and the ants may not take it if the product sits out.
For more information about controlling fire ants, contact UGA Cooperative Extension in Coweta County at 770-254-2620 and ask for the publication, “Managing Imported Fire Ants in Urban Areas.”
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*Trade and brand names are for information only. UGA Cooperative Extension does not warrant the standard of any products mentioned; neither does it imply approval of any product to the exclusion of others which may also be suitable.
Photo Credit: Stephanie Butcher, Coweta County Extension Coordinator