Time to Tackle Fire Ants

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Cary Sims
Cary Sims is the County Extension Agent for agriculture and natural resources for Angelina County. His email address is cw-sims@tamu.edu Educational programs of the Texas AgriLife Extension Service are open to all people without regard to race, color, sex, disability, religion, age, or national origin.

With recent rainfall seeming to bring fire ants back to the surface of the soil, I’ve been getting some questions about them recently. At a church youth event earlier this week, adult volunteers had to mark the mounds outside so that the kids didn’t accidentally get in them as they were playing.

Every year we wage a war against fire ants. It cost money and time and often, we lose the battle. But as we approach late summer and fall, let’s use this time to employ the most economical control method that has the longest lasting impact.  

Late August through early October is an ideal time to apply fire ant bait to your lawn for the longest control — ants are still foraging, and you can apply bait when no rain is expected for several days after treatment. Research has proven that an effective fall control effort will reduce fire ant numbers significantly all the way into the spring.

Use a bait as your first weapon. Baits are slow acting, taking weeks to months to reduce ant mound numbers. It’s a lot easier to be patient with baits while holed up inside during the winter than in the spring, when you’re anxious to get outdoors — without getting stung.

Come together as during this football season and plan your attack.  Since fire ants travel from yard to yard, “team” up with your neighbors to implement fire ant control programs at the same time. Decide what control method to use, and whether to hire a professional using or to treat the neighborhood together with your neighbors.

Use the right product in the right way so you and the environment don’t get hurt.  Be careful and only use insecticides when and where they are needed. Closely follow label directions. Today’s baits are gentle on the environment and are best applied using crank-type seeders or spreaders. The Two-Step Method promoted by university research (using baits to broadcast over a large area and then treat recurring mounds individually) is best for most heavily infested turfgrass areas. In areas with low fire ant populations or an interest in preserving native ant species, treat mounds individually.

To be most effective with a bait product, it should be applied over as large an area as possible. That is why they team approach with neighbors is encouraged. Indeed, there are several good individual mound treatments that effectively eliminate mounds. Be sure and read the label to know if they need to be watered in or if they can be dusted on the mound.

Aside from broadcast and individual mound treatments, there are a few broadcast products that provide several weeks control after being broadcast. Though not the cheapest option, these types of products can give you peace of mind for up to a couple months. 

By starting your fire ant control program in the fall and following a regular maintenance schedule thereafter, you’ll see fewer ants — and will spend less time on injured reserve because of ant stings.

Fire ants are native to South America. They entered the U.S. through Mobile, Alabama, probably in soil used for ships’ ballasts. They were accidentally introduced around the 1930’s and have been spreading since.

Red imported fire ants are very aggressive, efficient competitors. Since the 1950’s in Texas, the ant has been spreading north, west and south. From everything we know, they are likely here to stay. The good news is that, with relatively little cost and effort, you can prevent most of the problems they cause using currently available methods.

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