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Fire ant mound covered by clover

AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Ala.— Those preparing their summer vegetable gardens may find their plots already teeming with life, but not the kind they would like to see. Fire ants are common in yards, flowerbeds, playgrounds and gardens throughout Alabama.

Kelly Palmer, an Alabama Extension livestock and forages regional agent, said there are many common misconceptions when it comes to controlling fire ant populations in the backyard or garden.

“This time of year, as homeowners get out in their flowerbeds or yards to begin preparations for planting, they may find several fire ant colonies have moved in over the winter,” Palmer said. “It is important to remember that most home remedies do not control fire ant populations.”

Palmer said baits best control fire ants. Although most Alabamians are at home because of the COVID-19 pandemic, there are still ways to buy bait and regain control of the landscape.

Home Remedy Misconceptions

Palmer said she sees many social media posts seeking recommendations for back yard fire ant control during the spring. Even though people share home remedy recommendations with good intentions, they do not provide effective control.

Grits, club soda, molasses, boiling water, mixing mounds together, gasoline and diesel fuel are not recommended nor are they effective means of control.

“Part of the allure to home remedies is that all of the suggestions are cheap, easy to access and include products we are comfortable using,” she said. “However, they will leave the user ultimately feeling frustrated as they will not provide actual colony control.”

Baits

The key to fire ant management is to control the queen. Fire ant queens can lay hundreds of eggs per day and can live for years. The design of bait products is for worker ants to pick them up and take them back to the mound, where they are fed to the queen. Using baits ensures true colony control.

“Bait products are extremely safe for homeowners to use,” Palmer said. “They contain very little active ingredient (insecticide), are put out at low rates, and leave no residuals, making them a great choice in areas where children and pets play.”

Choosing a Bait Product

There are many bait products on the market. All are labelled for different situations whether those are lawns, gardens or pastures. This can make it overwhelming when trying to decide on which product to buy.

Palmer said there is no one-size-fits-all choice when it comes to choosing a bait product.
Bait selection varies greatly depending on stakeholder needs. Palmer said homeowners should answer the following:

  • How fast do you need control?
  • Where do you need control?
  • How much are you willing to spend?

Once these questions are answered, contact your county Extension office. Agents will be able to recommend products to meet individual needs and work toward a summer free of fire ants.

More Information

Palmer is a regional extension agent on the livestock and forage team. She is also one of the state fire ant experts. To reach out to her for help with your fire ant problems, email ridleka@auburn.edu.

Find more fire ant information on www.aces.edu.

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