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Fire ant mound

AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Ala.— Gardeners preparing 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 Cooperative Extension System 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 the best control method for fire ants is to use baits. While the Internet is riddled with natural remedies, the tried-and-true application of fire ant bait—by the label recommendations—is most effective.

Home Remedy Misconceptions

Palmer said she sees many social media posts seeking recommendations for backyard fire ant control during the spring. Even though friends share home remedy recommendations with good intentions, these methods do not provide effective control.

Professionals do not recommend control methods such as grits, club soda, molasses, boiling water, mixing mounds together, gasoline or diesel fuel. These are not 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. Worker ants pick up bait products and take them back to the mound, where they feed the bait 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. This makes them a great choice in areas where children and pets play.”

Choosing a Bait Product

There are many bait products on the market. All have label uses 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 the person’s needs. Palmer said homeowners should answer the following questions:

  • 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 there will be able to recommend products to meet individual needs and work toward a summer free of fire ants.

More Information

For specific fire ant control information, people can reach out to Palmer at ridleka@aces.edu. More information on fire ant control is also available at www.aces.edu.

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