I want to be an ant killer. Not when I grow up. Now! One of the things I hate about living in the South is having to deal with ubiquitous red fire ant mounds. Unlike the harmless black ants I knew growing up in New England, fire ants are a painful pest to deal with. As a kid, I often watched black ants carrying crumbs of food to their silver-dollar-sized mounds, without any worry of being bitten. Fire ants are another critter altogether! Left alone, fire ant mounds can grow many inches tall and feet wide. And fire ants are aggressive, with painful and itchy bites that leave marks for weeks. Trust me, I know. (As a note: apple cider vinegar applied to the bites will ease the pain and itch as well as prevent them from causing marks.) Well, this past week, I was determined to rid my yard and garden of them once and for all.
Southern garden centers have entire rows of fire ant pesticide products, and many of them WILL kill ants in the hills the granules are applied to. However, the products are so poisonous, they can NOT be used in the garden around edible plants – which is a problem, because fire ant squatters have invaded several of my raised beds. So, what to do??
A coworker, who is a Charleston native, told me to sprinkle uncooked grits on the mounds; the fire ants will eat the grits and die when the grits expand. Being a cerebral gardener, I researched that and found that grits won’t work afterall. Adult fire ants don’t eat solid foods. They only drink liquids. Their larvae do eat solids, but they chew it with saliva (like we do), so grits wouldn’t work on them either. Okay…dispatch that Southern myth.
While researching, I found a few organic gardeners suggesting the use of diatomaceous earth (DE) on the mounds. The theory is that the sharp edges on the tiny shells the DE is made from will cut the ants. While I have used DE in the garden to keep beetles away, it won’t work with fire ants. The ants will just avoid it. Another gardener myth bites the dust.
I then read that pouring boiling water on the mounds is an effective killer, but it will also kill grass and surrounding plants. Obviously, not a good solution to my problem.
So, out of desperation, I grabbed my go-to organic pesticide: Neem oil. I mixed the proper solution and poured it on the fire ant hills in my raised beds. The larger mounds took more than one application, but it worked! Well, sort of. It did remove the ants from my raised beds, but it didn’t kill them. They just moved to another location in the yard. So, I then took the poison granules and killed them that way. Not the best move for an organic gardener, but at least my garden was safe. For now.
So, is there a safe method to actually KILL fire ants throughout the yard and garden? I have learned of a way! It seems that fire ant baits with spinosad are safe for organic farming, so they’re safe for gardens (and yards). Spinosad is fast acting and affects the fire ant’s nervous system, killing it within hours. There are two ways to use it:
- For small mounds (best to treat before they get large): Sprinkle the spinosad bait around the mound, not on it, when ants are foraging (early morning or late afternoon). Wait to see the ants out and about before applying. Use when there is no threat of rain for at least 24 hours, and don’t apply to wet grass.
- For large mounds (they get large quickly!): Use the spinosad as a mound drench. Mix the bait with water in a bucket, per instructions on the container, and apply one to two gallons of the solution on the mound. First, apply about 1/4 of the solution in a circle about 12 inches from the mound. (This will get the ants, including the queen, that may try to run away from the mound application.) Then pour the rest on the mound. Again, it will kill in hours!
So, I’m on a quest for a good supply of spinosad, so I can become a fire ant serial killer!
UPDATE: For more information on fire ant control, see my post, All Natural Fire Ant Control, with a recipe for a wonderful orange oil drench.