November 2017
The Magic of Gardening

Controlling Fire Ants in the Fall

Now is the time to protect your lawn, landscape or pasture from unwelcome invaders.

 

Fall is a great time to check for fire ant infestation. Some will be easy to spot, but don’t forget to inspect piles of leaves, wood stacks and winter gardens.

Well, it is finally beginning to feel like fall – my favorite time of year. The temperatures are cooling down, the leaves are beginning to change colors, and we are spending a lot more time outside, enjoying our surroundings. However, many people this time of year have had the unfortunate experience of stepping into a fire ant mound that seemed to appear overnight. Needless to say, this can be a very unpleasant experience. The question on your mind may be, "Is now a good time to treat for these angry little nuisances?" The answer is a definite "yes." Now is a great time to rid your lawn or landscape of these unwelcome invaders!

"Fall is a great time to treat fire ants," Dr. Kathy Flanders, an Alabama Cooperative Extension Entomologist, said. "Fall temperatures are perfect for fire ant activity and foraging, making it an opportune time to put out fire ant bait."

While the warm weather is leaving and cooler air moves in, fire ants are still actively foraging. Fire ants look for protein-rich foods all year, but especially in the late spring and fall. Foragers usually continue searching for food until temperatures drop below 75 degrees during the day. Using treatment plans such as the Two Step Method can provide specific and continued control of fire ants in a cost-effective way.

 

Two Step Method

Step 1. Broadcast fire ant bait once or twice a year (spring and fall) to reduce colonies by up to 80 or 90 percent.

Step 2. Treat nuisance mounds or colonies that move into the bait-treated areas. Step 2 may not be needed in the fall.

Not only are fire ants a nuisance outdoors but they can wreak havoc indoors as well. Fire ants will be looking for a warm place to overwinter. Often, this means mounds inside the house or built against the foundation.

Double-checking door seals, pipe coverings and concrete foundations can help prevent a home invasion in the winter. For this problem, the first and most important suggestion is to treat fire ants in the surrounding landscape to prevent infestations near the home.

Fire ants can be more than just a nuisance outdoors when they invade pastures containing animals.

 

Be sure to inspect piles of leaves, wood stacks or winter garden (especially raised bed gardens) for fire ants. Outdoor temperatures determine the amount of activity present in a fire ant mound. When the temperatures are right, these places are all likely hiding places for fire ants.

Flanders said it is important to check for fire ants before carrying wood inside. A proactive approach to controlling fire ants in these areas would be best. This is also a time to consider slow-acting bait for continued control into the cold season. Treat the areas before piling up leaves to play in or for compost, treat your preferred firewood location and treat your garden with approved products before planting.

For increased success, controlling fire ants should definitely be a team effort. Working with neighbors or surrounding landowners can boost chances of making a dent in the population. Fire ant control is more effective when larger areas are treated. When an 80-90 percent control rate is acceptable, consider participating in a community- or neighborhoodwide treatment program. If the problem is widespread, a large treatment plan could be more effective than treating in small areas. Flanders said Extension professionals have developed a communitywide management program available for use and implementation.

For more information on controlling fire ants, please visit www.aces.edu or http://www.extension.org/fire_ants.

 

Tony A. Glover is a County Extension Coordinator in Cullman County.