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Homeowners can win battles with fire ants
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Springtime brings new battles with fire ants to gardeners and homeowners, and choosing the right tool to fight them is a key to winning against these pests.
Blake Layton, entomologist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said treating fire ants on a mound-by-mound basis does not work.
“For every large mound you see, there are many smaller ones that you can't see,” Layton said. “Killing only the large mounds removes the competition and allows the smaller ones to grow faster.”
The battle against fire ants is never-ending in the South. Fire ants swarm throughout the growing season, and newly mated queens quickly re-colonize a yard after it has been cleared of existing fire ants.
Layton said the foundation of a good fire ant control program is to treat the entire lawn by broadcasting bait with an appropriate spreader, which is not the fertilizer spreader.
“Applied three times a year -- around Easter, Fourth of July and Labor Day -- baits will give 80 to 90 percent control,” Layton said. “Don't wait until large mounds develop; be proactive. Use individual mound treatments on any mounds that survive the bait treatments.”
Layton said there are two mound treatment options: liquid drenches or dry mound treatments. Liquid drenches give the fastest control, but they are messy and time-consuming. Use 1 to 2 gallons of drench to treat a large mound.
Dry mound treatments work more slowly, but they are more convenient. Many homeowners keep a container of the dry mound treatments on hand for spot treating mounds as soon as they are detected.
Layton said broadcast insecticide treatments are another option.
“A few products provide season-long fire ant control when applied according to label directions,” he said. “Although some of these products are formulated as granules, they are not baits. Baits contain oil or other products that make fire ants want to carry them back to the mound and feed them to their young.”
Broadcast treatments kill on contact.
“Broadcast treatments are much more costly than baits, but they are useful for keeping fire ants out of especially sensitive areas,” Layton said. “One approach is to use broadcast treatments in the most sensitive areas of the lawn -- areas where you really don't want to have any fire ants -- and use baits on the remainder of the lawn, as well as on the sensitive areas.”
Contact the local county Extension office for more details on fire ant control. An Extension publication lists specific brand names and use rates and gives detailed directions on how to achieve and maintain a lawn that is nearly fire-ant free. Read and follow label directions closely.
Mike Williams, Extension entomologist, said after fire ants, mosquitoes are the next-biggest pest around houses in Mississippi.
“Make certain that you destroy larval habitat and don't have old tires or places where water collects. Mosquitoes breed in these areas, so the best defense is to have good drainage around the home and prevent water from accumulating,” Williams said. “It doesn't take long to get wigglers in standing water.”