Gardening

The Ensley family has had several encounters with fire ants recently. Fire ants are more active in the fall. They like temperatures between 70 and 85 degrees.

Just as families prepare for the winter, so do insects. Insects have an instinct to survive and reproduce. To survive winter they must make preparations. Fall is an excellent time to disrupt fire ants.

Here are some tips from our UGA entomologists to tell us how to combat our enemy — the fire ant.

Cold is tough on fire ants. If we can weaken fire ant colonies now, they may not survive the winter.

Fire ant tunnels are constantly collapsing. A colony needs lots of ants to replace these, to dig deeper and to collect food. Colonies with fewer ants cannot respond well to the stresses of winter and may die off.

Treating ants now reduces their chances of winter survival. Fire ants are more likely to pick up insecticide baits in the fall. They are also deep in the ground. To kill them it is critical to treat when queen and young are close to the surface.

One last advantage of fall treatment is that many of the mounds are young and small. Fire ants reproduce year round but are most active in the spring. These new colonies take about six months to show up. Now we have lots of small unnoticed mounds in our lawns. If we do not kill them now, they may become the big mounds we see next spring.

How do you treat them? Use a two-step program.

Step one:

Broadcast bait over the entire lawn. Do this when ants are actively looking for food. This will kill about 90 percent of the fire ants but it may take a while. Some bait requires weeks to work. It is better to wait until the bait has had a chance to work before proceeding to the second step.

Step two:

Individual mound treatments.

With dust products, no water is needed and they act fast. Dust products leave a residue. Liquid drenches and generally eliminate mounds within a few hours and leaves little surface residue after application. Granular products are fast acting and usually require putting granules on and around the mound then sprinkling one to two gallons of water without disturbing the mound. Read and follow label directions closely.

Organic. Pouring 2 to 3 gallons of very hot or boiling water on the mound will kill ants about 60 percent of the time. Otherwise, the ants will probably just move to another location. Very hot or boiling water will also kill the grass or surrounding vegetation that it is poured upon. Other natural or organic methods include mound drench products containing plant derived ingredients and biological control agents.

For further information about fire ants, contact the Polk County Extension Office at 770-749-2142 or uge2233@uga.edu.