Monday, March 18, 2019

Stem the Battle in Your Favor

Fire ants are the most common insect pests of home lawns. They occur in practically every lawn in the state! Even if you manage to achieve a totally fire ant-free yard, it probably won’t stay that way long because newly mated fire ant queens will quickly recolonize it. And new fire ant colonies thrive especially well in areas that are 
free of other, competing colonies. Fire ant control is a never-ending battle in the South, but there are steps you can take to keep your lawn and land-scape relatively free of these troublesome pests.
The easiest, cheapest, most effective thing you can do to control fire ants is to use baits. Learn to use baits properly and preventively, and you will reduce the number of mounds in your yard by 80 to 90 percent. If you want even better control, you can supplement your baiting program with some additional tricks, like spot-treating mounds that survive the bait treatments.

The key to success with baits is applying them as broadcast treatments instead of treating only individual mounds. You will never win the battle against fire ants by only treating individual mounds. In addition to the big mounds you can easily see—or trip over—there are a lot of little colonies that are just getting started. If you eliminate only the big mounds, the small colonies will thrive because they have less competition, and they will quickly grow into
large mounds. Broadcast bait treatments target all colonies in the yard, regardless of size.

Early spring is one of the best times to apply fire ant baits because fire ants are actively foraging for food at this time. If you are going to treat only one time per year, do it in the spring. But you can improve control by treating again in midsummer and a third time in the fall, especially if you live in a rural area where fire ants are abundant. In more urban areas, you may only need to treat once or twice per year. Be proactive! Don’t wait until you see more big
mounds to make the next bait treatment. If you don’t like to have big fire ant mounds in your yard, you have to treat before you have big fire ant mounds in your yard. Use the holidays—Easter, Independence Day, and Labor Day—to remind you when it is time to put out fire ant bait. Try to pick a time when it is not likely to rain for a couple of days. This gives the ants time to collect the bait and carry it back to the mound before it is washed away. You also need to avoid watering for a couple of days after applying bait.
For small areas like home lawns, most broadcast fire ant baits are easily applied using a small, hand-powered spreader. Don’t try to use your fertilizer spreader—it will put out way too much! Most fire ant baits are applied at rates of 1 to 2 1⁄2 pounds per acre. That’s not very much material, and it’s easy to over-apply fire ant baits if you don’t read and follow the label directions. Baits are a cheap way to control fire ants if you use the proper rate, but they can be very expensive if over-applied.
Controlling fire ants is one of the most ask questions in Extension offices all over the state this time of year. Even though you put out baits correctly, keep in mind, baits are much slower acting, and you will still see mounds pop up. Remember this fact; fire ants are only suppressed, never controlled. The war with fire ants will never end, but keep baits applied as your primary weapon to stem the battle in your favor.

For more information about the war with fire ants, give me a call at the Winston County Extension office at 662-773-3091.

Submitted by: Jim McAdory, MSU Extension Agent