After moving from Portland, Oregon to San Antonio, Texas, we had a nice little surprise. And when I say nice, I mean, painful. And when I say little, I mean, thousands and thousands. Oh yeah, and it was definitely a surprise. If you’ve lived in the south, you probably aren’t surprised by FIRE ANTS! Ow. I have never encountered these painful little creatures before in my life, but our property was COVERED in hills when we moved in.
I’ve never minded ants before. Generally they make a nice little line across the sidewalk, and if you have holes in your walls, they might come inside when it rains. Just find their trail, caulk the hole, and BAM you’re done. Oh yeah, and the ants I’m used to would get rid of aphids. But fire ants? Those are completely different. They make huge mounds, then come screaming out of it when you get to close with your poor, unsuspecting flip-flopped feet and BITE you. Not only do they bite you, but those tiny bites well up into this crazy looking bump that sticks around WAY too long.
(FYI: If your goal is to get rid of fire ants completely, you’ll need to use a bait. You can find them at hardware stores, Wal-mart, or even online.)
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Why You Should Do Something About Fire Ants
Okay, so I would have been all bent out of shape if someone had suggested getting rid of my cute little beneficial Pacific Northwest ants, but these are another story. Fire ants are invasive. They’re spreading across the country, and they are killing native insects, plants, and animals. And they HURT! Like most invasive species, they thrive on disturbed, depleted soils. But don’t worry! There are ways you can help discourage fire ants in your own yard and garden.
Of course you can always use baits as a method of control. But first, try taking a look at how you are creating a fire ant paradise, and maybe make your yard a little less inviting to fire ants, and healthier overall. Oh yeah, and don’t pour gasoline on them. One, that’s a crazy expensive pest control. Two, it doesn’t actually work, and three, are you REALLY going to eat garden produce you dumped a carcinogen on?
How To Discourage Fire Ants!
The first line of defense is chickens. Yes, chickens eat ants. Maybe you don’t have a fire ant problem, what you have is a lack of chickens! I definitely have a lack of chickens as we still have yet to build a coop at this property and restart a flock. But chickens are awesome, and we all need more of them.
The second thing you can do is create more shade. Fire ants love hot dry areas, so by creating shade you are making that spot a little less appealing to them. Plus, trees are a great source of soil fertility, and shade is good for you too! Trees also create more habitats for other animals, some of which will eat the fire ants for you, such as purple martins and lizards.
Plant the right plants. Fire ants eat yucky bugs like chiggers, ticks, flea larvae, fly larvae, and cockroach eggs. So make sure you are planting things that discourage those kinds of yucky food sources. And obviously clean up any messes that might encourage these pests. No food at your place? They’ll go bug your neighbors instead, you know? Fire ants do not like mint. So plant mint. Mint is like chickens, you actually can’t have too much, because it’s awesome. Most fragrant herbs are a good choice, such as lavender, sage, lemongrass, catnip, and garlic. And there are certainly more than just these few! Take time to observe where the ants go on your property and which plants they avoid, then replicate that in other places.
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Smash their mounds! My husband takes a big rock and throws it on the fire ant hills when he goes walking on our property every morning. Mowing your lawn frequently will also tick them off, and make them more likely to move to a spot where they don’t have to constantly rebuild their home. Obviously this only works as long as you keep up with it, so it’s less than ideal. Especially for me, who doesn’t really like hurtling big rocks around the yard.
Create a polyculture. Just like I mentioned earlier, fire ants thrive in hot, sunny, open, disturbed areas. So changing the mini ecosystem of your yard with polyculture will go a long way towards discouraging fire ants from overtaking your property. Plant your trees for shade, and give the trees lots of companion plants and shrubs to help strengthen them. Add some bark mulch or compost, and get a great mycorrhizal network going throughout your property. Sure, some mulches can attract ants, but it provides a great resource to encourage the native species to move back in.
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Build up some great, healthy soil with lots of biodiversity. Those ants are in there filling a niche and building up your soil for you, so fill it for them instead! Once your yard is not as appealing, they’ll come visiting in fewer numbers and can be more easily handled with less pesticide.
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension: Red Imported Fire Ants May Find Some Landscape Design Elements Unattractive
Texas Imported Fire Ant Research and Management Project
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