You may have noticed the unsightly earthen mounds of the imported fire ant popping up in your home vegetable garden plot. Although fire ants can be beneficial insects, the problems they cause in urban areas usually outweigh the benefits.
Fire ant stings can pose a serious medical threat during weeding and harvesting.
Occasionally feeding on vegetable plants in home gardens, they tunnel underground into potatoes and feed on okra buds and the developing pods.
Fire ants prey on landscape and garden pests such as flea larvae, ticks, cockroach eggs and caterpillars, but protect or “tend” others, such as aphids, by keeping the aphid’s natural enemies away, making the aphid infestation worse.
It may not be possible to completely eradicate fire ants, but we can make them easier to live with. Rarely is there a single best method for managing fire ants. The best management programs use a combination of nonchemical and chemical methods that are the least harmful to the environment, yet effective and economical.
The most important first step in any management program is to properly identify the pest.
People are often surprised to learn there are many different types of ants.
If the ants in your vegetable garden have been properly identified as fire ants, the next step is to choose a plan to manage them. There are bait products and contact insecticides labeled specifically for fire ant management in the vegetable garden.
When using any kind of pesticide, always read and understand the entire pesticide label and strictly follow all the instructions as written.
If you do not understand the label, or need additional information, contact your local Clemson Extension Office for interpretation or further instruction.
Keep in mind that it is still a little too early for fire ant bait treatments, due to the cool/cold nighttime temperatures in our area. The earliest I recommend using a bait product inside the garden is late April to early May.
Products containing spinosad (such as Ferti-lome Come and Get It! or Payback Fire Ant Bait) can be used in spring. Ideally, the timing for using bait treatment in the garden is late September to early October. Using Extinguish Fire Ant Bait (methoprene) or Esteem Ant Bait (pyriproxyfen) in the fall will help control fire ants in the spring.
When applying a fire ant bait treatment, be sure that the fire ants are actively foraging by using the potato chip test: Put out a regular, greasy potato chip. After 30 minutes, check the potato chip for the presence of fire ants.
If fire ants are present, they are foraging and the bait can be applied.
If there are no fire ants present, do not apply the bait product. Bait only when the fire ants are foraging.
Products that are not specifically registered for use in the home vegetable garden, such as products registered for controlling ants in turf areas, can be applied outside the garden’s perimeter as a barrier.
Foraging ants from colonies both inside and outside the garden will collect the bait and take it back to their colonies.
In fact, a perimeter bait treatment on a small garden, less than 1/4 acre, is often a very effective way to manage fire ants within the garden.
Contact PermaTreat Pest and Termite Control for a professional evaluation and control!