Gardening Tips: Fire Ant Control

— Written By and last updated by Chrissy Poole

While not damaging to plants, fire ants are certainly a major insect pest in our area. With their ability to sting and cause bodily harm to the unlucky person who happens upon them, they are often an unwanted intruder into our landscapes. Although fire ants are active for most of the year, they aren’t always easy to spot. They only build their conspicuously large mounds during periods of wetness, so in many years we don’t notice them until the fall. However with all the wet weather we’ve had this spring, mounds are appearing in many locations around the county.
Fire ants feed on certain other insects, which, in a way makes them beneficial, however they are also attracted to oily, greasy foods, such as potato chips. For this reason, you can often find fire ant mounds surrounding trash cans in public places, where the ants will forage for crumbs from discarded food items, or along roads where littering has given them a food source. This past weekend I went for a run in my neighborhood and the mounds lined the edge of the street in one section to the point where I moved to the opposite side of the road.
Both the spring rain and the mild winter have likely contributed to the early mound forming activity this year. During spring and summer winged adult fire ants will leave their nest and form new colonies. When fire ants are present, treatment prior to this type of dispersal is recommended.
Should you have fire ants there are options for treatment. Treatment options include either insecticide baits or liquid mound drenches. The bait products tend to work more slowly, but will kill a higher percentage of the ants in a particular mound. This is often the best option for a fire ant mound in a low traffic area. Mound drenches kill ants more quickly, but may not kill as many of the total number of ants in a mound, making repeat treatment necessary. This is usually the best option for high traffic areas, such as playgrounds, public sidewalks, and athletic fields. Mound drenches tend to be more effective at this time of year, when the soil temperature is between 70 and 90 degrees, then they are during the early spring or fall because the fire ants will often be active in the top few inches of soil at this time and deeper when the soil is cooler. In many cases, combining a drench and a bait insecticide may be the best option. Common bait products include Amdro Fire Ant Bait, Over N’ Out, and Spectracide Once and Done. Drench treatments include Amdro Quick Kill Fire Ant Mound Drench, Bayer Advanced Powerforce Multi- Insect Killer, and Spectracide Fire Ant Killer Granules Mound Destroyer.
The Roanoke Valley Farmers Market is open Wednesdays and Fridays from 8 to 6 and Saturdays from 8 to 2. Stop by for early season vegetables, baked goods, flowers, and crafts. The market is located at 378 Highway 158 in Roanoke Rapids.
Matthew Stevens is the horticulture extension agent for Halifax County Cooperative Extension. If you have any questions about gardening problems, he may be reached at 583-5161 or matt_stevens@ncsu.edu.