Fighting Fire Ants by Stephanie Suesan Smith, Ph.D.
Fire ants have to be one of the most obnoxious insects in the United States. Almost everyone who spends any time outside in our area has been stung by them. They take over gardens, eat okra, blight lawns, and generally make a nuisance of themselves. The most asked question for Master Gardeners has to be, “How do we get rid of fire ants?” The answer is the Texas Two Step method of fire ant eradication.
The first step is to spread a bait product all over your yard. You do this with an old fashion hand cranked fertilizer spreader. Fill the hopper with bait and walk at a normal speed back and forth across your yard, cranking the spreader as you go. This will spread enough product out for the ants to find but not enough to hurt birds, pets, or children. Be sure and cover the whole yard, except for your vegetable garden. No bait products are labeled for use in a vegetable garden. The good news is that you can spread the bait around the outside edges of the garden and the ants will travel to it and get it.
Bait works because ants think it is food. They gather it and bring it back into the colony. Then they feed it to the queen. The bait sterilizes her so she can’t lay eggs anymore. The colony gradually dies as the workers die off. This takes four to six weeks for the entire colony to die.
The best time to spread the bait is in the early mornings, when it is cooler and the ants are foraging. Do not spread it during the heat of the day as the ants will not get it before it goes rancid in our heat. You can spread it in the evening when it is cooler as ants will forage again then. Make sure any product you spread is fresh or the ants will not eat it. Even ants reject the rancid fats in old bait.
What if you have a big ant bed in a high traffic area, or in a place where they are stinging kids or pets? Then you use the second step of the Texas Two Step. You buy a drench or powder designed to be spread right on the offending bed and use it to kill the most problematic ants quickly. Most people cannot find all the fire ant beds in their yard so just using drenches or powders to kill fire ants is impractical. In addition, you cannot use them inside a vegetable garden, so if you have a bed in your vegetable garden you will have to spread bait around the perimeter of your garden for the ants to find. However, drenches and powders do a good job of killing ant beds that are actively threatening the health and welfare of people or pets by killing the bed quickly and with finality. Be sure and follow the label directions on all products you use.