Itís one of the best seasons of the year to try to rid your yard of fire ants, and the most success can come if you get your neighbors involved in the fight, too, according to experts with the LSU AgCenter.
"Fire ants are a fact of life in Louisiana, but fortunately they can be managed with the right plan," says LSU AgCenter entomology instructor Patty Beckley. "Getting a neighborhood or community involved leads to the best management of these pests."
Beckley and other experts in the LSU AgCenter say the neighborhood approach to reducing fire ant populations works best Ė because it means you arenít just shuffling ant colonies from one yard to another.
"The key is to distribute a fire ant control product over a large area," explains LSU AgCenter fire ant expert Dr. Linda Hooper- Bķi. "This ensures that new colonies donít move right back into your yard from large, expanding, uncontrolled fire ant colonies in your area."
The experts explain that untreated colonies in your neighborhood simply produce new queens that fly or are blown into your yard Ė where they start a new colony.
The LSU AgCenter experts say one of the best approaches to reducing fire ants is to use insect growth regulator baits to stop the reproductive cycle of the pests. That approach works even better if done on a community-wide basis.
But they say a variety of contact insecticides and other materials also are available for treating nuisance mounds or for use across your yard.
"The insect growth regulator baits offer a lot of advantages when used in community programs," Beckley said. "First, they are cheap, cheap, cheap by comparison to other things you could use. In fact, the cost is less than $10 to provide two treatments a year in an average yard."
A drawback, however, of growth regulators is that they donít work instantly.
"Some people look for instant results, but you donít get those with insect growth regulator baits," Pollet said. "They work by keeping new ants from being produced and wiping out the colony as other ants die off. That takes a little time and requires you to have patience."
The experts say noticeable results still can be seen with such baits in about three to six weeks.
Among the insect growth regulator baits available to broadcast over a large area are Award, Distance, Esteem, Extinguish, Logic and Spectracide Fire Ant Bait.
Other baits, such as Amdro Pro or Extinguish Plus contain both growth regulators and poisons Ė which act on the insects by a variety of methods. These baits stop the reproductive cycle of ants and prevent existing ants from converting food into energy.
"These combination baits provide a quicker and more lasting management program, since they combine both a contact insecticide and an insect growth regulator," Pollet explains.
"Spring and fall, when ants are looking for food, are the best times to try to do something to get rid of them," Pollet said. "Weíve done a lot of research with neighborhoods across the state, and we definitely can say the best technique for managing fire ants involves broadcasting bait on a community-wide basis and then spot-treating nuisance mounds at that time or as they develop later.
"Where whole neighborhoods treat twice a year, they can significantly reduce fire ants in their area," the entomologist said.
Other tips from the LSU AgCenter experts about combating fire ants include: Community efforts save homeowners money, reduce the risk of new ant colonies forming and reduce pesticides entering our waters from neighborhoods. When a whole neighborhood or community participates and puts baits out at the same time, bait treatments are required only twice a year.
Under the community effort, everyone in a neighborhood generally broadcasts bait at the rate of 1Ĺ pounds per acre or 1 cup per 7,000 square feet of yard space (or at the labeled rate for the bait being used) during the same weekend in the fall and then again in the spring.
To appropriately time bait applications, first determine that the fire ants are foraging by putting out dog food, potato chips, hot dogs or similar oily foods to see if the ants come to those foods. You can order growth-regulator baits in bulk through any feed/farm store, hardware store or nursery.
Most large home improvement stores are not set up to handle special orders for growth regulator baits but they frequently have some of the materials available.
Be sure to only use a fresh, unopened product when you are preparing to broadcast bait and follow the label directions on the bait.
Donít get bait wet from rain or watering systems, and donít order or use more than is recommended.
"Most of the products on the market labeled for fire ant control will work if used according to the label directions," Beckley said. "But it really helps when everyone gets together and drives ants out of their area."