Garden Guide: Home remedies for fire ant control
Lee County is creative and unique when it comes to fire ant control. After sharing information about fire ants and research-based legal controls, it is inevitable that someone will counter with, “Well, let me tell you what works for me.” They begin with a creative, albeit usually illegal, fire ant control story. This week the article will demystifying some of the home remedies floating about that claim to kill fire ants.
One of the most common home remedies people share with me (or their neighbors share with me) is the use of gasoline to kill fire ants. Although gas and other petroleum products may be effective at killing some fire ants, their use is extremely dangerous. Furthermore, gasoline is extremely flammable and explosive (to all of you who ignite gasoline for fire ant control, think about the serious consequences that could result). I like to remind people of the serious results from contaminating your soil with gasoline. If a gas spill happened on the road, what would happen?
Gasoline residue can persist in the soil, as well as contaminate the groundwater that you or your family drinks. Do not use gasoline to control fire ants or any other insect!
Another common home remedy is the use of grits. The theory behind this method (all home remedies have believable stories to “prove” their effectiveness) is that fire ants will eat grits, which then swell in their stomachs and eventually kill the pests. There is no scientific research to support this claim. In fact, only the last larval stage of the developing fire ant eats whole foods. All other life stages eat liquids or greasy materials. Plus if your grits killed fire ants, you may have a bigger problem (with the grits, that is!).
Now come the long list of other home remedies including battery acids, bleaches, ammonia products, soap solutions, cleaning products, citrus peels, wood ashes and many others. Many of these products can be dangerous for the applicator, as well as could pollute the soil. In addition, unless the product is labeled for use as an insecticide in the specific area of treatment (yard, home, vegetable garden, etc.), you would be using the product in a violation of state and federal law.
The newest home remedy that has been spread by e-mail and has caught many people’s attention is the use of club soda. According to the e-mail, Walter Reeves, a retired Georgia Extension Agent and local TV host, has endorsed the use of club soda as a control for fire ants. However, on his website (http://www.walterreeves.com/insects_animals/article.phtml?cat=21&id=1031) Reeves refutes the claim that he endorsed this control method. The theory behind this home remedy is that the club soda is heavier than air and will displace the oxygen in the mound, effectively suffocating the queen and worker ants. Again, this home remedy has not been shown effective.
Many home remedies appear to work. However, any type of disturbance can cause the ant colony to move to a new location, which may make the control method appear effective. Although home remedies can be enticing to try, stick to methods that have been scientifically proven to work. Some of these methods are certified organic or use non-synthetic chemicals. For more information on controlling fire ants, reference ENT/ort-145: Managing Fire Ants in Your Yard, ENT/rsc-35: Red Imported Fire Ant in North Carolina or contact our Center at (919) 775-5624.
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North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Lee County.