"As long as there are untreated fire ant colonies in your neighborhood, they will continue to re-infest your yard no matter what you do," says LSU AgCenter entomology instructor Patty Beckley. "The key to stopping fire ants is to interrupt the reproductive cycle.
"That stops colonies from increasing and producing new queens, which means they won't produce more mounds."
Beckley recommends insect growth regulator baits you broadcast or spread across the yard. Those baits are picked up and eaten by ants, which keeps them from reproducing. Among those on the market are such names as Award, Logic, Extinguish, Distance and Spectracide Fire Ant Bait.
"These baits offer a lot of advantages when used in community programs. First, they are cheap, cheap, cheap by comparison to other things you could use," Beckley said, adding, "The cost is less than $10 to provide two treatments a year in an average yard."
The growth regulator baits also are more environmentally friendly than poison baits or contact insecticides – and they aren't toxic to humans or animals, the experts point out.
Although the first choice for fire-ant control is the insect growth regulator baits that break the reproductive cycle of ants, Beckley and LSU AgCenter entomologist Dale Pollet say a variety of slow-acting poisonous baits are available and also can be broadcast over a large area. Those include such names as Amdro, Seige, Combat, Ascend, Clinch, Varsity and Eliminator Fire Ant Killer.
"If broadcast baits don't get rid of everything, nuisance mounds can be treated directly with contact insecticides applied directly to the mound," Pollet points out.
The choices for mound treatment include such names as Enforcer Fire Ant Killer, Sevin, Turcam, Oftanol and Orthene. Even botanicals such as Citrex or compounds such as boric acid can be effective as a mound treatment, the entomologists say.
"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. "We've 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, reduce pesticides entering our waters from neighborhoods.
-- Bait treatments are required only twice a year when a whole neighborhood or community participates and puts baits out at the same time.
--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.
--Baits can be ordered through any feed/farm store, hardware store or nursery, although most large home improvement stores are now set up to handle special orders for growth regulator baits.
--Under the community effort, everyone in a neighborhood broadcasts bait at the rate of 1½ pounds per acre or 1 cup per 7,000 square feet of yard space during the same weekend in the fall and then again in the spring.
-- Be sure to only use a fresh, unopened product when you are preparing to broadcast bait and follow the label directions on the bait.
-- Don't get bait wet from rain or watering systems, and don't 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 says. "But it really helps when everyone gets together and drives ants out of their area."
For more information on fire ants and a variety of other lawn and garden topics, visit www.lsuagcenter.com. For more information on how you can try to start neighborhood treatment for fire ants in your area, contact Beckley at (225) 578-2180 or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tom Merrill is a writer for the LSU AgCenter.