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​Q. It is finally beginning to feel like fall.  The temperatures are cooling down, the leaves are beginning to change colors, and we are spending a lot more time outside, enjoying our surroundings.  However, I had the unfortunate experience of stepping into a fire ant mound that seemed to appear overnight.  Needless to say, it was not pleasant in the least.  Is now a good time to treat for these angry little nuisances?  

A. Ouch - not exactly how anyone would want to start the fall season!  However, now is the perfect time to rid your lawn or landscape of these unwelcome invaders!

fireant mound - sallie lee.jpg“Fall is a great time to treat fire ants,” Dr. Kathy Flanders, an Alabama Cooperative Extension Entomologist said. “Fall temperatures are perfect for fire ant activity and foraging, making it an opportune time to put out fire ant bait.”

While the warm weather is rolling out and cooler air moves in, fire ants are still actively foraging. Fire ants look for protein-rich foods all year, but especially in the late spring and early fall.  Foragers usually continue searching for food until temperatures drop below 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Using treatment plans like the

Two Step Method (details listed below), can provide specific and continued control of fire ants, in a cost-effective way. 
Two Step Method
Step 1. Broadcast a fire ant bait once or twice a year to reduce fire ant colonies by 80 to 90 percent.
Step 2. Treat nuisance mounds or colonies that move into the bait-treated areas. Step 2 may not be needed

Not only are fire ants a nuisance outdoors, but they can wreak havoc indoors, as well.  Fire ants will be looking for a warm place to overwinter. Double-checking door seals, pipe coverings and concrete foundations can help prevent a home invasion in the winter. As temperatures drop, fire ants begin searching for warm places to spend the cold months. Often, this means mounds inside the house or built against the foundation.

Alabama Cooperative Extension professionals developed management options for treating fire ants inside homes and buildings. The first and most important suggestion: treat fire ants in the surrounding landscape to prevent fire ant infestations near the home.

Be sure to inspect your pile of leaves, wood stack or winter garden, for fire ants.  Outdoor temperatures determine the amount of activity present in a fire ant mound. When the temperatures are right, leaf or compost piles, wood stacks and winter gardens are all likely hiding places for fire ants.

Flanders said it is important to check for fire ants before playing, working or carrying wood inside. A proactive approach to controlling fire ants in these areas would be best. This is also a time to consider a slow-acting bait for continued control going into the cold season. Treat the areas before piling up leaves to play in or for compost, treat your preferred firewood location and treat your garden before planting.

For increased success, controlling fire ants should definitely be a team effort.  Working with neighbors or surrounding landowners can boost your chances of knocking a dent in the population.  Fire ant control is more effective when larger areas are treated. When an 80-90% control rate is acceptable, consider participating in a community- or neighborhood-wide treatment program. If the problem is widespread, a large treatment plan could be more effective than treating in small areas. Flanders said Extension professionals have developed a community-wide management program that is available for use and implementation.

For more information on controlling fire ants, please visit www.aces.edu or http://www.extension.org/fire_ants . Happy Fall! 

written by Bethany A. O’Rear of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System (ACES). She is housed at the C. Beaty Hanna Horticultural and Environmental Center, which is based at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens.


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