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I am currently waging war in my backyard. My foe is tiny in comparison to me but knows how to inflict a painful bite when my feet get too close for their comfort. I am proactively searching out ant mounds, which are often cleverly hidden in an attempt to get rid of them. Ant poison isn’t an option as my dogs and desert tortoise, Aesop spends time out in the back garden. So, I need help, which is why I asked Emily of Gardening Wizards if she would share her tips for annihilating fire ants.

Photo: Shutterstock.com

Have you ever felt the sting of a fire ant’s bite? I’d rank it as one of life’s most horrible yet somehow trivial surprises, alongside a mildly sprained ankle and spilling pickled beet juice onto your shirt. However, unlike those problems, fire ants can keep coming back like a bad rash if you don’t take the proper precautions and efficiently slaughter them like the pest they are.

The issue here is that most conventional bug sprays and pesticides aren’t exactly healthy for your plants, since they’re literally poison, only targetted at another species. Just like how humans would still have problems having to eat rat poison, you don’t really want to expose your garden to too much bug spray.

Luckily, there are a handful of convenient, garden-safe ways to get the job done, so put on some face paint and scream to whatever deity you worship, because we’re about to go to war. With a little DIY know-how, those ants don’t stand a chance. I’ll also give some tips on how to prevent fire ants from even showing up, which saves a lot of stress (and pain, let’s be real) without much effort.

Tried and True Methods

Photo: Shutterstock.com

Fire ants generally respond pretty poorly to having their mounds drenched in various liquids. Commercially sold pesticides are often spread across your whole lawn, but they’re both unhealthy and expensive. Invest the effort to find all the mounds so you can drown the menace in stuff you have at home, and the results will be better in the long run, especially if you grow vegetables.

Keep in mind that you may often encounter people claiming these methods aren’t perfect, and they’re not. If all you’re interested in is efficiency, pesticides are the way to go, but when you have kids, or you grow crops, it can be extremely unhealthy, not to mention more expensive. These methods cause next to no harm to your surroundings, especially with careful use.

The Fun Method – Baking Soda and Vinegar Volcano

Have you ever made one of these as a kid? It’s a fun way to get children interested in basic chemistry since it lets them replicate the fizzy effect they sometimes see in cartoons when scientists mix chemicals (they probably won’t get to see it much in class, if my chemistry experience is anything to go by).

If you can provide enough protective clothing (let your kids know that the best scientists always come prepared and they need to be up to the challenge), an effective way to clear out fire ants is to make that volcano erupt vinegar on top of the ant mound.

With some luck, the kid could also get to see the spectacle of ants being literally flushed out. Keep in mind that it’s the vinegar that kills the ants, not the baking soda, so try not to be wasteful. Also, prepare to smell vinegar for a while.

The Long Con – Dish Soap

If you’re feeling like some sadistic supervillain, you could also try dish soap. The reason this is particularly sinister is that it doesn’t directly kill the ants; instead, it eats away at their outer protective layer which causes them to dehydrate.

Another bonus effect is that unlike vinegar and a lot of pesticides, dish soap smells really nice, though make sure your pets or children don’t try to eat it. Mix it with water to be able to spray it on points of interest (usually the paths they take to enter your house) and laugh maniacally at their impending doom.

The Easiest Method – Hot Water

Good old hot water is surprisingly effective at murdering ants, though obviously, you should take care not to get any of it on you or splash it just everywhere. A lot of plants will not tolerate being accidentally tortured like a medieval criminal, so maybe other methods are more appropriate if the fire ant mounds are located near precious foliage. Water also has the advantage of being cheaper than any other method since it’s just water, and everyone has more than enough to spare.

The Trap – Cornmeal

Fire ants love cornmeal, and this makes no sense given how much cornmeal doesn’t like them. They will gladly try to eat it, but they can’t digest it. It’s silly, right? Cornmeal is also safe for most pets and definitely safe for children, so you don’t have to worry when you spread it anywhere.

Try not to only rely on cornmeal if you have a huge infestation on your hands, as it’s a pretty localized method, if you get what I mean. It’s not going to destroy a whole mound, but it will deal with entry points and healthy groups of ants in the near vicinity. It’s also not super-risky for surrounding plants like hot water or similar methods.

A Less Brutal Approach – Driving the Ants Away

Photo: Shutterstock.com

Sometimes you don’t need to slaughter every ant that has ever appeared on the face of the Earth. If spotted early enough, a fire ant incursion can be repelled using a few strategic baits and fear tactics. Some of these are less common in most households, but if you’re in a pacifist mood (for some reason), these are a good choice.

Strong Scents

If you sprinkle some, let’s say, cayenne pepper in high-traffic areas, it helps keep the ants away. Have you noticed a pattern emerging in most of these substances? Fire ants really dislike strong scents, as it messes up their communication and makes them unable to follow the invisible scent trail their scouts leave between the mound and a source of food. These peppers are also known as red hot chili peppers. Yes, like the band. And they’re used for chili powder, which has a powerful scent.

A helpful way to focus where you apply those strong smells is by using ant balls. No, that is not a gourmet dish served only to the richest people. It’s a name used for small cotton balls drenched in a special oil (or white vinegar, as a convenient alternative) that deter pests such as ants. Try not to leave puddles around, and keep them hidden from children. You should see at least a good decrease in how many ants you encounter.

Chalk

Chalk is another funky way to hide the scent trail from any fire ant invaders. A thick enough chalk line in the ground will often keep fire ants away, and this is another way to get your children involved. Tell them the chalk is magic and that drawing a thick line around the house/mound creates a force field that keeps bad guys at bay. It’s technically not wrong; you just sprinkled some fantasy on top of things! This works especially well when combined with other methods.

General Tips:

  • Don’t leave garbage hanging around for any extended period. Take out the trash regularly, as it attracts not only fire ants, but flies and other annoying bugs.
  • Try to keep your kitchen and bathroom free of puddles. Fire ants will seek out water just like any other critter, so you don’t want to give them more incentive to infiltrate your home.
  • The shorter the grass is around your house, the easier it becomes to spot signs of an infestation before it gets out of hand. You don’t want to be surprised by multiple mounds at the same time, especially if you’re walking around in flip-flops or something similar. You don’t need to salt the earth or anything to keep things safe, just mow the lawn regularly and you’ll be fine.
  • Avoid using things like gasoline to deal with ants, as you really want to avoid the risk of setting plants (and God knows what else) on fire. There is no need to use things that dangerous.
  • Try not to keep trash cans outdoors. Even if you empty them regularly, providing easier access to garbage only promotes fire ant infestation. Composting heaps can be problematic for a similar reason.
  • Don’t try to shovel away the mounds, or place them on top of one another. It could create a big mess, creating more work for you instead of helping.
  • If you get stung by fire ants (you’ll know if it happens, trust me), there are ways to treat the bite, but if you have an allergic reaction, call medical help immediately.

And there you have it! All of these things can be found in your home or through a quick trip to a DIY store of some kind, and they tend not to cost much.

Fire ants are probably the worst kind of pest you can encounter if you have kids or pets, so taking care of this problem puts you mostly in the clear.

After your next great harvest or once your flowers all bloom healthy, you will thank yourself for not resorting to risky pesticide solutions.

Let me know if any of these methods worked! I would love to hear your stories, as having more info is never a bad thing when facing an enemy like fire ants.

About the Author

I’m Emily from Gardeningwizards.com. After a ten year career as a journalist, I have moved on to share my passion for gardening. While getting out in the garden is one of my favorite hobbies, and helps me de-stress after a long day in the office, I often found myself frustrated at not getting the results I wanted from my plants. Through blogging, I have uncovered the answer to lots of common problems and now I want to share my knowledge with other horticulture enthusiasts.

What kind of household cleaner do you use?


Earlier this year, I had heard of DIY natural cleaners made from grapefruit and decided to try it out myself.

 
The cleaner was very easy to make and I used grapefruit from my mother’s tree, although you can get yours from the grocery store.
 
I was pleasantly surprised at how well it worked.
 
Do you like the idea of using household cleaners that are natural?

I do.

Did you know that citrus has natural cleaning properties?

It does.

I just finished making up a batch of citrus cleaner and wrote about it in my latest Birds & Blooms blog post that you can read here…



So, if you have a tree filled with citrus, or even if you have to buy some at the grocery store – this cleaner is well worth it!


This past week, I was blessed with harvesting produce from two different gardens.


One was from one of my vegetable gardens…


About a 1/4 of my side vegetable garden is planted with cauliflower.  

Over the weekend, I was able to harvest my first cauliflower of the season.  

Now, I am aware that some of you may not care for cauliflower.  Personally, I like it raw but NOT when it is cooked.

I’ll share with you a little secret that I have used to get my kids to eat cauliflower…


I cut the tops of the florets off, dice it and then sprinkle it on top of our dinner salads.  It looks like grated cheese.  I also slice carrots, celery and cucumbers to add to our salads, which not only add great flavor to salads – they are also a great way to get more vegetables into my kids 😉

The cauliflower was so delicious – it tasted like butter – seriously.

The next harvest was of another kind and from a different garden…


On the family farm, my mother has a large grapefruit tree.  

Now, as anyone who has ever had a grapefruit tree can tell you – these trees are overly generous in the amount of fruit that they produce.


Luckily, my mother has 4 kids who are more then happy to help share with her bounty.

With my husband standing ready holding grocery bags, we picked some delicious fruit from the tree.

*While all the grapefruit looked ripe, some were not quite ready to be picked.  If they did not come off fairly easily when lightly pulled/twisted, then we left them alone.

If I am going to be perfectly honest with you, I do not like to eat grapefruit – at all.

But, I have another purpose in mind for my newly picked grapefruit – I am going to make a natural cleaner from it using vinegar.

I promise to blog about it soon, so hold onto some of your excess grapefruit or maybe offer to take some off of your neighbor’s grapefruit tree 🙂

Did you know that you can kill weeds with ingredients that you probably already have in your cupboard?

Wouldn’t it be great to be
able to make your own ‘natural’ weed-killer that is organic and much
cheaper then buying weed-killers?


Well, here is all you need…

Believe it or not, vinegar, dish soap and a spray bottle are all you need to make an effective weed killer.  You have these things already, don’t you?
I had known that vinegar  and soap could kill weeds, but had never tried it before.  So, I set out to prove that it worked in my own garden. 
First, I took photos of a few of my weeds…
 
I must admit that it felt kind of funny taking pictures of ‘weeds’.  My neighbor thought so too 😉
I sprayed each weed with my vinegar and soap mixture and waited 24 hours.
Here are the results:



Pretty impressive, isn’t it?  I couldn’t even find the third weed – it had dried up so quickly.

So for those of you who like to know how vinegar and soap kills weeds, here is the scientific explanation:

The acetic acid in vinegar ‘sucks the water’ out of the weed while the dish soap helps to break down the outer coating of the plant, which helps the vinegar to penetrate.
*You can try using vinegar alone, but I didn’t get good results without using the soap.

So are you excited to try this for yourself?
Okay, here is how to make your own….
1-gallon of vinegar (5% acetic acid)
&
1 oz. dish detergent
1. Put in a plastic spray bottle and apply to plants on a sunny day.


That’s it!

Because this a non-selective weed-killer, it will kill anything it lands on – be careful not to get any on your plants, grass or trees since this mixture can hurt or kill them. 
**For tough weeds, regular white vinegar may not be strong enough.  In that case, you may want to use ‘horticultural vinegar’, which has a higher level of acetic acid (20%).  You can find this type of vinegar online, which is a popular, organic weed killer.

*********************************

Wouldn’t it be great to be able to make your own ‘natural’ weed-killer?  It’s organic, cheap and easy to make from ingredients you already have at home.