Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Southwestern Deserts
September, 2003
Regional Report

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This ant is headed to a yard near you.


Ants get a bad rap. They do more good than harm, acting as soil builders. They also eat the eggs of pests, such as fleas, and compete with fire ants, helping to keep them away. I made a deal with ants in my yard: they can construct their hills wherever they want as long as they stay outdoors and don't take over the front gate. Any who venture indoors face swift retaliation. This seemed to work well for both sides, as there had been no indoor ant incursions for 10 years. (That was the day I left a freshly baked pie on the counter, so the case could be made that I was just asking for it.)

Anyway, the other day I walked into the kitchen to find industrious ants forming a "beeline" straight to an enormous bowl of watermelon rinds destined for the compost pile. The ants found their route through a minuscule gap in the corner of the sliding patio door. After my initial reaction of "oh, ick" I had to admire their speed, organization, and scouting abilities. Granted, I had been sidetracked from my trip to the compost, but those rinds hadn't been waiting that long.

Natural Control
I'm glad to report that no chemical intervention was required. I swept them up (repeatedly, as newcomers kept charging in) for several minutes. Because ants leave a scent so others can follow, I washed their trail and surrounding area with soapy water. Then I located the tiny hole and plugged it. And, of course, I eliminated their target by hustling those rinds out to the compost pile. No more ants.

Other Methods to Try
Diatomaceous earth (DE) or silica gel can be lightly dusted in cracks that can't be caulked. Wear a dust mask when applying to prevent inhalation. DE is abrasive, basically cutting through an insect's waxy protective coating. Silica dehydrates them.

Boric acid powder can be sprinkled in cracks, but it is a stomach poison, so ensure that no pets or children can get to it. You can purchase ant traps or make your own by mixing one part boric acid with two parts crumbs or jelly. Put it in a margarine tub with a tiny hole just large enough for the ants. The worker ants carry the poison back to the nest. Don't use chemical sprays. They kill the workers, but they are unable to transport the poison.

If you must eliminate an outdoor hill, use DE or make a slurry of fresh orange peels in a blender. Immediately pour it in the hole. This is most effective during warm weather.

While vacationing in Minnesota, I visited the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, which featured artist Dave Rogers' Big Bugs exhibit, currently touring the country. When I saw the giant wooden ant, I had a flashback to my kitchen and hoped the ants hadn't charged back during my absence. No sign of them according to the housesitter, so natural control methods do work if you're vigilant!

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