Monday, September 28, 2009

The Ants Go Marching

We love most bugs in My Florida Backyard. In general, they're part of a healthy balanced garden, and can often be fascinating to watch.

And then there are fire ants.

Ants are amazing creatures. Their colonies and work ethics are beyond compare in the animal kingdom - I have no doubt that given the opportunity, ants could take over the earth and probably run it better than we do. For the most part, I admire ants.

So why do we in My Florida Backyard feel so differently about fire ants? Perhaps this picture of a fire ant queen and some of her minions can begin to answer the question...

Still not convinced?

Fire ants are an invasive species in Florida. Originally from Argentina, fire ants were accidentally introduced to the U.S. in 1918. Since then, they've spread throughout most southern states. They have no natural controls here, so they've been able to proliferate unchecked.

Fire ants are aggressive. If you step on a mound accidentally, they will attack in force. I can understand the need to defend your home, but honestly, these guys are nasty. The bite is painful at first, and then insanely itchy. Some people (including yours truly) swell up around the bite site, and suffer from the bites for days afterward.

Fire ant colonies build enormous unsightly mounds that deface your landscaping. Case in point:

Once they show up in your yard, they can be pretty hard to get rid of. Even harsh chemical treatments are only effective temporarily. Unless you choose to treat your entire yard every couple of weeks (which is horrifyingly bad for the environment), you're going to get occasional fire ant infestations in Florida.

General "Green" Pesticide Rules:
  • It's always best to use pesticides reactively rather than proactively. On other words, treat only when you discover the problem.
  • Always treat as minimally as possible to eliminate the pests. More is not always better.
  • When you can, use treatments approved for organic gardening, as they are generally better for the environment.
  • Find a treatment that attacks only the specific pest you have. It's not desirable to kill every insect in your garden; in fact, that's usually the worst thing you can do.
  • Always leave a "buffer zone" if you live on the water. Experts recommend avoiding pesticide and fertilizer applications within 30 feet of water to avoid runoff contamination.
All of that being said, what fire ant treatments can environmentally-conscious gardeners use? Well, as always, you're not going to find effective "green" treatments at the big box stores, so it's best to try local eco-friendly nurseries. If you can't find what you need locally, you can go online. Clean Air Gardening offers organic fire ant treatments - we like Green Light Fire Ant Control. They also offer details on less toxic ways to deal with these demon creatures.

Fire ants are a fact of life in My Florida Backyard. Because of them, I always garden in jeans with shoes and socks - the less skin I expose, the less likely I am to be bitten. But for the most part, they don't keep me from enjoying the year-round pleasures of the great Florida outdoors - and that's what's important.

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