Fire Ant Control in Vegetable Gardens & Compost Piles
I'm getting lots of e-mail about controlling fire ants in vegetable gardens and compost piles. Coincidentally, I am going to attend an Imported Fire Ant Conference in Galveston next week. It's coordinated by the entomologists at Texas A&M University, and I am going to learn all I can from the experts about how to handle fire ant issues. But one thing I know is NOT going to be new is how to deal with them in vegetable gardens and compost piles.
If you're trying to stay organic, experts in fire-ant control say there are only three reasonable methods you should consider.
The number one choice by almost all experts is Spinosad. It comes in liquid and granular forms, is environmentally safe, and will not be pulled up into the vegetable, even if used at higher-than-recommended levels.
Next on the list are products with the organically derived Rotenone liquid. Rotenone is also considered the best drench for a compost pile, even though Spinosad can be used there too.
The third organic alternative is Diatomaceous Earth (D.E.). But remember it must be food-grade D.E. in both veggies and compost piles.
Any of those controls can even be used in conjunction with each other, without fear of ruining the organic makeup of the soil or affecting the root systems of the plant.
There are lots of other ideas for organic control of fire ants — orange oil, molasses, garlic oil, compost tea ... even dish soap. But according to fire ant and vegetable experts, there's a chance overuse of those alternatives could burn roots or taint the soil.
So, what about chemical controls? Bifenthrin is one of the best fire-ant controls for lawns and landscapes, but while the label indicates it's safe for vegetables, I don't recommend it ... mainly because greener alternatives are available. I always err on the side of caution.
Malathion falls into the same category, and while I probably wouldn't hesitate to spray it on leaves to control something like whiteflies, I'm not sure I would want to "drench" the soil with it.
While all the controls I've mentioned are safe for compost piles too, I don't think a highly active compost pile should have ants in the first place. A hot compost pile is biologically active, and shouldn't have any insect problems.
Sat., April 2 (11 a.m.-1 p.m.) - Maas Nursery, 5511 Toddville Rd., Seabrook
Bring your walking shoes, because this is a sprawling, eclectic garden center that boasts so many wonderful and unusual things you will want to take your time. Once you come to this event, where they also have copies of my new book, you'll understand why no one visits Maas just once. We will be joined by Mike Serant of Micro Life Fertilizers who will unveil his new Micro Life Minis, seven-pound jugs of his famous products. They're perfect alternatives to the standard 40-pound bags for smaller yards and gardens.
Sun., April 3 (11 a.m.-1 p.m.) - Lone Star Ace Hardware, 2111 Rayford, Spring
This is a book-signing event, and this store has decided to offer the new book, "1001 GardenLine Questions," at a significant discount. It will likely be 20 percent cheaper than the regular retail price Sunday only. Normally, the book sales for $14.99, but Sunday it will be on sale for $11.99. They also have a limited number of my older book, "Gulf Coast Gardening." If you'll be in The Woodlands or Spring areas, I understand they are going to be grilling like crazy, so stop in for some free food while you have your books autographed.
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