14 tips to control ants

14 tips to control ants

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There are safe household items already in our homes that can be used for getting rid of ants. Chalk, baking powder, baby powder, cayenne pepper and vinegar are good items to put in the ant pathways. It is surprising that ants will not cross over a chalk line. Usually, home treatments only get rid of individual ants but do little to get rid of the nest.

There are also some plants that could provide a barrier against ants. Plants like sage, tansy (toxic to animals), spearmint, catnip and peppermint are good options and work well. This list is not all inclusive but it is a good start. These types of plants create a repellant chemical barrier to ward off potential predators and prevent further injury.

Insects and other pests, including ants, need water, food and shelter. Reducing any one of these three is useful to eliminating pests.

Here are 14 do-it-yourself tips for getting rid of, or preventing, an ant invasion.

Keep them out in the first place:

1. Identify and plug up any place around the building or home where you see ants come into the building. Some ants are nocturnal, so you may need to conduct a portion of your investigation at night with a flashlight. Ants like to follow architectural or hardscape features lying down a chemical trail. Look for gaps in utility openings, electrical conduits, cracks and crevices. Pipes and electrical openings can become super highways for small pests like ants. These should be checked frequently and caulked to prevent a problem. Use the right caulk for the job. Ants are very small to begin with, so you will probably never be able to completely seal them out, but you can reduce their opportunities. Screens, windows and doors should be repaired if damaged and door sweeps should function properly to prevent opportunity for outside pests coming in.

2. Ants need water. Do a survey of your property to make sure there are no leaky faucets and leaky or broken pipes, both inside and outside. Make sure to check under the kitchen and bathroom sinks and pre-rinse your dishes so there is no food on them before putting them in the dishwasher. It also helps not to leave food lying around on the counter. Even tiny portions are feasts for ants. Double-check the laundry and water heater connections too so they have no drink there. Ensure sprinklers and irrigation systems are not leaking. Seasonal expansion and contraction often cause problems allowing ants to find water and colonize new places.

3. When there is pet food or water close to the house, cover and secure it in an airtight container when not in actual use.

4. If you are eating in rooms other than the kitchen, make sure your floors are clean and vacuumed often. Dirty wet mops, rags or sponges can also offer food and water. Also, clean cabinets after a spill. Most people keep a small garbage can under the kitchen sink. This is not smart, but if you must, make sure it is possible to make it airtight.

5. Use your bathroom ventilator and kitchen range hood, so there is no moisture buildup on the walls.

6. Garbage and storage containers need to be kept neat and clean. Contents of containers that don't seal completely should be transferred to airtight containers. Consider cereal, for example. Most cereal boxes are cardboard and cannot be properly resealed after being opened. Ants could gain entry and contaminate the whole box. This is generally true of most commercial packaging.

Make your home as inaccessible as possible for ants and pests so that they do not make a trail to your building or home or seek it out.

7. Ensure that shrubbery and trees do not overhang or touch homes or outbuildings. It is much easier to limit entry points. By cutting back plants, you can prevent ants from using the plants as a ladder.

8. Clean up plant and organic debris around buildings, rain gutters, roofs and walls. These are prime nesting locations and may even be food. Another favorite area for ant nests are potted plants. When you move them inside to water or winter, you may bring a nest inside. For this reason, some states require permits and inspections to move plants, lumber and agricultural products.

9. Repair damaged trees and seal off tree holes. Call a professional or, for a step-by-step guide, see www.gardenguides.com. Remove dead trees or plants, including the stumps. Mulch should not be more than 5 centimers deep or else it can become a great home for ants. It also allows too much cover from birds and other natural predators, and holds moisture and food. Cedar mulch maintains insect repellant characteristics for about four months. Ants and termites love decaying tree stumps and mulch for both food and home.

10. Piles of wood, bricks or other construction materials should be elevated from the ground on preferably metal or plastic racks. When these materials have contact with the ground, there's easy access to all kinds of pests. And a micro environment is created where pests can flourish. That is why you would not want to stack the materials against structures like homes or outbuildings. They should be stacked high enough off the ground or they will provide harborage to other types of pests like mice or rats. Firewood is a common way ant and other pests gain entry into the home. Only take in enough firewood to burn at the moment. Almost certainly, some pests are active or overwintering.

11. Compost piles are beneficial to gardeners, but there is a potential downside. Rotted fruits in compost produce perfect incubators and food sources for a host of garden and agricultural pests. When the compost is spread around the yard, pest problems can result.

12. Sand that is fine enough to sift through a 230- mesh screen is an effective ant barrier. Another alternative is diatomaceous earth sprinkled around the foundation of the home or outbuilding; it only works when dry. It is available from Internet vendors or at organic gardening stores. Be advised that the Environmental Protection Agency requires that in order for vendors to claim that diatomaceous earth kills insects, there must be an EPA label on the bag. Diatomaceous earth uses, other than those approved by the EPA, FDA or USDA (such as human health benefits), are legally considered anecdotal, but there are many users who swear it is the greatest thing since sliced bread. Nevertheless, always read and follow label directions for the safe use of diatomaceous earth and pesticides. Know when to call a professional. Unfortunately there are situations where chemical needs to be used. When the benefit is greater than the downside and nothing else has worked, it may be time to call in a professional. You can buy and try a home pest kit at the local hardware store. Remember that most baits rely on the ants to spread it or feed it to other ants over time. So usually there is no immediate knockdown. Don’t disrupt the process, or think nothing is happening, if ants are accepting your bait. Let it run its course and it may work, but work slowly.

13. Identify specifically the type of ant or pest plaguing your property for true control. Knowing specifically what type of ant or pest you are dealing with is helpful and needed for proper control and planning. People who can properly identify pests, could be county extension agents, high school Future Farmers of America and 4-H advisors, Farm Bureau personnel, certified plant nurserymen or a university agricultural or entomology staff.

14. The best way to identify a particular pest is to capture some of the pests and take them in, mail them in or take a picture and email or text a picture to an expert. Cell phone pictures may not be sufficient, even for an expert. Make sure you ask questions and can later confirm with greater certainty. After a specific pest is identified, an effective plan can be customized. You, or an exterminator, can survey the situation and decide how best to solve your particular problem for that specific pest. Every pest is different, so some approaches work better than others.

If you are considering new construction or a structure is already in process, call an experienced pest management professional (PMP) who is familiar with construction techniques and blueprint reading to assist the architect or drafter to review architectural and construction plans. This is beneficial because many plans do not take into account architectural and construction flaws that can result in pest infestations. Consider having a PMP treat your structure in stages during construction. One example would be putting residual powdered pest treatments into walls before insulation. As long as it is kept dry, the treatment can last for years. These types of treatments are relatively inexpensive initially and can allow a relatively pest-free environment with very little future pest maintenance. Otherwise, in a few months you may have a significant problem already. With a little foresight you could have saved yourself many difficulties and headaches.


Ant trivia:

40,000 ant brains (depending on the size of the specific ant) are roughly equivalent to a small human brain. So does that mean we are 40,000 times smarter?

Ants have been known to “farm aphids, mealy bugs and scale bugs” and protect them from natural predators because they make honeydew, a favorite ant food. In the Disney movie AntZ (1998), in one scene, Z is offered a honey dew beer by his friend, but he says he prefers not to drink from the anus of other creatures. Isn’t that pleasant!

Mel Borup Chandler works in real estate investment and property management and frequently writes about science, residential, multi- housing, hospitality and agricultural issues. His email address is mbccomentator@roadrunner.com.

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