Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Fire Ant Management

Rain brings fire ants... at least that's what people say.  Rain doesn't necessarily make fire ants more abundant - they were always there, they just weren't as noticeable.  When it rains, the ground becomes saturated and the fire ants move their colonies higher.  When they pop above the ground, you come across them more readily and its gives the impression that there are more and they are worse than during dry months.

Unless you have been treating regularly, I think its a pretty safe assumption that at least one mound in their yard.  I have many (way too many) mounds.  I find them when I'm weeding my garden, in my veggie beds, along the sidewalk, next to my newly planted fig tree, and in the smack middle of the yard.  They are huge, ugly, and ominous.  Not since my graduate days studying and digging up fire ant mounds have I had as many stings on my hands and feet!

So... what to do about them?  There are many options for fire ant control, so I'm going to give you the most common situation and my suggestions for control:

Fire Ants in Veggie Gardens.  You have limited options here and must be careful to read labels to make sure they are labeled for use around vegetables.  Boiling water and oils will work, but depending on how close that mound is to the plants, you may kill the roots.  I suggest Spinosad as either a drench or bait.  Both are labeled for use in vegetable gardens.

Fire Ants without Visible Mounds.  Baits are definitely the way to go here.  If you can't see the mound, you can't drench it properly.  Baits are taken back into the nest and fed to everyone, including the queen.  Baits may take up to 2 weeks to work, so be patient.

Fire Ants in Yards.  My suggestion for this is to treat individual mounds and follow up a couple of days later with a broadcast bait.  You will eliminate or at least reduce the size of the mounds you treat individually and the bait will help keep the populations down and knock out the mounds that you didn't see.

I'm Having a Party.... Tomorrow!  In this case, you want to use either a broadcast granule or individual mound treatments.... or both.  If the populations are super dense (like we are seeing right now), treat the individual mounds with a liquid drench or dust labeled for fire ants.  Then do a broadcast granule to provide a barrier to prevent new mounds from popping up and treat the unseen mounds you missed.

Long Term Fire Ant Management.  If you can't stand the emergency treatments and want to get on a regimen, baits are again the way to go.  If the populations are fairly low to begin with, you can treat every 6 months.  Treatments in the fall may result in no ants in the spring, in which case you can eventually drop back to once every 12 months.  If the mounds are pretty dense, you may need to treat once and then again in 6-8 weeks.  Then get back on the every 6 month routine.

As with all pesticide use - read the label first, apply only what is recommended, wear protective clothing, and don't overuse.  One reason I like baits is that food for the fire ants and they are attracted to it.  You end up applying less pesticide into the environment and usually get better and more long term results.  If in doubt of what to use, see if an bait is available

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Spring of Caterpillars

Forest Tent Caterpillar
Photo by: G. McIlveen Jr.
This spring, it sure seems like we're experiencing more caterpillars than we have in the past.  There are two types of caterpillars on trees (seems more of the sightings are on oaks) you may encounter and what to do about them:

Forest Tent Caterpillars.  These guys do not actually make a tent, but they may appear to "wrap" your tree trunks with silk, while they hang out on the inside.  During spring, new growth means tender, juicy food for caterpillars.  While these guys will not damage the overall health of the trees, they may be a nuisance, unsightly, and may congregate in massive amounts on lawn furniture, fences, or other objects.

Oak Leaf Rollers.  It has been several years since these guys have exploded in massive populations, and while this year it isn't a huge explosion, I am getting some calls on them and seeing them drop from trees.  Oak leaf rollers rarely defoliate or even cause any noticeable defoliation of trees, but they are annoying.

Oak Leaf Rollers in oak trees
Photo by: Bart Drees
Oak leaf rollers are usually green in color with a black head. They drop from a single silk strand from trees when they are dislodged.  The silk can cover windows and cars, and when the populations are huge, it can make spending time outdoors unpleasant.

Should you feel the need to manage these caterpillars, they can be treated as any other caterpillar.  Bt and Spinosad are my two favorites.  Bt  is organic and specific to only caterpillars, you will not kill anything else but caterpillars, so be careful around your butterfly host plants.  Spinosad is also organic and may give you a faster knockdown.

I suspect these caterpillars will be around for another week or two, but they will soon die off on their own and treatment really isn't necessary.  Think of them as bluebonnets.  While there are a lot when there are a lot, they won't last long.