Controlling Fire Ants — What Works, What Doesn’t

June 19, 2016 | By | Comments (14)
fire ants

I hate it when this happens! Photo:

It’s a rule here in the South. Following a heavy rain on Sunday, on Monday your yard becomes a death zone dotted with little red clay volcanoes — fire ant mounds teeming with satanic assassins just itching to sting you and any other animal they can find. I truly believe this is why Karen Carpenter sang, “Rainy days and Mondays always get me down.”

The pustule-causing stings are more than an annoyance. People with allergies can die from anaphylactic shock after a single sting. Small children stung dozens of times have died. Fire ants also take a tremendous toll on livestock and other wildlife, especially ground-nesting birds. So we are justified in wanting to kill them before they kill us. The question is how?

I have said it before and I will say it again. As soon as somebody comes up with an organic or natural fire ant product that’s EFFECTIVE, I will use and recommend it. To be effective,  the control must kill the queen. If it kills 99% of the fire ants but the queen survives, the mound will just come back. So let’s review some of the controls that don’t work.

Fire Ant Remedies That Just Don’t Work For The Average Yard

Grits. I know you’ve heard about this one. Sprinkle grits on the mound. Fire ants will eat them and the moisture inside their bodies will cause the grits to expand and the ants to explode. Nice thought and I’ve tried it. No explosions. No tiny mushroom clouds. No effect.

Diatomaceous earth. This white, powdery stuff made from the shells of microscopic sea creatures slices open the exoskeletons of insects like ants, causing them to die of dehydration. So it kills any ant it touches. Trouble is, it’s highly unlikely to reach the queen. And if it gets wet, it washes into the soil and you have to put more down. If you’re not careful, you could breathe in the powder and cause more harm to yourself than the ants.

Boiling water. You know why you like this one. You want to boil those little suckers alive and hear their tiny screams! But you probably won’t boil the queen, so the surviving ants will just make a new mound for her a few feet over. In the meantime, you’ll have scalded yourself and your scream won’t be tiny.

fire ant mound

Try not to sit on this. Photo: Ferd Birdly

Orange peels. Citrus oil does repel ants and other insects. Therefore, they avoid it. If you dump orange peels on the mound, the ants will simply move the mound.

Club soda. Oh, this is genius! Your pour a liter bottle of club soda on the mound. The carbon dioxide in the soda replaces the oxygen in the mound and the ants suffocate. If this is the route you wanna go, I suggest you back up your trailer to the front of Wal-Mart each week and haul out every case of club soda it has. You’re gonna need ’em, because the ants will be back — asking for your Scotch.

Diesel fuel or gasoline. Really? You’re gonna kill fire ants by dumping diesel on the mound and killing the grass too? I can hear Jeff Foxworthy now: “If you dump diesel fuel on a fire ant mound, YOU may be a redneck!” No…… ARE a redneck.

Fire Ant Remedies That Do Work For The Average Yard

Unfortunately, none of the controls that are effective are natural or organic. They involve synthetic insecticides. But when used as directed, they’re safe and they WORK.

Mound Treatments. Mound treatments include dusts like acephate (Orthene) and baits like Amdro. Acephate kills any ant it touches, so the hope is the workers will get some on the queen. Amdro is a slow-acting stomach poison bound to corn grits mixed with soybean oil. The worker eats it, but before he dies, feeds it to the queen and she dies too. The drawback with mound treatments is that they don’t stop other fire ants from making more mounds, so you have to keep treating all summer. And when Amdro bait gets wet, it quickly spoils and ants won’t eat it.

fire ant killer

Photo: Ferd Birdly

Season-long entire lawn treatments. This is what Grumpy recommends. Entire lawn treatments are granules of long-lasting insecticide that you apply to the lawn with a fertilizer spreader and water in. Ortho Fire Ant Killer, containing bifenthrin, works well for me. I put it down the first week of April and have zero fire ant mounds for the next six months. GardenTech Over ‘n’ Out is a similar product. (And in case you’re wondering — no, I don’t work for Ortho or GardenTech and I bought the bag. Grumpy don’t shill for nobody.)

One final thought — some truly ignorant county commissioners in Montgomery County, Maryland just banned all non-organic lawn pesticides on the basis that they might cause cancer in children, even though they had no evidence or data to support this. Montgomery County has no fire ants. Once it does, the commission will change its mind.



  1. nellie Macon

    Monkey gas kills fire ants. I can’t find any now. A lady from Burgaw sold us a case.

    June 25, 2017 at 12:05 pm
  2. Chris

    Do i have to wait until april to put it down? Can i use it in january when freezing still a potential?

    January 23, 2017 at 12:44 pm
  3. Raven

    Everytime my dad sees a anthill in our yard he gets gasoline a shovel, lighter. HE’LL dig up the anthill pour gasoline on it and set it on fire.but it’s kinda funny when my dad would ACCIDENTALLY set his foot on fire lmao!!!

    December 14, 2016 at 9:34 pm
  4. RD

    This product has a chance at killing the workers but not the Queen as well.

    October 23, 2016 at 12:38 am
  5. Melinda flores

    When i lived in Texas this was what I did to control fire ants. Get a shovel full from one mound and put it on a different mound. They fight to the death. After doing this to any mounds still active ( took me a couple of weeks) they all either moved or died. And they did not come back .

    July 24, 2016 at 5:32 pm
  6. Controlling Fire Ants Near Your Home | Team Gale Real Estate News

    […] Southern Living contributor Steve Bender, addressed DIY remedies for these tiny, red menaces in his June 19 “The Grumpy Gardner” column. […]

    July 13, 2016 at 6:40 am
  7. Kathleen

    I got an even better redneck solution from the 4th of July party at my son-in-law’s this weekend: light firecrackers in the ant hills & run.

    July 5, 2016 at 9:42 am
  8. Wendy

    I enjoy your writing style– matter-of-fact, funny, and informative. Keep up the good work!

    June 30, 2016 at 3:19 pm
  9. Mary

    We were told in Ga to take a small amount from one mound and move it to the next mound over. The mixing of worker ants would kill both mounds

    June 27, 2016 at 6:43 pm
  10. Cheryl Murphy

    I would like to know whose hand is in that picture covered with fire ants? OMG!

    June 26, 2016 at 3:19 pm
  11. Terrie

    I don’t have fire ants but for black ants mix borex and sugar with a little water to make a paste ants love it and will carry it back to the queen. They blow up and it kills them. You put it on small dish or soak cotton ball.

    June 25, 2016 at 8:32 pm
  12. Kathleen

    Diesel fuel or gasoline. Really? You’re gonna kill fire ants by dumping diesel on the mound and killing the grass too? I can hear Jeff Foxworthy now: “If you dump diesel fuel on a fire ant mound, YOU may be a redneck!” No…… ARE a redneck.”
    OK, I’m a redneck, but it does seem to work, especially if you light a match & blow them up. My brother used to really enjoy that.
    Seriously, the grass grows back eventually & you can just target a small area. I spill gas occasionally filling the mower & it’s not the end of the world. Grass grows like a jungle here. I wish I could slow it down.

    June 21, 2016 at 9:01 am
  13. Carrie

    Do you think this Ortho Fire Ant killer would work on regular black ants too, or is it specific to Fire Ants? We have tons of mounds in our yard, and I’ve never found a good way to kill them. My kids are constantly being bitten by the ants. However, I believe they are just regular black ants, not Fire Ants.

    June 20, 2016 at 9:42 am
  14. Jen

    The Montgomery County, MD, pesticide ban includes an exception for control of “detrimental invasive species” designated by the county executive. While the executive’s list hasn’t been completed, it seems likely that fire ants are the type of pest this exception was meant to cover. If a deadly ant from South America doesn’t qualify for the exception, what would? Therefore, using synthetic pesticides to kill fire ants will probably still be allowed in Montgomery County even after the ban goes into effect in 2018. (Fire ants do show up in this area sporadically. The winter seems to limit their ability to spread, at least so far, but they still have to be eliminated when they appear.)

    June 19, 2016 at 10:38 pm

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