Skip Richter, based in Houston, is a popular speaker for garden clubs, Master Gardener programs, and other gardening events across Texas. He has...Full Bio


Stop dancin’ ‘round fire ants – use the Texas Two-Step

You’ve heard there are only two certainties in life – death and taxes. But here in Texas, there’s another near certainty - eventually you will get bitten by a fire ant.

Over the past few weeks, as usually happens after heavy rains, I’ve had an uptick in calls about these pests, and I have also seen an increase in mounds on my property.

Photo: Getty Images

Since we are all staying home and being safe these days, we have a great opportunity to wipe out fire ants if we can get our neighbors to pitch in and coordinate on the Texas Two-Step.

I’m not talking about dancing – remember, we’re social distancing. I am referring to a simple protocol that really can keep fire ants away for months and months. Get your neighbors on the same page, and you’ll all have lots fewer in the coming year.

The Texas Two-Step for fire ant control was developed by entomology researchers at Texas A&M University, back during the days when I was working there. Not only did I see the research and report on it back then, I’ve always applied the concept myself. And I can attest to it keeping my landscapes far more fire ant-free that anyone near me.

The plan’s aspects may surprise you. The “bait” we use - products containing hydramethlnon, such as Amdro - should always be lightly scattered over the entire property. If you just use it to treat individual mounds, it’s actually more expensive since you’ll probably kill only a few worker ants. The queen will simply move elsewhere and you’ll need to hit more mounds. So, in addition to treating individual mounds, be prepared for step two – broadcasting more bait or insecticide over the entire area. The same thing applies with products such as Logic or organic granular controls like Spinosad.

Most fire ant controls sold at nurseries and garden centers simply offer one step in the process. But by administering the two steps, you can get nearly complete control over these critters for 6-12 months.

For years, my personal choice for the broadcast step was deltamethrin granules and any liquid insecticide I could get my hands on to drench the mounds. These days, I use bifenthrin for both steps.

Simply put, if you're just using granular controls, you need to add another step. If you're just using baits, you need another step. If you're just using poisons or drenches, you need the second step. I like to look at it this way: when it comes to granular controls, do the opposite of the recommendation on the container. Amdro is a great example. The container says to use it on individual mounds … I say use it as a broadcast product.

So, the basic Texas Two-Step plan for controlling fire ants is:

  1. Broadcast granular or bait treatments over the entire property.
  2. Apply poisons or drenches on every mound you see.

Randy's Broadcast Choices

  • Talstar (bifenthrin)
  • Granular permethrin
  • Granular triazicide
  • Granular deltamethrin
  • Granular fipronil (Once off market, but now back)
  • Amdro (hydramethylnon)
  • Extenquish (methoprene)
  • Extenquish Plus (hydramethylnon plus methoprene)
  • Logic (an insect growth regulator containing fenoxycarb)
  • Spinosad (one of the few organic broadcast baits)

Randy's Individual Mound Treatments

  • Any liquid insecticide labeled for fire ants
  • Liquid permethrin
  • Liquid cypermethrin
  • Orthene (acephate powder)
  • Lamda-cyolothrin
  • Spinosad liquid
  • Citrex (D-limonine, one of only a few organics for fire ants)
  • Diatomaceous earth (an organic treatment, but not cost effective - almost daily applications would be required)

If you'd like to do a little research on your own, check out the fire ant section on the Texas A&M website. Be warned that much of the material there is a bit outdated with regard to organic suggestions. Remember that the original writeups are from more than 30 years ago, and they seldom included organic controls because research funding was from chemical companies. That’s why you’ll see organic choices like boiling water. Yikes! Plus, there have been many advancements and new products within the last decade, so …


PHOTOS - Mound: Randy Lemmon; Ants - Getty Images

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