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SHARING SECRETS: From the Sharing Secrets Archives: Pesky Ants

This alien-like image of an ant head under a scanning electron microscope is arguably no more horrific than the thought of ants invading our homes and gardens.

Edited by Dayle Cheever* and Lisa Marun.

We have all taken part at one time or another in the perennial battle between ant and man. Triumph, unfortunately, is not always enjoyed by gardeners, as you'll read in these responses from a Sharing Secrets question we posed to the membership in November of 2014*. We think you you'll find that you'll laugh, clench your fists, and be grateful that you aren't the only one enduring these ant invasions.

Here's the November 2014 Sharing Secrets question: Many of us had a terrible time with ants this past summer. What did you do to combat them successfully? (Thanks to Lisa Rini for suggesting this.)

Jim Bishop: The most difficult part of living in a house full of ants is trying to think of names for them all. (Sorry, but I’ve been waiting for years to use this bad joke.)

Nancy Gordon: The ants were successful, mostly. I used orange guard.

Lorie Johansen: Terro works every time!

Marilyn Wilson: Once I killed the ones in the house, I sprayed Deet on the window sills and threshold of the front door, where they had been coming in. I used the same stuff I spray on my legs each day I’m in the garden. No more ants came in after that. Blowtorch was minimally effective. Flame thrower did the trick (for now).

Linda Leuker: We back up to a Canyon in Scripps Ranch and have had many issues with ants invading our home. The best defense we have found is a product called Andro. We only use it when we see the ant trails. We then sprinkle a small amount of granules on the trail (or area by the trail) and they take the little morsels back to their homes. In a couple of days we are rid of the ants trying to come in the house for more goodies or up to the second level into our master bedroom for what? I think they come up through the drain, possibly looking for water, food? Again, I put Andro outside where the ants are, usually the perimeter of the house, and that will deter them. Hope it works for you.

Joan Braunstein: I am still at war in my Old Town cottage. The first skirmish was over the hummingbird feeder. The birds would hover, but not land when the ants were there. I tried a number of natural suggestions; they simply hid under the recommended cinnamon sticks and anything else that had an odor that was supposedly repellant placed at the bottom of the post they were using for access. On the dozenth try, I mixed cayenne with petroleum jelly and smeared it on the wire from which the feeder hangs. Success! When I can follow an ant line, I smear the same formula at their place of entry. Most recently, I’m finding no lines of ants, but rather single ants scattered here and there. I’ve found that wiping them up with a half a lemon kills them on contact. A friend suggested pouring regular dishwashing detergent down the drains lest they are coming up there. That is my next experiment.

Laird Plumleigh: Boric acid is a great aid in attacking ants. Gentle enough that it can be used as an eye wash, yet it is strong enough to dissolve the exoskeletons of ants. I get mine from Laguna Clay Company, as I am a ceramist, but it is a commonly available chemical from several sources. You can sprinkle the crystals in the ants' paths or mix it with water and paint it behind your kitchen sink, for example. Watching ants, I am inclined to believe they are embodied with the equivalent of cell phones and GPS. They are there when we sleep, loyal to a theology that we need to combat.

Stephen Zolezzi: It’s an organized invasion from the garden into the house that cannot be ignored… and they bite! This year I have contracted with a local Pest Control company to service my yard every 3 months. It has been of great help and worth the cost, but into the third month they are back in force, calculating battle plans. Now if I could only get my savings account to multiply like ants!

Deborah Young: What worked? We’re organic so the sad answer is not much worked except patience. They’ll leave in their own good time. I try to remind myself that they’re only on prowl looking for water for their babies. I did try putting granules of EcoSmart around the house. It made everything smell like oil of thyme and cloves, but didn’t do much to deter the ants.

Al Myrick: First, we put up signs that said “ANTS: No Trespassing!” That didn’t work. Then, we washed ant congregations and ant freeways that were indoors (seeking water and coolness) with Kaboom. That did a lot to diminish the numbers (and it helped clean surfaces and our lungs), because its effects and scent lingers. We also baited a lot along freeways outdoors with store-bought boric acid/sugar solutions (after washing down the ant freeways for a few yards). So, now we have a lot of disoriented, single, clean ant scouts trying to find a good place to live. But we think that there are somewhat fewer. In a few cooler months the colonies and individuals should be less numerous because they tend to become more dormant toward winter. HURRY WINTER!

Sharon Ward: I use diatomaceous earth on the ants in my garden. It is non-toxic and the ants hate it; they stop mid-step and run the other way. It scratches their shell and dehydrates them if I get a direct hit. I have it in a puffer applicator that I direct into their entry and blast them. It washes away with water and leaves a little residue, so I am careful where I puff it. In the house, I put it in electrical outlets and anywhere else they might gain entry.

Mary Friestedt: I try to hold off as long as possible before I call a pest control company to get rid of my ants. This is because ants attack termites and in the sixteen years I have lived in my house, I have never had to tent. This summer was a challenging year for ants, however, and this is what I do: First, I keep a bottle of Windex handy and spray them whenever they appear on my kitchen or bathroom counter. Then, I use a trick I learned this year: Ants hate ground cinnamon, and when it is sprinkled on a counter, they die. If I absolutely must call a pest control company, I NEVER let them spray anything. Instead, they use a gel around the outside of the house and give me some bait traps for the ants to take back to their nests. I only have to do this once a year, if that. Good luck, everyone!

Vivian Blackstone: I really didn’t have a bad time, just a few days of an ant stream in my add-on office room that possibly is not sealed well at the bottom, so we sealed the edges and they went away.

Marilyn Guidroz: Well, one good thing about the ant invasion is that our house was kept really, really clean. It helped a lot to keep every bit of anything that you wouldn’t even think was edible put away. Almost everything was stuffed into the refrigerator. Somehow, the ants couldn’t get in there. We used a lot of window cleaner spray with ammonia to help combat the ants when they were coming in droves. We sprinkled corn meal all around the outside of our house, especially doors and windows. We found the natural ant repellents with rosemary, mint ,and orange oils to really help a lot. I swept my patios every day and moved all of my pots away from the house. Thankfully, they have stopped the invasion with the cooler weather.

Louise Anderson: I don’t bother them when they’re outside. HOWEVER, it’s another matter when they’re inside or have infested a tree that they have their workers eating. Unfortunately, I did once have to spray a tree this year. I would like to hear about some natural ways to herd them away from my places. Maybe a border collie?

Barbara Brink: I have a specialty gardener who comes to my house once a month, and he said that most of his clients have experienced the same thing this year. He didn’t have an answer as to why, but I have had an infestation both in and out of the house this year that tops my eight years in Rancho Peñasquitos. Combat brand roach control containers have made some difference, but the infestation is so bad I had thought about getting a professional pest control company out to help, but wanted to wait until the fall. Would love to hear about others’ experience.

Debra Lee Baldwin: I did what an etymologist who specializes in ants told me that he does: I simply admired them.

Carol Kumlin: Windex, Windex, Windex.

Barbara Huntington: Since I eat organic and have a veggie garden, it is tough. Joshua’s Pest Control uses a rosemary oil spray, which seems to work if they just spray around the house (haven’t had ants in the house for years). I don’t let them get anywhere near my milkweed plants with the gazillion Monarch caterpillars.

Katrin Utt: I use Terro Outdoor Liquid Ant Bait that I buy from Amazon. You have to follow the instructions to make the poison, a syrup, available to the ants. Very easy to use, and it works every time. Just follow the directions, activate the traps, then place the traps where the ants are. You might have to repeat it every few months, but it sure is worth it! Good-bye ants!

Susan Oddo: Here, at least, it’s all about finding out how they get into the house. They are such clever little devils. Invariably, I find a bush or tree that is touching the roofline on the most inaccessible side of the house. If I can’t trim the offending limbs away from contact, I’ve had to resort to Home Defense, liberally applied around the base of their handy bridge. I don’t allow the spray to contact soil, but do give the woody trunk surface a thorough soaking twice a week for two weeks. It’s done the job this year, most probably because I finally found all those contact points. I also allow for almost touches, because I watched ants use their own bodies to create a bridge across a gap that looked to be half an inch across. As if that isn't clever enough, I also watched ants wait as a breeze blew leaves back and forth, briefly touching the roofline. Each time leaves touched, a bunch of ants rushed across the temporary bridge. In the past, natural means have been sufficient. This year, probably due to the dryness making the ants thirstier, and housing structures drier and thus opening up wider entrances, Home Defense proved the only effective solution.

*Dayle Cheever is on vacation this month and taking a well-earned break from Sharing Secrets. Watch for a new Sharing Secrets question in your January email.

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