Are ants marching through your kitchen cupboards or all over your cat’s food? Don’t panic. Metro Natural Gardening Expert Carl Grimm had advice for taking them on without toxic chemicals.
Ants often come inside searching for food when the weather gets cold and wet. The first step to kicking them out is determining what kind you have. If they’re big and black or black and red they are likely carpenter ants. If they are tiny and dark brown, they are likely nuisance ants. Both eat small insects plus any bits of food and grease wherever they can find them. Ants in general are good for the garden as they till the soil, eat some pests and provide food for birds.
To keep any ants out of the house, sanitation is essential
Clean food residues off all surfaces with a soapy sponge or rag. You can do this even with ants crawling around – the soap kills them simply and safely. The soap also washes away the chemical markers ants leave to guide their fellow workers on the trail.
The next step is exclusion
Seal all food sources in containers with tight lids. Then search for the cracks or holes inside and out that the ants are using to get inside. Use caulk to seal gaps between baseboards and floors, window frames and walls, and under-counter plumbing. Outside, seal foundation cracks and holes around electrical, plumbing and cable lines. Also use weather stripping to close gaps around doors and windows – this will help keep your home warmer and your heating bills down, too.
Outside the house, remove branches and debris, and fix leaks
Prune away any branches of plants that touch the walls or roof of your house. This reduces the chances that carpenter ants will use them as a bridge. Remove any piles of wood near the foundation so there are fewer places for ants to colonize. Clean gutters and seal all leaks in siding, roof and plumbing so excess moisture does not cause wood rot that invites infestations.
If hiring a professional, ask for least-toxic controls and get their plan in writing
Don’t take pest control company statements about safety at face value. Ask questions. If they get impatient with you, look elsewhere. Be wary if they suggest perimeter sprays – they are relatively ineffective and unsafe. Locating and removing the colony or colonies is better. If chemicals are needed, ask about desiccants, boric acid and eugenol, all less toxic than organophosphates, carbamates and pyrethrins. Get a written proposal that includes what pests were found, what products will be used and what guarantees they include so you have the information you need to make your decision and respond to possible problems later.
For nuisance ants, bait stations can be used as a last resort or if you rent and don’t control maintenance decisions. Look for bait stations that contain borates as the active ingredient, and be sure to keep them out of reach of children and pets.
For free factsheets on nontoxic ant control, call Metro Recycling Information at 503-234-3000.