Thursday, March 19, 2009

Managing Ants In The House

Warm weather is on its way and Spring is a time to think ants. Ants invade homes and other structures in search of food, water, and shelter. Therefore, effective non-toxic ant management needs to be a combination of control methods that involve inspection, sanitation and exclusion, and habitat modification.

It is important to check carefully and thoroughly both indoors and outside to determine areas of ant activity, nest locations, and type of ant present. Indoors, follow ant trails to locate their entry point such as an electrical outlet or gap along a baseboard or around a water pipe.

Outside, check the foundation, walkways, trees and shrubs, and in mulched areas for ant trails. Look for nests in mulch and vegetation next to the foundation. Check under potted plants, patio blocks, and stepping stones, and in piles of rocks, lumber, and firewood.

Inspect the foundation to find possible ant entryways such as areas where pipes enter the building, foundation cracks, and around doors and windows. If swarmers were found indoors, then you could very easily have an indoor infestation, e.g., in a wall void, in the crawlspace or in the ceiling. In those situations, a careful inspection of the crawlspace may also be needed.

Sanitation and Exclusion

Ants are attracted indoors to food and water sources. Make your home less attractive to ants by keeping it as clean as possible. Clean up any food spills and crumbs as quickly as possible. Rinse all food and drink containers thoroughly before placing them into trash or recycling bins.

Remove food debris from your sink after washing dishes and cookware, and clean out strainers that collect food particles in sinks drains. Store food in air-tight containers or keep refrigerated. If possible, do not leave pet food out continuously.

Frequently, ants enter homes in search of moisture. Check both interior and exterior water sources for leaks. “Ant-proof” your home by sealing up any gaps, cracks, or holes around windows, doors, and foundations.

Habitat Modification
Mulch and vegetation covering the foundation provide ants with cover for their activity. “Habitat Modification” involves landscaping and other activities that can reduce the likelihood of ants nesting in areas in the immediate area around your home.

For example mulch often provides an excellent nesting habitat for many ants. It provides shelter, warmth, moisture and it can prevent pesticide sprays from reaching their intended target. Keep mulch, leaf litter and vegetation 10-12 inches away from the house foundation. Store piles of lumber, firewood, bricks, and stones away from the house.

Many ants are attracted to the sweet plant secretions and fruits/berries of ornamental trees and shrubs. Ants also feed on “honeydew” – a sugary material secreted by aphids and other insects often found on ornamentals. Place a band of sticky material, such as petroleum jelly or tape, around the base of trees to trap ants. Trim back any tree branches or shrubs that are touching the house so that ants cannot use them to enter your home. Controlling honeydew-producing insects on ornamental trees and shrubs will help reduce ant food sources.

Reference: NC Cooperative Extension - By Patricia Alder and Michael Waldvogel, Extension Entomology.

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