Stinging Ants in Container Plants!!

jason83(Zone 8b/9a (North Florida))October 28, 2011

I have a few container plants that need to be brought inside for overwintering, but I have a really big problem!

I noticed while moving a few of my containers that there are THOUSANDS of ants living in the potting soil. Not only are there tons of them, but they sting or bite and it's very painful, itchy and leaves a welt on your skin for over a week! They get all over my hands, wrists, and clothing and can even bite through the clothing!

I've tried flushing them out with heavy watering, but after a day they return back to the pot. I can't bring them indoors, and I'm afraid to repot because I don't want to keep getting bitten!

What can I do to get rid of them, without harming my plants, or myself, so that I can bring them indoors? I have a few weeks at least I'm sure of before temperatures harm these tender plants, so there would be time for some kind of treatment, if there is any available. Can anyone help??

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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

Them is FIRE ANTS! I'm sure you've heard of them, if you've spent any time at all in Florida. They actually bite AND sting, though it's the venom in the sting that causes the problems.

I believe that the first thing I would try is a package of Terro liquid ant bait trays to see if fire ants will be interested in the boric acid solution or not. This liquid bait comes already mixed in little plastic trays that you simply place in the vicinity of where the ants are.

Do you see ants marching around outside of the pots, on the ground or patio floor? If so, I would place a bait somewhere in that location. If not, position one on top of the potting soil.

Wait for about an hour, then come back to observe what the ants' reaction is. If they are attracted to the sugary bait, they will swarm it (SWARM!!) and that's what you want. They will carry the stuff off to their nest (where ever it is) and pass it around to all of the inhabitants, including the queens. If they finish one bait tray, replace it with another. Don't freak out over their swarming; the more-the merrier. They will all soon be dead.

The most successful fire ant bait is Amdro, but you cannot place that on the potting soil. If you can observe that the ants are actually going back and forth to an in-ground mound, then you can sprinkle the bait in that area and let it do its magic. You might want to use the Amdro on any mounds that you find, while you're at it.

As always, read and follow the directions carefully on any product you purchase. And please be very careful about drenching your plants with a toxic substance that should never be used in potting soil. You simply cannot have anything like that in the house with you.

By the way, keep a jar of granulated meat tenderizer near you when dealing with fire ants. As soon as possible after you've been stung, sprinkle the meat tenderizer on it and make a bit of a paste with water. This little remedy works WONDERS for not only takes that immediate burn away, most of the subsequent itch, and the site of the sting won't swell up and form a welt. Please try it.

    Bookmark   October 28, 2011 at 4:19PM
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jason83(Zone 8b/9a (North Florida))

Thank you for the reply! While not a big fan of using any kind of chemicals, I will give the bait-type traps a try. I've still got a couple of weeks for them to work, before the container plants need to be brought inside! :)

We've got millions of fire ants down here - I'll give the meat tenderizer paste a try too, as not many days go by where someone isn't getting bitten by the nasty critters!

    Bookmark   October 28, 2011 at 4:42PM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

i wouldnt hesitate to use systemic chems .. treat them now.. and in a few weeks they will be fine to bring in the house ..

but what i really want to know.. what in the world are you growing.. that needs to come into a z9 house ... the thought is so foreign to me up here in the frozen tundra of adrian MI .. that my head is spinning .. metaphorically .. lol

perhaps there is an option of bringing them in the house at all??? if we knew what kind of plants you are growing ????


    Bookmark   October 28, 2011 at 5:07PM
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jason83(Zone 8b/9a (North Florida))

That's a good question, and the plants in particular are a rather large Candy Stripe Plumeria, a Bamboo Palm, a Heliconia, Arabian Jasmine, and a Large Ensete ornamental banana, along with a few other small but very tender tropicals. I doubt they would survive our brief and mild winter, even though it doesn't last long.

Unfortunately, being in zone 8b/9a-ish (I say "ish" because we do get a few nights, only a few, where the temperature is at or below freezing for a few hours) and it's JUST enough to kill these tropical beauties. Our zone is not "tropical" enough for any kind of tropical palm, vine, or fruit. It's also too hot in the summer for many temperate fruits or ornamentals. So we're kind of in between, where it's too cold for the tropical goods, and too hot for the temperate goods. :)

I think it is far too risky to keep them outside, as I know they will die back to the ground completely. They may return, but why compromise the growth?

I have quite a few plants that die back to the ground every winter, and return in the spring (ex: angelwing/star jasmine, passionflowers, night blooming jasmine) that I treat more like perennials, as opposed to year round interest. Sometimes I lose them permanently. By the time the growing season is over, they've just gotten large enough to be of any substance before they die back when the cold sets in.

    Bookmark   October 28, 2011 at 5:29PM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

Ken, I am not sure what kind of chemical you are referring to, but any of the contact poisons (ant killer type pesticides like malathion, etc.) will adhere in a BIG way to the organic particles of the potting soil. Jason would be subjected to the fumes (thus the chemical inhalation) for months and months. So-called 'systemics' are of little use for the ants.

He is also worried about his tropicals. Believe it or not, anyone in N. Florida can fully expect to see temperatures that dip below freezing and heavy frosts upon occasion. When one is tending to such tender tropicals, protection from cool temperatures is a must. Jason lives in what can be called a semi-tropical location. The plants he mentions are full- or even sub-tropical.

It's funny....I lived in a coastal zone 8b community for many years, one that was much visited by visitors from 'the Nawth'. They could be spotted a mile away in the winter because they would be wearing shorts and tourist tee shirts in December when the locals would be clothed in sweaters and jackets...and LONG pants! ;-) It's all about what you're used to.

    Bookmark   October 28, 2011 at 10:14PM
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Very probably, Jason, the quickest and easiest wat to eliminate those ants in that potting soil would be to replace it. Pull those plants out of the pot, clean the plants roots thoroughly of all the potting soil, clean the pots thoroughly, and the repot with all new potting soil.
There are a large number of people that simply cannot grasp that for some of us exposure to many of the synthetic poisons out there will trigger an allergic reaction severe enough to send us to a hospital.

    Bookmark   October 29, 2011 at 7:06AM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

rhiz.. i have no clue what to use.. i was just offering the alternative to your non-chem suggestions ... based on your personal need to stay clear of all that stuff ... i am not doing the research for said remedy ....

but if that is an option for the OP.. then the easiest solution.. is to treat them come first thing in spring ... prevention is always easier than cure ...

now... are we really only talking about those couple few days of potential winter temps ... why cant they go in the garage on those nights .... or are we afraid of checking the weather every night???? lol .. been there.. missed that cold night.. lol ..


    Bookmark   October 29, 2011 at 9:57AM
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jason83(Zone 8b/9a (North Florida))

Well that's exactly it - I have no garage - nor do I think that I'd be diligent enough with checking the weather.

All too often here, we'll get weeks of warm weather with what appears to be the official end of our "winter" but there's always a few cold snaps that creep up out of nowhere - just ONE is enough to equal death for these tropical beauties.

My heliconia got extra doses of water the last couple of days and the ants began moving their eggs in a line out of the pot. I don't know if they've decided to move for good or not, but I'm very happy with not having to use chemicals and will keep you guys posted on if this will continue to work. :)

    Bookmark   October 29, 2011 at 1:18PM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

Jason really needs to bring those particular plants inside for the duration. There's a BIG difference between subtropical and semitropical climates.

Ken, you're right....I am always pushing the non-chemical solution! But in this instance, I am worried about Jason bringing the persistent fumes inside. Potting soil really soaks that stuff up.

It's a difficult dilemma, for sure. I'm hoping that he will try the Terro liquid ant bait trays. Amdro will do the job if the primary colony is outside the pots. I'm encouraged upon hearing that they're moving the babes out! Jason, a bait will will sure that the queen is dead, which is important before you bring those containers inside.

    Bookmark   October 29, 2011 at 11:31PM
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