Yesterday while I was mowing my lawn, I had two unfortunate surprises. The first came when I stopped to breathe at one corner of the yard and found that I had my foot in an anthill that the mower had just demolished. The second came when I jumped out of that anthill and found that I had landed in the neighboring ant hill, which was also broken and covered in a sea of frantic insects. While working in this industry, one develops a degree of professional curiosity about the bugs that one encounters throughout the day. In this case, however, I found that I was not curious enough to risk an ant swarm going up my leg, and I set off mowing again at a brisk pace.
I know that I’m in danger of repeating myself too much, but this wet spring is really causing me to eye the peak pest months (which are approaching quickly) with great concern. The reality is that most pests, like ants, are extremely moisture dependent. Dry seasons are hard on them and make it difficult for them to expand their colonies. Wet seasons without too much heat provide an open invitation for a population explosion.
If, like me, you have found some ant hills in the yard, don’t panic yet. Ants belong in the yard, and you will be glad of the cleanup work that they do. They can also serve as excellent predators for other unwanted bugs, so we can appreciate their valuable place in the ecosystem of East Tennessee. But, we must accept their presence in the yard while recognizing that we would rather not share space with them in the house.
If you’re looking for a few easy tips to help you to avoid several thousand unwanted visitors, here they are. To begin with, do everything you can to avoid clutter in your lawn. Infrequently-used toys or lawn equipment can often turn into nothing more than a harborage site for many pests, including ants, mosquitoes, and rodents. This is particularly true if the item is often moist (either because it’s a water toy for your children or because it can collect rainwater). Setting up housekeeping underneath a moist object is good living for many pests, and you can greatly deter their presence simply by removing comfortable housing.
Additionally, make wise decisions about the kinds of plants you put near your house. Many ants, including the odorous house ant and the crazy ant that is gaining some notice from the press, are attracted to sweet-smelling plants that make a large supply of nectar. These ants will tend aphids that feed on sweet-smelling plants like foxgloves or roses. These flowers are beautiful, but they can attract ants to your home. If you want to have sugary plants in your garden, consider putting them in a bed out in the yard instead of right next to the house. This policy also holds true for hummingbird feeders, which always attract ants. If you want a hummingbird feeder, put it out in your yard instead of right by your window.
Finally, don’t go overboard if you decide to get some mulch this spring. Mulch is like a paradise for pests. It holds moisture well, but it’s also very warm since it’s full of decaying material. If you do get mulch, use it sparingly so that you don’t end up with enormous mounds that can be converted into ant or roach hotels. Try to avoid placing mulch directly against the house since that provides an access point for pests to get in without crossing through open ground. And, if you put mulch around your trees, do not mound the mulch up in a volcano around the trunk. If you leave a small, open ring around the tree trunk, you will save the tree from the diseases that some pests may carry to plants, and the pests will be less likely to damage the tree itself while foraging.
These are just a few tips to help you with ant control this spring and summer. Of course, a pest control prevention program is another very reliable way to make sure your home remains comfortably ant-free during these warm months. If you need to talk to a pest professional, I know where you can find one, or you can call us here at Russell’s at 865-584-8549.