When people use the expression “natural control”, they can mean several different things. Some people use the term “natural control” when they mean non-chemical methods. (Non-chemical control is part of a program called Integrated Pest management, or IPM.) Non-chemical methods include cleaning up food and drink spills, keeping food in sealed containers, and storing recycling bins outdoors.
There are many other non-chemical methods that help to control ants. Installing weather-stripping or door sweeps on exterior doors helps keep ants out of buildings. Inserting plastic screen into weep holes also helps keep ants out of buildings that have brick exteriors. Trimming trees and shrubs that touch the building can prevent ants from “bridging” into the building. Mowing grass and raking mulch away from the foundation can make the area less attractive to the ants.
Some people use the term “natural control” to describe a pest control program that uses “natural” insecticides. There are a variety of these products available. There are products that have extracts of citrus, peppers, spices, or other food-type ingredients. There are several insecticides made from flowers. Pyrethrum is an extract of chrysanthemums. (Pyrethroids are insecticides made from synthetic Pyrethrum.) These ingredients are available in liquid, dust, and aerosol insecticides. The effectiveness can depend on the product that is used and the surface where it is applied.
Some people say “natural” when they mean products extracted from the earth. There are several insecticides made from minerals. The material is mined from the earth. Then, depending on the way it will be used, it is crushed into powder, refined, or processed. Boric acid is an effective insecticide. It is used as a dust and it is often mixed into ant baits. Silica gel and diatomaceous earth are also effective insecticides that are made from mineral ingredients. They are usually used as dusts. These insecticides are useful in controlling ants and many other insects.
Many people use the term “natural ant control” to describe the use of insecticidal bait to control ants. Ant colonies send a few workers out to find food. The workers bring the food back to the colony and share it with all of the other ants. In a baiting program, ant bait is placed near the ant trail. The workers bring the bait back to the nest and share it with the rest of the colony. By this process, the ants assist in their own control. When the workers deliver the bait to the queen, she dies. This is the key part of an ant control program. When the queen stops producing eggs, the colony will die and the infestation will end.
When people see ants wandering around the kitchen counter, their first reaction is “I want those ants GONE!” If the problem has been going on for a while, people sometimes get desperate. The trouble is, when people get desperate, they sometimes fail to think things through. They grab some bug spray and start shooting ants.
But the bug spray only kills the few ants on the counter and soon there are a few more ants to take their place. If there had been time for further reflection, the homeowner might have added: “and I never want to see the ants again!”
Getting rid of ants doesn’t have to involve a lot of stinky bug spray. In fact, the first step doesn’t require any spray at all. The first step is to inspect the situation. Controlling ants is easier if you know where they live. If the ants are walking in a line, follow them back to their nest. If you find the nest, and if it’s outside in the yard, treat it with liquid insecticide. Under the circumstance, it’s the quickest treatment, but follow the insecticide’s label directions.
If the ants are not walking in line, put a tiny drop of ant bait near the place where they seem to be coming and going. Make sure children and pets can’t disturb the bait. If the ants pick up the bait, put out some more. More ant workers will swarm over the bait and soon there will be a crowd of ants eating the bait.
It may take a few days for the ant activity to stop. As long as they are eating, keep the bait filled up.
In the meantime, start looking outside for the things that attracted the ants in the first place. Are the garbage cans and recycling bins in the garage? Move them outside and away from the house. Is there grass, dead leaves, and mulch piled high against the foundation? These are ant-hiding places. Trim the grass and rake the mulch and leaves away from the foundation. (To an ant, a 12″ strip of bare soil next to the foundation probably looks like a desert.)
Are there tree limbs and shrubs growing against the sides of the house? These are perfect bridges into the house. Trim all the limbs so that there is room to walk between the shrubs and the house. If there are dripping faucets or the down spouts drain against the house, get those fixed too. Many ants come for water as much as for food.
Finally, check all of the exterior doors. If you stand outside at night, does light shine under the door? It could be an entrance for ants. If weather-stripping is missing or broken, it should be replaced. If the home has a brick exterior, there may be tiny openings for ventilation (many people call them weep holes). A small piece of plastic screen inserted into those openings can help keep ants from entering that way.