Fire Ants, Clover Mites, and Moles

Out of Sight Mole Trap

Out of Sight Mole Trap

Gardening is always an adventure. You plant and tend with the hopes of a wonderful outcome. Whether it is a yard turned into a backyard oasis, or a fruit and vegetable garden overflowing with bounty, gardeners are eternal optimists.

For a firsthand look at 5 great home gardens in Smith County, join the Smith County Master Gardener Home Garden Tour on Saturday, April 30. Tickets are only $10 if purchased early, $12 the day of the Tour. Visit for details on the gardens and ticket sales. You will be inspired.

While gardening is a wonderful pastime, we also have to face the reality that we are not the only ones inhabiting our clod of earth. And occasionally some of these inhabitants can cause problems or be a nuisance at best. So, get ready for the annual visitation by pests. While there are many pesky critters that could be mentioned, today I’ll focus on just 3 pests that can sometimes be bothersome.

Fire Ants. Fire ants have been busy making their annual appearance in the form of mounds popping up here and there. I’m thankful for the research that is looking at biological ways of helping control their numbers. The Phorid fly, a natural enemy of the fire ant that parasitizes the workers, has been successfully established in many parts of the south. I’ve even seen them working a mound in my yard. But, they will not ever eliminate all fire ants.

The Texas AgriLife Extension Service, based on years of research, still advocates a 2-Step approach to controlling these stinging pests. If your yard has the equivalent of 4 or more mounds per ¼ acre area, then the recommendation is to do a broadcast bait treatment over the whole property. This way foraging ants from smaller, unseen mounds, will also be affected by the control. Individual nuisance mounds can be later treated directly with an insecticide.

Dr. Mike Merchant, AgriLife Extension Entomologist and blogger at, wrote the other day that despite the recent warm days with air temperatures in the 80s and 90s, soil temperatures are just now climbing to levels where fire ants are thinking about foraging for food. This means that in some areas it may still be a little early for applying fire ant bait, since ants pick up the product thinking it is food and takes it back to the colony.

Research indicates that fire ant foraging doesn’t begin in earnest until soil temperatures reach the 70 degree mark.  The standard recommendation is to hold off bait applications in our area until late April or May.

Merchant also alerted us to the fact that there is a notable change in at least one popular consumer fire ant product this year. GardenTech’s Over N’ Out formulation has been changed from the long-lasting fipronil, to bifenthrin. The only package change, other than active ingredient, is that the seller now promotes it for six-month, rather than 12-month control. So if you are buying Over N’ Out for its yearlong control, you might want to revise your expectations.

For more details on fire ant control, including products and research, visit A&M’s fire ant website –

Clover Mites. In some parts of the area, folks are complaining about multitudes of tiny red mites crawling over walls, plants and other objects. There seems to be an outbreak of large numbers of clover mites every few years. When numerous, they commonly leave their host plants and wander over sidewalks, foundation walls and occasionally indoor areas which they enter via cracks, crevices, and other openings. One reference says drought can trigger the migration from their feeding grounds on to buildings and other structures. The good news is that this phenomenon is temporary, and should pass within a few weeks. For more on their biology and management, see the Landscape IPM website:

Moles. Creating shallow ridges across the lawn, tunneling under plants in search of food, moles are another cohabitant of our earth. They certainly can create a mess of a smooth lawn by their tunneling activity. Despite all the gimmicks, home remedies and poisons advocated for their control, trapping is the surest means of reducing a damaging population.

I will be the first to admit that trapping is an exercise in patience and frustration. For better results, your first step is to find a tunnel that is being frequently used.  Collapse ridges in one spot and later check to see if it has been pushed back up. Locate traps on straight-away ridges. Trapping is more successful if the soil is moist, especially in sandy soils.

Like fire ants, you’ll never get permanently get rid of them, but you can reduce the population so it is not so disruptive to the lawn and garden. Eventually moles will repopulate from neighboring areas if controls are not also being carried out in those areas. I’ve written previously about moles on my blog where you can find more information. Also an article on moles on my web site.

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