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Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Please forgive us, but Mr. Smarty Plants has been overwhelmed by a flood of mail and must take a break for awhile to catch up. We hope to be accepting new questions again soon. Thank you!

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Friday - April 18, 2008

From: CEDAR HILL, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Invasive Plants, Non-Natives, Pests
Title: Organic means for ridding garden of stinging ants
Answered by: Nan Hampton

QUESTION:

Dear Mr. Smarty Pants, I have a butterfly garden that is filled with native plants the butterflies LOVE! However I have a colony of red ants that have moved in. I need to trim some of the more invasive varieties of flowers, but can't get in without getting bitten terribly. Can you suggest an organic way of either killing or making them want to move on their own? Thank you!!

ANSWER:

It sounds as if you have fire ants, a really nasty invasive species. There is no fast, effective organic method to rid yourself of the pests, but there is good advice about using chemical means safely and with the least environmental impact. Dr. Larry Gilbert and his researchers working at Brackenridge Field Laboratoy of the University of Texas have very good advice under:

14. What are the safest and Most effective chemical controls for fire ants in yards and pastures? I don't want to expose my family and pets to dangerous chemicals.

Also see the FAQs on Texas A & M's Texas Imported Fire Ant Research and Management Project page.

Both of these sources tell you how to identify fire ants and distinguish them from our native ants, but from your description of their aggressiveness I'll bet on them being fire ants.

If you follow the advice from the sources above, you should be able to control these painful pests so that you can enjoy your garden again. It will probably take several weeks to do so, however.

 

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