Discourage nesting ants instead of spraying wood

Backyard Q&A

In The Garden

December 12, 2004|By Jon Traunfeld and Ellen Nibali | Jon Traunfeld and Ellen Nibali,Special to the Sun

Two winters ago I reached the bottom of my old woodpile and found ants in the lower logs. I sprayed them and discarded the wood, afraid to burn it indoors after spraying. I sprayed the area for ants before and after I purchased new wood last fall. I also sprayed this summer. This week we unloaded some wood and found small black ants nesting halfway up the pile. They are hibernating, but alive. Can I spray the wood with an insecticide that would be safe to burn in the house?

It is not possible to eliminate every ant around your woodpile, and that's to your benefit. Ant tunneling aerates the soil and raises deep nutrients to where plants can use them. Without them, we would be up to our eyeballs in accumulated dead plant and animal matter. Ants even consume insect pests -- termites are their archenemies. Since there is no insecticide that can be sprayed on firewood without making it useless for burning, try elevating the pile so it does not contact soil. Use your wood within a year if possible. Old wood on the soil decomposes, becoming "doughy", and when the ground freezes, it is impossible to pry up. Small black ants would not be nesting inside good firewood (carpenter ants are big), but may be found between logs or under bark. Do not store indoors.

Checklist

1. Cut down spent chrysanthemums to the ground. Prune out and compost the dead stalks and leaves of peonies, hollyhocks and other perennials.

2. Buy your Christmas tree in daylight, when it can be closely examined. The needles should be turgid. Hit the butt end on a hard surface. If a lot of green needles drop, the tree is too dry.

Jon Traunfeld, regional specialist, and Ellen Nibali, horticulture consultant, work at the University of Maryland Cooperative Extension's Home and Garden Information Center. The center offers Maryland residents free gardening information and answers to plant and pest questions. Call its hot line at 800-342-2507 (Monday through Friday, 8 a.m.-1 p.m.) or e-mail questions to www.hgic.umd.edu. (You can also download or order publications and diagnose plant problems online.)

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