The number one wood destroying pest in the United States is not the dreaded termite but the often overlooked carpenter ant. They can cause severe damage to the interior structure of a home in as little as a year. So how do I get rid of carpenter ants?
There are several natural ant deterrents including combinations of spices and the use of hot pepper sprays. But this is only the tip of the iceberg on how to control these wood destroying pests — it is important to remove possible habitats on your property including stumps and large unkempt patches of vegetation. There is usually a parent colony and several satellite colonies. Finding the parent colony and disposing of it through natural ant killers will virtually eliminate activity in all of the satellite colonies — they will regroup and most likely move on to more hospitable grounds.
With a little understanding of insect habits and effort it is possible to get rid of carpenter ants without using any toxic chemicals. Learn how to manage your insect troubles in and around the house.
When and Where to Look For Carpenter Ants
Carpenter ants generally begin looking for new feeding grounds in the spring. They like to create a parent colony in dense vegetation or rotted tree stumps and fallen trees. Carpenter ants don’t actually eat wood, when outdoors they prey on smaller insects while they like meats and sugars when in your house. The carpenter ant parent colony is always found in a moist piece of wood – this could be outside in a fallen tree that stays relatively wet or inside your home behind the walls near a bathroom or other area that remains humid. The reason for this is that carpenter ants need the moisture to keep their eggs from drying out.
Other than the main parent colony a number of satellite colonies could be situated in other wooden structures near the parent colony. These satellite sites don’t need to be moist because they are primarily used for deploying food search expeditions. There are no eggs in the satellite colonies, only workers and mature larvae. Look for these colonies near foundation plantings, especially woody bushes and thinly mulched flower beds. Carpenter ant colonies are routinely found in old railroad ties used in landscaping.
How to Eliminate Carpenter Ants in Your House — Naturally
The very first method to try when getting rid of carpenter ants is to confuse them to the point that they don’t know where your house is. Ants use scent to mark trails so that they and other ants can find their way back to specific places. Along these trails you will see tell-tale signs – salt sized grains of tan debris. Once you have located a trail cover it with borax. Borax is available in the detergent aisle of most grocery stores. Mix a solution of ¼ cup borax to 1 gallon of warm water. Spray this on the ant trail. The borax will eliminate the scent trail.
Next you’ll want to make a deterrent powder from some common household spices. Mix 1 tbsp crushed red pepper, 2 tsp cloves, 2 tsp cinnamon, 1 tbsp garlic powder and 5 bay leaves together in a bowl. Crush them thoroughly and spread a thin line of this mix on any possible ant entry points. This potent mixture will repel even the most stubborn ant. This natural mix can also be wrapped in a cheesecloth and steeped in water for a few days to create a potent spray for use on sidewalks, driveways and other outdoor places that pets and children may frequent (something that you wouldn’t necessarily be able to do with toxic ant killers).
How to Eliminate Carpenter Ants from Your Yard — Naturally
The best way I know of for how to get rid of carpenter ants is to kill off the parent colony. Locating the parent colony outside isn’t particularly difficult, it just requires following the ants back to their home. The best time to do this is between sundown and midnight during the late spring and early summer. Carpenter ants are extremely active at this time. Use a flashlight covered with a red filter (any translucent red plastic will do) as carpenter ants can’t see red light so they will not be scared and scurry off. Once you’ve located the colony there are several ways to dispose of it.
Spread cornmeal around the area of the nest. Ants that eat the cornmeal will die when they drink water as the cornmeal will expand in their stomachs and burst. Cream of wheat and grits also work this way.
Boil several gallons of water and pour them directly on the nest. This is one of the methods that professional pest removal companies use (except they use a steam system).
Make a toxic bait. One part Borax mixed with three parts granulated sugar then moistened will create a bait that the ants will slurp up greedily. Any members that make it back to the colony before dying will likely have some of the mix stuck on their legs. Ants in the colony will eat this and eventually die. This method is toxic to dogs, cats, and children as well — do not use it unless you can be sure that no one will accidentally get into it.
Physically removing the parent colony is the last natural way to get rid of carpenter ants. If they are located in a fallen tree you could simply have the tree removed. A stump presents a bit more of a challenge. Removing a stump is very hard work and usually requires the help of a winch (or a truck with a chain attached to it). In the case that you do have a nest that can be removed dig out the colony with a shovel and place them in a bucket. The bucket should have the upper 1/3 covered in baby powder or a similar slippery powder. This will prevent the ants from escaping. You can then dispose of them as you see fit.
When I am asked, how do I get rid of carpenter ants, my answer often comes in rhyme. Let me count the ways — boil them, recoil them, spray them with some sauce; bait them because you hate them, or give a cornmeal toss.
If you happen to have any other natural ways to get rid of carpenter ants or other household pets please share them with us in the comment section below. I'm always looking for new ways to keep my place pest free without causing undue stress to the environment.
University of Minnesota: Carpenter Ants http://www.extension.umn.edu/distribution/housingandclothing/DK1015.html (Accessed Feb 2011)
Natural Ant Killer: http://naturalantkiller.blogspot.com/ (Accessed Feb 2011)
Image Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Duk