Fire Ant Control Key in Young Citrus Groves

Josh McGillCitrus, Pests, Research

Fire ant management is essential to the long-term sustainability of citrus groves. This is particularly true for young trees still trying to develop root systems, said Xavier Martini, assistant professor of entomology at the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) North Florida Research and Education Center (NFREC). Martini spoke on insect management at the recent UF/IFAS Citrus Health Forum held at the NFREC in Quincy.

Fire Ant Control
Red imported fire ants cause more damage in citrus trees than other ants. (Photo by Lyle Buss, UF/IFAS)

“Especially if you have a young citrus grove of small trees, you really want to protect your root system and remove any ant nests that may be close by your citrus trees,” Martini said.

Fire ants can reduce the biological control of psyllids, aphids and scales in the groves, along with damaging the trees’ root systems.

“It’s really the red imported fire ant that is an issue,” said Martini. “The other ants don’t make as much damage. They are not as aggressive. The big difficulty is that fire ants are everywhere. So, you really can’t get your grove free of ants. The best thing you can do is remove your fire ant nests when they’re too close to your trees … The colony will build on the root system. That’s when you really want to get rid of them.”

Baits are a management method, but ants need to be active for the baits to be effective. This is normally when temperatures are greater than 53 degrees Fahrenheit.

An alternative to baits is to apply boiling water at an extremely high pressure. The technique was noted by Josh King, associate professor at the University of Central Florida. Citrus growers can inject water into the nest at high pressure to kill the ant workers and the queen. It is a very efficient method of ridding the tree of the whole nest.

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Clint Thompson

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