Using borax to kill ants

daehnolem(6)May 18, 2013

I have two garden beds that are completely infested by ants. They don't have a mound; they're using the soil in my beds as their home. Any time I disturb any part of the soil, there's a swarm of ants. I'm trying to figure out how to get rid of them. A common way is to use a borax and jam or peanut butter mixture as bait. I've had success with this in my house. However, since the ants are actually living in my beds, I worry that the borax they take back to the nest will be detrimental to my soil. I have no way of knowing how much will be carried back to the nest. (So, when I call the dirt in my beds "soil", it really isn't. When I filled my beds, I used peat moss, vermiculite, and compost.)
Does anyone know if ants taking borax back their nest will disrupt the fertility of the soil? Also, does anyone have any other suggestions for killing these buggers?

Thanks in advance!

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Kimmsr(4a/5b-MI)

While Borax does contain Boric Acid, the primary ingrediant in ant bait poisons, it is not a good choice if one is going to make a bait for ants. An effective recipe for a bait is to mix 1 teaspoon of Boric Acid to 8 teaspoons of sugar, disolved in hot water to aid in disolving those materials.
If you were to be successful in clearing those ants from your garden in a short time others would move in to repace them, to fill that vacancy. Ants are a large part of Ma Natures recycling machine and belong in the great outdoors, so trying to kiil them is largely a waste of time and energy.

    Bookmark   May 18, 2013 at 7:18AM
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luckygal(3b)

"Ants are a large part of Ma Natures recycling machine and belong in the great outdoors, so trying to kiil them is largely a waste of time and energy."

While I agree with the first part of this statement I disagree that eradicating them is a waste of time and energy. I will not allow anthills within 50'-100' of my house. I will not garden with those creatures crawling up my legs and even biting me. We have red ants which bite and carpenter ants which would eat my wood house if I let them. Ants also 'farm' aphids and I don't need that happening in my garden. Since I have a large acreage they are free to live outside my garden area.

I use a 2-pronged approach and first use diatomaceous earth on any hills I see in 'my' area. I did that a couple of weeks ago and those nests are now uninhabited. There are still ants around so I will use an 'organic' mix I buy at the garden center which has borax and sugar and is a syrupy consistency. I put that in oyster shells and the ants are so anxious to eat it they literally drowned in it. I think some do take it back to their nests also. I keep refilling the shells until there are no more ants eating it.

I garden organically and since diatomaceous earth will adversely affect earthworms in my garden I only use it on the anthills that are further out near my driveway and in the rougher areas of my yard. I doubt the ants carry enough borax back to cause a real problem.

    Bookmark   May 18, 2013 at 9:10AM
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darth_weeder(z7 NY)

I understand ants can cause damage to the home but what harm can they do in the garden?
I've had a vegetable garden for 20 years and I don't think I ever had any adverse affects from them.
They have eaten fallen fruits and veggies but never anything on the vine so to speak.
Now birds are a different story...
They clipped the leaves off of 8 of my just transplanted tomatoes this year.

    Bookmark   May 18, 2013 at 2:39PM
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daehnolem(6)

Thank you both for your responses!

Normally, I wouldn't bother with the ants. They're just little black ants. I don't do anything to the slew of little ant hills that crop up in my driveway. They don't hurt anyone if unprovoked, and my kids like to look at them. But the ants in my garden beds are so numerous, I can't even reach my hands into the soil without a ton of them getting into my gloves and biting me. I have a four year old and two two year olds who will be gardening with me this year, and I definitely can't have the ants in the garden biting all of us.
I think I'll try the borax sugar syrup. I made some last year to keep the ants from coming into the house, and it worked pretty well. I just wonder if it'll work with this many ants. If too much boron gets into the soil, and nothing grows anymore, I guess I'll just have to dig out the beds and start over.

    Bookmark   May 18, 2013 at 3:26PM
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TXEB(9a)

Yeah, that's a lot of ants. My guess is they are sugar ants, but I don't know. The sugar + boric acid (get it at your local pharmacy, commonly used for eyewashes) will work on them. Where I live the ant problem is imported fire ants, and they won't touch the stuff.

    Bookmark   May 18, 2013 at 6:32PM
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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

Another bait for sweet ants is a mix of sugar, molasses, and yeast. The theory is that the ants take sugar back to their underground farms where they eat the bacteria that forms with the sugar and whatever else they farm. But when they get yeast in with it the yeast acts like a biological weapon against their bacteria food. Likely it ferments.

For protein eating ants (fire ants are on this list) there is a product called Greenlight Fire Ant Control with Conserve. Conserve is the trade name for a biological weapon also known as spinosad. Overuse of spinosad is responsible for the loss of many bees in California, so please use this stuff responsibly. It causes paralysis in the insects that consume it. I start with only a two-finger pinch per mound and go up from there if the mound does not become inactive within 2 days.

    Bookmark   May 19, 2013 at 2:00AM
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TXEB(9a)

Spinosad is a great product for use in the garden (approved for use with USDA organic certification) on the right targets. It works well on fire ants, and there are a number of commercial fire ant baits with spinosad.

dchall brings up a good point - the right bait really depends on the type of ant. A simple test to find what you need is to put out a bait station on masking tape and then see if the ants hit it. After finding out what they feed on, then an appropriate poison bait can be selected. The two basic classes are grease/protein (use peanut butter) or sweet/sugar (use jelly). Both can be mixed with boric acid.

For fire ants, use a commercial spinosad product (there are a number of them), and sprinkle around - not on - the mounds. You can also use a liquid spinosad as a soil drench from immediate treatment.

Here's a link from University of Nebraska about ants and baits. It doesn't deal with fire ants, but if they are prevalent in your area you probably already know about the critters.

Here is a link that might be useful: Ant Baits: A Least Toxic Control

    Bookmark   May 19, 2013 at 6:56AM
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Kimmsr(4a/5b-MI)

Dave, that is a myth on a par with the idea of feeding ants grits which cause ants to explode from the grits absorbing so much water that they fluff up. I cannot think of an entymologist that in the last 50 years would support that theory.

    Bookmark   May 19, 2013 at 7:01AM
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TXEB(9a)

kimm - actually it is recommended by Mississippi State U, Dep't of Entomology and Plant Pathology (link below), and similarly by McGill University's Natural Resource Sciences group ...
http://unis.mcgill.ca/en/uw/insects/ants.html

Here is a link that might be useful: Baiting for insects

    Bookmark   May 19, 2013 at 8:16AM
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elisa_z5

I've used the boric acid and sugar syrup -- though with about equal parts boric acid and sugar-- with great success in the house. We drip the solution onto pieces of cardboard, and coax the first ants to taste it, and then the job gets done in a few hours (they just go crazy on it, and everyone brings it back to the nest.)

Since borax is an acceptable garden ammendment if your soil is low in boron, then the boric acid doesn't seem like it could be a problem at all. Maybe you'll get great beets :)

Good luck!

    Bookmark   May 19, 2013 at 9:19AM
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daehnolem(6)

Thanks all. I picked up some boric acid last night. I'm going to mix it with Karo, and put bait stations around my garden beds. If they don't go for the syrup, I'll put out some peanut butter bait.

Thankfully, I don't have fire ants where I live. They are abundant where I grew up in Georgia, though. I don't miss them, just like I don't miss the palmetto bugs either.

elisa_Z5- the worry with adding boron to the soil is that it takes a fairly small amount to increase the level to being toxic. It isn't a good idea to amend with boron unless you have an analysis of micronutrients in the soil, and you find your soil is lacking. Otherwise, there's a chance you could render your soil sterile.

    Bookmark   May 19, 2013 at 7:06PM
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botann(z8 SEof Seattle)

First thing I would do is get rid of the railroad ties and any other wood used to 'border' your beds. That's where the ants are living. Besides, RR ties are toxic. I wouldn't eat anything grown in close proximity to them.
Mike

    Bookmark   May 19, 2013 at 9:27PM
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TXEB(9a)

I really don't think that wood - even if they were creosote treated RR ties - presents any problem. They actually look more like aged landscape timbers to me.

RR ties are treated with creosote, which is a tar from high temp distillation of coal. It's used as commercial wood preservative. It's heavy carbon nasty stuff that is restricted because of its contact potential. If it leaches and gets into the soil, it won't migrate very far. Once in the soil, it is subject to degradation just like other organic materials. I'm pretty sure plants won't absorb it. If they were new or young RR ties, yeah I'd avoid it. They look pretty weathered to me, ants seem to have no problem with it, so I would guess there isn't a whole lot left in the wood to migrate, and what is there is far removed from the surface.

This post was edited by TXEB on Mon, May 20, 13 at 6:30

    Bookmark   May 20, 2013 at 6:27AM
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Kimmsr(4a/5b-MI)

TXEB, that article talks about attracting ants to bait stations so they can be then killed in an alcohol solution, not that the yeast will kill the ants.
Most every study I have seen about creosote is the it does not migrate far into the soil and plants do not uptake creosote. The major hazard would be a person making contact with the creosote which cause burns on the skin. The potential for ingestion is really quite slim unless one were to use their tongue to wash their hands.

    Bookmark   May 20, 2013 at 6:53AM
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TXEB(9a)

kimmsr - from the McGill Natural Resource Sciences article referenced above (URL in the message body):

You can also make a killer concoction out of 1 part molasses; 1 part sugar; 1 part baker's yeast. Mix these together, the ants will love it. They will bring it inside the ant-hill and the yeast will expand in their gut, killing part of the colony.

    Bookmark   May 20, 2013 at 7:36AM
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toxcrusadr

Exploding ants. Cool! Remember that 50s monster movie about the giant atomic mutant ants? "THEM!" it was called. Now if they had just tried that one...but imagine the explosions... :-o

Creosote is a direct contact carcinogen, so you don't want it on your skin. But old weathered ties aren't oozing creosote anymore. I personally don't use them in the garden though.

    Bookmark   May 20, 2013 at 3:17PM
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botann(z8 SEof Seattle)

When I was a kid on the farm I used to put a coil of barbed wire in a stirred up ant nest and then hang the end of the coil on an electric fence. The current would go on and off and so would the blue sparks as the ants would short out. By morning, hardly an ant was left. I went up and down the fence line doing that. My Dad was so happy to get rid of the ants that he started giving me an allowance. lol
Mike

    Bookmark   May 20, 2013 at 3:33PM
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TXEB(9a)

tox - in spite of my deep respect on the whole for McGill University, I am quite skeptical about exploding ants (although they didn't indicate that they "explode"). The point was there are very credible sources who advise the use of yeast in baiting insecticides for ants.

    Bookmark   May 20, 2013 at 9:18PM
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daehnolem(6)

Thank you for your concern about railroad ties. Thankfully, what you see in the picture are not railroad ties. It's some kind of wooden trim. There are three of them stacked and nailed for each side of the bed. Believe me, I would LOVE to tear them out and replace them, but I have neither the time nor the funds. These beds were here when we moved here four years ago, and they were pretty old then, too. I'm hoping to replace them next year. In the mean time, I still need to get rid of the ants if I'm going to grow anything this year..
I think I may have added too much boric acid to the karo syrup. The ants weren't crazy about it. I will probably have to redo it. I'll put a couple of peanut butter bait stations out too, while I'm at it.

    Bookmark   May 21, 2013 at 2:00AM
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TXEB(9a)

Did some looking around - apparently ants will avoid high levels of boric acid. About 0.5 - 1% BA by weight appears about optimal. If using Karo syrup, that would be about 1/4-1/2 tsp BA in a cup of Karo syrup - not much at all.

Here's a link for a "recipe" from Hawaii.

Here is a link that might be useful: Sugar Boric Acid Bait for Ants

This post was edited by TXEB on Tue, May 21, 13 at 3:44

    Bookmark   May 21, 2013 at 3:23AM
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toxcrusadr

You can buy the stuff if you can't get them to eat homemade. It's sold under the name Terro. Comes in a little bottle with a squirt top, along with little cardboard squares to put it on.

They come into my second-floor kitchen every spring, and I put the cards right in their traffic lane, starting at the far end. Once they find it I put one closer to their entry point and walk them back. Pretty soon they are just in one spot by the entry point, gorging on it. Within a couple days they disappear.

    Bookmark   May 21, 2013 at 12:35PM
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daehnolem(6)

TXEB- Thanks so much for your help. I really appreciate you finding that information for me. I'll make a new batch today- I was definitely using too much boric acid.

toxcrusadr- I'll definitely try that if the ants aren't interested in my homemade stuff after I redo it. Thanks!

    Bookmark   May 21, 2013 at 12:46PM
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daehnolem(6)

Here's an update on my situation. I tried a boric acid/ sugar syrup and boric acid/ peanut butter bait. I tried a borax/ sugar syrup bait, too. I tried some sort of granules an exterminator friend gave me, but I put it in bait stations because I wasn't comfortable spreading it around on the ground. I ripped out the old wooden beds and built new beds out of cedar fence pickets. The ants are still as numerous as before. I can stick my spade in the middle of the garden bed, and ants come swarming out. I'm so frustrated!

I managed to prepare and plant one of my garden beds, but there's no way I'm going to be able to plant in the other one with the ants still present. Today I spread out some spinosad pellets, but I don't feel very optimistic. There are just so many ants. I'm at a loss for what I should do. I'm going to talk to my exterminator friend again, but I wanted to see if anyone here had any more suggestions.

At this point, I think I'm just going to revise my garden plan and put the rest of my plants in the bed I've planted already and hope that I can get rid of the ants in the other one before the fall planting season.

    Bookmark   June 4, 2013 at 10:58PM
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TXEB(9a)

With that kind of population density you'll probably need to drench the beds with a suitable insecticide, then maintain control around the perimeter. For produce gardening I've found that PyGanic EC 1.4II works vey well as a soil drench against fire ants. It's a natural pyrethrum botanical extract, very potent for quick knockdown, fast environmental breakdown. It is OMRI approved for organic agriculture, and is even listed for use in truck farming applications (can be sprayed on harvested produce immediately prior to shipping). It's good stuff, but not cheap (a quart of concentrate is ~ $62). I buy the concentrate from DoMyOwnPestControl, mix it at a rate of 1.5 oz per gallon of water, and apply it as a drench with a watering can. The effect is immediate. Link to product info below - if you want to buy Google PyGanic and use the shopping feature.

A couple of questions - about where do you live, and any idea what kind of ants you have?

Here is a link that might be useful: PyGanic® Crop Protection EC 1.4 II

    Bookmark   June 5, 2013 at 4:30AM
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daehnolem(6)

Thank you! I'm definitely going to order some of that! I live in southwestern Idaho. I'm not totally sure what kind of ants these are. They're some sort of small black ant. I think they call them pavement ants around here. They obviously have some sort of super colony happening in my garden, though. Thank you so much for the tip on the PyGanic. I'm optimistic that it could be the solution to my problem. It seems that poisoned baits are just not enough for a population this size.

    Bookmark   June 5, 2013 at 5:11AM
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kimpa(z6b PA)

How about soaking the area with water. That is how I chase them out of pots. I don't think they will like to live in a wet area.

    Bookmark   June 5, 2013 at 6:11AM
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TXEB(9a)

You can also use a liquid spinosad. A link to an OMRI listed sipnosad concentrate below - it's used used at the rate of 2 oz/gal for fire ant mounds.

edit - just did a quick calculation, and the cost of use for either PyGanic or the Southern Ag Conserve product is about the same.

Here is a link that might be useful: Southern Ag Conserve Naturalyte Insect Control

This post was edited by TXEB on Wed, Jun 5, 13 at 6:37

    Bookmark   June 5, 2013 at 6:28AM
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daehnolem(6)

kimpa- I'd thought of dousing the worst bed with water, by I worry that they'll all just migrate over to the bed that's already planted. I can't soak that bed because it'll wash my seeds away.

TXEB- Are the pyrethrin and spinosad just as effective as the other?

    Bookmark   June 5, 2013 at 12:00PM
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TXEB(9a)

I can't really say. Spinosad is commonly used in fire ant control, and the PyGanic is registered for control of ants (but not fire or Pharoh ants) in orchard and vineyard floors. The Sothern Ag liquid spinosad is registered for use as a soil drench of fire ant mounds (step two of the TAMU "two step" method). My own experience with PyGanic is it is immediately effective when applied as a soil drench.

When the Southern Ag Conserve product is used as a soil drench for fire ants, the rate is 2 oz per gal, and one-two gallons per mound. When you do that you start by drenching around the mound first 10-12 inches away from the center, then over the top. The idea is to cut of an escape route for the queen(s).

I think a simple water soak will only cause them to move to the next suitable area - it offers no measure of control.

    Bookmark   June 5, 2013 at 12:37PM
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TXEB(9a)

I can't really say. Spinosad is commonly used in fire ant control, and the PyGanic is registered for control of ants (but not fire or Pharoh ants) in orchard and vineyard floors. The Sothern Ag liquid spinosad is registered for use as a soil drench of fire ant mounds (step two of the TAMU "two step" method). My own experience with PyGanic is it is immediately effective when applied as a soil drench.

When the Southern Ag Conserve product is used as a soil drench for fire ants, the rate is 2 oz per gal, and one-two gallons per mound. When you do that you start by drenching around the mound first 10-12 inches away from the center, then over the top. The idea is to cut of an escape route for the queen(s).

I think a simple water soak will only cause them to move to the next suitable area - it offers no measure of control.

    Bookmark   June 5, 2013 at 12:38PM
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daehnolem(6)

I think I'll order some of the PyGanic, then. Do you think doing a soil drench after my seedlings have been established will cause damage in my already planted bed?
You know, I really appreciate all the help you've given me. Thank you so much.

    Bookmark   June 5, 2013 at 4:39PM
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TXEB(9a)

No, so long as you don't flood out anything it should be fine.

    Bookmark   June 5, 2013 at 4:50PM
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bnoles(7)

Just a couple of thoughts.......

How about getting a 55 gallon metal drum and placing it in the garden on some cement blocks. Fill it with water and then build a fire under it. After the water begins to boil, carefully dump it into the garden. What the fire don't kill, the hot water should.

Just some food for thought.

    Bookmark   June 6, 2013 at 8:49AM
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robert_1943

I have the ants paradise and it is my home, my garden, and even while sitting on the couch the occasional ant crawling over me, so it has made me mad and I am on the trail to kill as many of these pests that invade my home. The garden is okay, let them have a refuge as long as it is not my home. Finally have a recipe that kills these little ones and leaves them with a smile on their faces , never to return to haunt and worry me any more ( only kidding just poetic justice) have a look at this link and give it a try, I did and it works.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IKYbabTzGvo

Here is a link that might be useful: Using Borax to kill ants

    Bookmark   January 26, 2014 at 10:24PM
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Treemama

I'm so glad I found this forum because I have the exact same problem with ants. I've read through all the posts and am wondering if daehnolem's problem was solved. Did you end up using the PyGanic, and if so, what was the result?

I have 3 raised beds and one of them is super infested with black ants. The other 2 seem fine but I have seen a few ants walking around the perimeter of the beds. Last year when I was planting seeds and starts in the infested bed, I thought it would be ok as I read ants don't do much harm to plants, unless of course they start farming aphids. Which they did :( I had to pull all the plants in that bed, and the zucchini in another bed because the aphids for out of control. So this year I'm trying to be more proactive in trying to get rid of the ants and also control any aphids that I see as soon as I see them. Those buggers get out of control fast!

I'm hoping to hear this PyGanic stuff did the trick of getting rid of the ants.

    Bookmark   April 16, 2014 at 7:40PM
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Kimmsr(4a/5b-MI)

Pulling plants because they have Aphids is totally unnecessary.

Here is a link that might be useful: Aphid control

    Bookmark   April 17, 2014 at 6:42AM
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daehnolem(6)

Treemama,
I used the PyGanic and it really did work wonderfully. It took out everything. However, it was really expensive, and of course, it didn't last. Those little suckers always come back. Then I tried some 5% Sevin dust. I was careful not to use it when anything was blooming to keep it from harming honeybees. It worked really well, too, and it was cheaper. But there's also a lot of controversy about its safety, so that concerns me a bit. I'm going to try some diatomaceous earth this year and see if that works as well as some claim it does. The thing about that, though, is you have to reapply once it gets wet. Gardens get wet a lot. If you can find a good price on PyGanic or if you just don't mind forking out the money for it, I would recommend it over the others. It's definitely the most convenient.

    Bookmark   April 17, 2014 at 12:08PM
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ernie85017

If you want an all natural non toxic method try Ceylon Cinnamon Leaf Oil. Mix 1% Ceylon Cinnamon Oil (a real one with high Eugenol content and not flavored oils) with 99% water and spray. They will be gone within minutes inside the house. Safe to spray on food and eat it. No more than 1% because it is very powerful and hot. For outdoor use a pump sprayer from Home Depot which is very easy to use. If you can find the ant nest, then increase the Ceylon Cinnamon Oil ratio (say 2-3%). Obviously if you find the Queen quickly spray 100% Cinnamon Oil and it will die instantly.
"If ever a time should come, when vain and aspiring men shall possess highest seats in government, our country will stand in need of its experienced patriots to prevent its ruin." ~Samuel Adams

    Bookmark   April 21, 2014 at 12:43AM
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coastalcamper(CA--Sunset 14)

I've found that the Terro products with their borax compound (Orthoborax) work well. Be careful, however, not all of the Terro ant killers are borax based. Terro also makes one in similar packaging that has lambda-cyhalothrin as the active ingredient. Lambda-cyhalothrin is a pyrethroid and is highly toxic to bees. Read the labels before you buy anything.

P.S. I'm old enough to remember Ronald Reagan doing commercials for Twenty Mule Team Borax on the TV show, "Death Valley Days." Now, every time I think about killing ants with borax, I think about sending ants to Death Valley. My local supermarket still carries that stuff in the laundry aisle.

    Bookmark   August 27, 2014 at 7:47PM
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