Got fire ants and slugs? I have found ways to handle them both, with a little attitude adjustment.
There are very few true garden emergencies, with some notable exceptions. I’ve had to stop what I was doing to deal with burst water pipes, hitting a wasp nest with the mower, trapping a copperhead snake in the woodpile, and discovering an electrical short in the water pond pump. And baby birds fallen from a nest.
But those are exceptional events. When it comes to most everything else, I follow a pretty simple mantra. It is, in order of importance, “If I can’t fix it, flee it or fight it, I flow with it.”
I applied this the other day when I uncovered an alarmingly large snail I had never seen before. Long and sleek, mottled light brown and a long, slender, pointed rosy-tan shell. And it was moving pretty fast, like it was on a mission.
I set it aside where I could find it later and went in to look it up online. But I got sidetracked by a fire ant nest that had cropped up in a potted plant, which just won’t do, so I had to soak the pot to get the ants out.
When I first started with the Extension Service so many years ago, fire ants were on everyone’s minds, to the point where the county board of supervisors provided free fire ant bait to home gardeners. That, of course, didn’t work out too well, so they stopped.
But though the fiery stinging pests still cause all sorts of grief to farmers and others, in my own garden I’ve come to an uneasy truce with them.
I could put out baits, but they take time. If the mounds get disturbed too soon, the ants just pick up and start again somewhere else.
Granules scattered around mounds also work but are tricky to use effectively. And there are all sorts of home remedies that work so-so at best, for some people, some of the time.
To me, the fastest, safest, most thorough approach is to get a liquid ant insecticide mixed according to directions (no stronger), and soak the mound late in the day when the ants are all home. I pour a perimeter around the mound and then soak the mound itself, letting the water flood and carry the insecticide down deep. By morning, it’s all over for the ants, and the insecticide will have degraded and is less harmful to other creatures.
But mostly, I try to just work around most of the out-of-the-way mounds, which isn’t perfect but works as well as anything else. Really.
Anyway, back to the weird new snail. Turned out to be Mississippi’s native “wolf” snail, and its main diet is plant-eating slugs and other snails. It’s so effective it has become a major imported pest in lands where it has been introduced.
What it does is find the slime trail of another snail, and, getting up to speed, tracks down and eats the slower prey. It’s voracious. And fast. Which I like because regular slugs and snails can be pretty rough on my flowers and vegetables, and the beer-in-a-bottle thing is too much fuss. And the baits are no fun either.
So I went back to where I had put the wolf snail, found it under a piece of bark, and relocated it to near my back deck where I’ve had trouble with other snails.
It’s a bug-eat-bug world in my yard, and I just found the top predator. Now if I could find one for the ants, too …
• Felder Rushing is a Mississippi author, columnist, and host of the “Gestalt Gardener” on MPB Think Radio. Email gardening questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.