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We first met Shirley Brenon, a garden writer for the Desert Sun newspaper, in Palm Springs, California.During the 360 days of sunshine in this area, gardeners outnumber just about everyone except maybe pool guys.In her article, she explains the difficulties associated with the red imported fire ant, a problem that has quickly spread across the southern United States and is now a scourge to gardeners even in parts of California.

If you suspect you might have red imported fire ants on your property or you just want to learn more about them and their control, get in touch with your local county Cooperative Extension Service Center.The USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) has Cooperative Extension contact information for each state at its website:

Unfortunately, the range of this tiny ant with the big bite continues to expand northward right along with the warming going on in this country. The only things seeming to stop them are freezing cold weather.A range map is located here:

Follow Shirley�s excellent advice for safely digging in the dirt.Anne Moore

 RED IMPORTED FIRE ANTS������������� by Shirley Brenon

(Show 1109)

Red Imported Fire Ants (RIFA) are known for their aggressive behavior and painful sting.  It is believed they arrived in Mobile, Alabama by way of ship from Brazil in the 20s, made it to Orange County in 1998 and then into the Coachella Valley. 

Humans are responsible for moving the ants from place to place in plants, shipped products or any type of transit where they can hitch a ride.  They threaten our natural environment, recreational facilities and our outdoor living style, as they now infest 375 million acres of land. In addition to attacking humans, they attack and kill pets and other wildlife. 

The ants will swarm if their nest is disturbed. They don�t spread as fast in our Valley as in other parts of the United States, as they prefer wet soil and humidity, but they are here.

If you believe your property may be infested by RIFA, then call the Coachella Valley Mosquito and Vector Control District.  760 342-8287

For more information, visit their web site:

I just learned a great lesson that I wish to pass on to my readers:  You must poke the ground with a stick before you start digging around with bare hands in your garden beds.

Just recently I was out tidying up my garden and noticed a patch of sand in a gravely area. The thought of ants crossed my mind, but I didn�t think about Fire Ants, so started to pull weeds from under a rose bush.  The next thing I knew, my hand was covered with stinging red ants.  Since my screams didn�t scare them away, I tried to shake and slap them off, but finally had to squash them between my fingers, as they were relentless.

I spent the next two days soaking my hand in a baking soda solution and taking and applying over-the-counter medications to relieve the stinging.  My sleepless nights were spent scratching, as an allergic reaction produced severe itching around the 11 stings.  Finally, unable to take it anymore, I went to the doctor and was given a round of antibiotic and burst of Prednisone. 

I have now recovered and my property is free of ants, as I called the Coachella Valley Mosquito and Vector Control District and they came out immediately.  Their inspector, Jeff Rushing, poked the ground with a stick in several places causing them to swarm out of their subterranean hiding place.  He then broadcast tiny granules of poisonous bait for them to take back to their nest.  I was advised to call if I saw any more in a week.  They will routinely return in three months to reapply the bait.

Here are some tips to help you from becoming a victim.

  • Dress properly when walking, gardening or digging outdoors.
  • Wear gloves and closed-toe shoes with socks.
  • Always check outdoors for ant mounds before letting children out to play and be very vigilant in areas you plan on working. If you suspect ants then poke a stick into the soil and if they are there, they will swarm your stick immediately.
  • Make sure children are dressed properly before playing outdoors.


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By Delilah Onofrey, Suntory Flowers
Photos courtesy of Suntory Flowers

As summer heats up, the garden party is just beginning for gorgeous, tropical mandevillas. To learn more click here for an interesting article.

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