Persistent pests: How to get rid of ants

Q Please help us get rid of those black ants that are about a half-inch long and don't respond to Raid or boric acid [treatments]. The garden store doesn't have the answer. They have been around during the winter in small numbers, but now that spring is here, they are becoming numerous.

- M.J., Midland, Mich.

A "These sound like carpenter ants," says Carolyn Ormsbee of Gardener's Supply Co. in Burlington, Vt.

"They can do a lot of damage to homes - window frames or steps, anywhere that water has infiltrated."

A representative of Gardens Alive, an organic gardening-products company in Lawrenceburg, Ind., confirms that "you'll see them a little bit in the winter and then suddenly they're everywhere."

Their garden expert says that boric acid is ineffective against carpenter ants because they aren't attracted to it.

She recommends diatomaceous earth (DE), which is available at most gardening centers and pool-supply stores. DE is a natural, odorless product that is safe for use both indoors and out. It is the fossilized remains of tiny, one-cell aquatic plants called diatoms.

If applied to surfaces that soft-bodied crawling insects come into contact with, it desiccates the insects, and should end the problem.

Ms. Ormsbee concurs and recommends trying DE in cracks and places where the ants are seen. However, DE won't be effective if the queen of the ant colony is hiding in an unreachable damp corner, according to the gardening expert. "Call a professional pest-control unit if these products fail to eradicate the pests," she says.

Readers: Pose your questions, and we'll seek out experts on home repairs, gardens, food, and family legal issues. Send queries to the Homefront Editor, The Christian Science Monitor, One Norway Street, Boston, MA 02115 or e-mail

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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