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Household invaders, the winter version

Rain, cold can send ants indoors

This is a screenshot from one of UCIPM's short videos on managing ants. Longer ones also are viewable on YouTube.

This is a screenshot from one of UCIPM's short videos on managing ants. Longer ones also are viewable on YouTube.

Screenshot from UCIPM video "How to effectively control ants."

The first ones showed up on a shelf in the spice cabinet. They were easily dispatched. Then a few more appeared along the cupboard above the refrigerator, which is next to the coffee bar. They were easily removed, too, but I decided to relocate the just-refilled sugar bowl across the kitchen.

You know what happened next, right? The following day some intrepid ants had found the sugar bowl, and there was a thin line of their colleagues along the edge of the ceiling and down to the counter where the sugar now was. The battle was on.

With all the rain we’ve had, it’s a wonder the ants hadn’t invaded sooner. But these – very likely common Argentine ants – apparently were driven inside by the low-30s temperatures we’ve had this past week.

Fortunately, some quick work interrupted their incursion and they haven’t reappeared. (Knock on wood!) But it’s a good reminder that not every insect is dormant in winter. Pests live among us year-round, and it helps to be vigilant without resorting to overkill, i.e. pesticides.

The University of California Integrated Pest Management program offers a wealth of information on dealing with household and garden pests. UCIPM has pages and pages devoted to ants on the website, as well as several YouTube videos – quick 1-minute hits as well as longer explainers.

Part of the defense against ants indoors should be to remove whatever’s attracting them – pet food, cookie crumbs, (ahem) sugar bowl – then wipe the ants up with a soapy cloth or sponge, or use window cleaner. This destroys the trail being left for other ants. Also, try to find where they’re coming from outside, and caulk or block the entrance. Ant traps left near entrances will slow them down, though IPM experts note that it may take a week or so for traps to work. They caution against spraying for ants inside the home.

UC IPM presents a monthly Urban and Community Webinar on pest topics; past ones are recorded for later viewing. (Ants were discussed in October 2021.)

Here are the pest topics through April, all scheduled for noon to 1 p.m. Register at the Webinar link above to view them live.

Thursday, Feb. 16, “Dealing With Pantry Pests.”

Thursday, March 16, “Preventing Pest Problems at Seeding.”

Thursday, April 20, “Aphids, Scales and Mealybugs, Oh My.”

Meanwhile I’m on watch against future invaders – and replacing the sugar bowl with one featuring an airtight seal.


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Dig In: Garden Checklist

For week of March 26:

Sacramento can expect another inch of rain from this latest storm. Leave the sprinklers off at least another week. Temps will dip down into the low 30s early in the week, so avoid planting tender seedlings (such as tomatoes). Concentrate on these tasks before or after this week’s rain:

* Fertilize roses, annual flowers and berries as spring growth begins to appear.

* Knock off aphids with a strong blast of water or some bug soap as soon as they appear.

* Pull weeds now! Don’t let them get started. Take a hoe and whack them as soon as they sprout.

* Prepare summer vegetable beds. Spade in compost and other amendments.

* Prune and fertilize spring-flowering shrubs after bloom.

* Feed camellias at the end of their bloom cycle. Pick up browned and fallen flowers to help corral blossom blight.

* Feed citrus trees, which are now in bloom and setting fruit.

To prevent sunburn and borer problems on young trees, paint the exposed portion of the trunk with diluted white latex (water-based) interior paint. Dilute the paint with an equal amount of cold water before application.

* Cut back and fertilize perennial herbs to encourage new growth.

* Seed and renovate the lawn (if you still have one). Feed cool-season grasses such as bent, blue, rye and fescue with a slow-release fertilizer. Check the irrigation system and perform maintenance. Make sure sprinkler heads are turned toward the lawn, not the sidewalk.

* In the vegetable garden, transplant lettuce and kale.

* Seed chard and beets directly into the ground.

* Plant summer bulbs, including gladiolus, tuberous begonias and callas. Also plant dahlia tubers.

* Shop for perennials. Many varieties are available in local nurseries and at plant events. They can be transplanted now while the weather remains relatively cool.

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