One of the constants in the pest control business is the endless stream of supposedly sure-fire cures for this or that pest problem. Placing crushed mint leaves around the house to keep ants out of the home is one that will make your house smell nice, but won't do a lot to discourage ants. Another favorite old-time cure is putting hedge apples (fruits of the osage orange, Maclura pomifera) around the home to discourage cockroaches. Although some recent research suggests that a component in hedge apples may have insect repelling properties (most plants produce secondary plant compound that serve as insecticides or fungicides), it is highly unlikely that any aromatic plant oil could be dispersed throughout a home in high enough concentration to kill or repel a pest like a cockroach or household ant.
A recent email making its way around cyberspace concerns use of club soda to control fire ants. It runs something like this:
"An environmentally friendly cure for fire ants has been announced by Walter Reeves on his Georgia Gardener radio program. Testimonials that it REALLY WORKS are coming in.
"Simply pour two cups of CLUB SODA (carbonated water) directly in the center of a fire ant mound. The carbon dioxide in the water is heavier than air and displaces the oxygen which suffocates the queen and the other ants. The whole colony will be dead within about two days.
"Besides eliminating the ants, club soda leaves no poisonous residue, does not contaminate the ground water, and does not indiscriminately kill other insects. It is not harmful to your pets, soaks into the ground. Each mound must be treated individually and a one liter bottle of club soda will kill 2 to 3 mounds."
First of all, the Internet watchdog site Snopes.com reports contacting the horticulture specialist Walter Reeves, who denies ever recommending club soda for fire ant control. He did ask listeners to let him know whether they had any success with the treatment, and so far the consensus appears to be negative. To date there is no published research that supports the effectiveness of club soda, nor does the concept seem likely to work given the size of the average fire ant colony gallery and the amount of CO2 that would have to be injected into the ground to saturate a nest with this admittedly toxic gas.
The fire ant section of the e-Xtension website is an excellent resource for all things fire ant. This site also takes the position that this method has not been demonstrated to be effective.
On top of this, one of our own Texas Extension entomologists, Wizzie Brown (whose blog is listed here), tested club soda in a replicated study this summer and got no control. "It's impressive though, when you pour it onto a mound," she told me this morning. Lots of fizzing! Unfortunately the fire ants were not overly impressed.
Being from Austin, TX (whose citizens have proudly adopted the slogan "Keep Austin Weird"), Wizzie is uniquely qualified to test these more unusual remedies. In recent studies she also tested wet and dry molasses (no control) and aspartame (no control) for fire ant control. She takes pride in the fact that her research is also cited in the current Snopes.com article debunking aspartame as an ant poison.
It's important to realize that commercial insecticides are usually the best way to go after serious pests like fire ants or German cockroaches or biting mosquitoes. Fire ant baits remain the most effective, inexpensive and low risk way to control fire ants in backyard- to city park-sized infested areas. Individual mound treatments, no matter how effective, will never provide as good area-wide control of fire ants as an effective broadcast treatment.
There may be some effective home remedies out there, but commercial insecticides are almost always more effective, and often cheaper to use than that "sure-fire", REALLY WORKS, 100% SAFE remedy you hear about on a mommy blog or over the radio waves. Add to that your expertise as a pest management professional, and you should never get too concerned about losing your job to a hedge apple.