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Home and garden checklist

Published: Saturday, Feb. 2, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 9CALIFORNIA LIFE
Last Modified: Saturday, Feb. 2, 2013 - 8:30 am


Ants! These persistent critters drive people crazy. All they want is food and shelter – just like us. But when they come marching single file across the kitchen counter, these minute invaders are never welcome.

Ants come indoors in search of food, water and shelter during cold or wet weather, say the pest control experts at Terminix.

While they usually are only a nuisance, carpenter ants can cause structural damage. Carpenter ants, which are usually black and a quarter- to a half-inch long, don't actually eat wood; they just like to chew it up to create tunnels and nests, usually in moist or rotting wood. Their favorite food is other insects, but they also like meat and sweets.

In fact, most ants that come indoors like that combination of sugar and grease, so keeping counters, stovetop, floors and other surfaces clean goes a long way in making kitchens less inviting to bugs.

Northern California's most common household ant is the little Argentine ant, a dull-brown ant about one-eighth-inch long that prefers sweets. Also common are the pharaoh ant (an African invader, it likes water – loves bathrooms – and can't stand cold), the odorous house ant (it really does stink when crushed) and the thief ant (so tiny, it can squeeze into containers where other ants can't; especially likes protein and fats such as nuts, peanut butter, meat and cheese).

Terminix offers these tips for making your home as pest-free as possible:

• Keep countertops clean and dry. Ants need only a limited water supply to survive, so the smallest patch of water could be an oasis for these pests.

• Keep lids on all trash containers. Fewer smells attract fewer visitors.

• Wipe up all spills immediately with soapy water. Cleaning spills with just a wet cloth could leave the scent of food to attract pests.

• Line trash bins with plastic garbage bags, so that odors from previous trash do not linger in the bin, attracting pests.

• Keep all food in sealed containers made to store food, such as Tupperware. Cardboard and paper containers are not sufficient to keep pests out.

Other ant-control experts offer this advice:

• Clean all kitchen surfaces – not just counters, but floors and shelves, too. A mild solution of white vinegar and water can disrupt any scent trails. Or try using a fresh fabric softener sheet; the softener becomes an ant roadblock.

• Vacuum ant-prone rooms daily if possible and anywhere you've seen ants recently. Vacuuming wipes out ants' scent trails.

• Rinse recyclable containers before storage or putting in bins. Ants love soda cans and juice boxes.

• Caulk any cracks or holes that ants use to enter your home.

• Ants won't cross soapy water. If ants tend to get into your dog's dinner, try this trick:

You need three bowls or dog dishes. Start with a large bowl. Then, take a smaller bowl and turn it upside-down in the center of the large bowl. Fill the "moat" with water and add a drop of dishwashing liquid to decrease the surface tension. Then, place the third bowl – the actual food dish – on top of the upside-down bowl. The ants will have to swim to get to the food. You also can use the "moat" technique to protect potted plants from ant invasions.


Happy February! Late winter is a time of transition. Work on finishing some chores such as pruning while preparing for spring. Make the most of sunny days – when we get them.

• To avoid compaction after major storms, let the soil dry out some before working in the garden. Squishing in the mud can squeeze out soil's air pockets, which are needed by plants' roots.

• Remove old flowers from camellias and azaleas to avoid petal blight.

• Finish pruning roses. Try to get them done by the end of February. Once the weather warms, new growth will sprout fast.

• If needed, apply a final dormant spray to deciduous fruit trees before the flower buds swell.

• Remove aphids from blooming bulbs with a strong blast of water or insecticidal soap.

• Transplant or direct-seed snapdragon, candytuft, lily of the valley, larkspur, Shasta and painted daisy, and stocks.

• In the vegetable garden, plant Jerusalem artichokes, strawberries and rhubarb. Transplant seedlings of lettuce, cabbage, broccoli and kale. Direct-seed radishes, beets, peas and chard.

• Start peppers, tomatoes and eggplant from seed indoors.

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