Questions from a Texas Newbie [Absolutely posivitely non-political]

I have recently moved to Texas, and, well, things are different here. For example, I’ve been to the doctor two or three times now for simple insect bites, and I have no idea how to maintain a HVAC system. So, I’d like to ask my fellow residents of Texas for practical, experience-based advice on a few issues.

Orange Oil and Dawn are listed by the University of Texas as an effective fire ant control measure.
Have you tried it?
Does it work? Does it work on Crazy Ants? How about chiggers?
Does it attract other bugs, like wasps, especially those Cicada killers that are the size of a small drone? (Well, at least a dragonfly, which is way too big for a wasp)

Do you have a good reference for xeriscaping? Will a stone covering encourage or discourage ants?

I have a million questions.

It might be helpful to know which part of Texas you’ve moved to (It’s a big place, don’tcha know).

I’ve never tried Dawn dish soap and orange oil, but every other chemical/natural solution I’ve ever tried simply makes the ants move. If you do happen to kill off a colony, in my experience another simply moves in to take their place.

I’m not sure what you mean by “Crazy Ants” perhaps they weren’t common in the part of Texas I lived in.

As for chiggers, nothing works…the only solution is to nuke them from orbit :slight_smile: Actually, over the ankle boots, long socks, and long pants will keep the chiggers off of you. If you’re wearing less than that, you just have to stay out of the areas chiggers live.

Again, I’ve never tried the mixture, so I’m not sure if it attracts other bugs.

I’ve seen LOTS of xeriscaping, but not for insect control. I don’t have any sources, but I’ve always seen it as a way to have a presentable yard in arid conditions.

Welcome to Texas and good luck with the bugs!

Crazy ants: I believe they were first noticed around Houston, are worse than fire ants, and are spreading throughout Texas.

I am on 35 between Austin and San Antonio - isn’t everyone? Traffic sure seems like it. I guess it’s the border of Hill Country and prairie.

The xeriscaping is to respect land and water usage. I just don’t want to do anything that will encourage the ants. Or cicada wasps. Or scorpions. Or black widows. Rattle snakes be cool, except they’ve stopped rattling around here, because of the coyotes, I’ve been told.

As for chiggers, I am beyond embarrassment. I tuck my pants into my socks.

Poison the ants, burn the spiders and their eggs and step on the scorpions. Kill the rattlers when then come around, don’t forget to kill the copperheads and water macasins. Do all this in six to eight inch slip-on boots so the chiggers don’t make a nuisance of themselves at an inopportune moment.

Don’t stick your hands in or under anything you can’t see.

Goodluck with the humidity, It’s awful down there.

Fire ants aren’t a Texas thing, they are a Southern thing. They originated from Mobile sometime between 1933 and 1945, and have spread since. At first, freezing ground prevented their invasion, but they have learned to adapt to freezing temperatures and are spreading. Amdro is a commercial insecticide that is effective at killing a particular mound, but as has been mentioned, loss of a particular mound only invites others to invade the territory. By being consistent about treating mounds on your property as soon as you see them, you can pretty much keep them at bay. You can also just learn to leave them alone and be aware when you are around them. Your choice. They are bastards.

I don’t know about crazy ants, I never dealt with them. You’re on your own with those.

HVAC is easy. It is really just AC, or central air. You might have gas heat, which is just a natural gas heater added to the Air Conditioning unit in your attic. You will be using the AC much more than the heat, so you don’t need to do much worrying about the heating (unless you have a heat pump, in which case, the AC and heat are the same). The main thing is to replace the filter every month. You don’t need a high-filtration pollen and pet dander control filter, the cheap ones do just fine (if you need air filtration for allergies, etc…, you will be better off getting a supplemental air filtration unit than to try to use your HVAC unit to do that). It is important to change it monthly, though. It will keep the whole system clean.

If you are renting, don’t worry about the HVAC, it’s your landlord’s problem. If you own, the biggest problem is age. Most compressor units are good for about 20 years. If you look on your outside unit, you should find a manufacturing date. If it won’t cool and the unit is less than 20 years old, it is probably either the capacitor or the condensation fan (assuming the air handler inside is working properly). The capacitors last about 5 to 7 years, so if your unit is less than 20 years old, find out what capacitor it uses and get a replacement. If you how to operate a circuit breaker and a screwdriver, you can replace it and save yourself $150 with a $20 part. Note that a bad capacitor can kill your condensation fan, so it makes sense to pay attention and fix it when it dies.

If your unit is more that 20 years old, unless you are planning on moving soon, it makes more sense to just replace it when it starts giving you problems. You can just replace the component that fails, but you will be chasing problems until you replace the whole thing. The newer units are much more efficient and will do a better job, so it just makes sense. Do not just take the cheapest option when you replace your AC.

I have dogs and a tiny yard, so I want to minimize use of the “chemical” poisons. I’ve been told the orange oil won’t harm the dogs and it definitely smells better. If it doesn’t work. I’ll probably try boiling water next, and use the poison when we go on vacation.

The AC issue is mold. I suspect the condensation inside and outside the ducts promoting mold growth. The ducts are hidden under insulation; I think I’m going to have to have all the insulation removed, the ducts seams resealed, and possibly the ducts re-wrapped. Then have the whole crawl space treated. Maybe.

I plan to replace the AC with a variable speed, so I can keep the temperature higher in the summer without the unit cycling on and off all the time. I like the mid- to high-70s in the summer. I have to be better about changing the filters

Are rubber rain boots thick enough for snakes?
I’m a bit nervous about burning the spiders while everything is so dry. I’d just set the dogs on them. but they’d probably just get trapped in the web.

But the basic advice is to kill everything, except, I assume, the lizards. Got it

Worse than fire ants? Another thing on the list of reasons why I ain’t movin’ back there. Had to deal with a lot of wildlife in Texas but I draw the line there.

One recommendation on the AC, turn the fan from auto to on. The cost is minimal and will keep the air moving. Do follow that advice on changing filters. The cheap ones work better than the super duper allergy and pet filters.

Yours actually cycles off and on? Mine runs continuously and in the afternoon, it still never gets below 81 inside the house. The heat here is definitely the most obnoxious thing about living in this part of Texas. But at least we have a/c. It’s regularly getting into the 90s and above elsewhere in the country these days (I don’t have the slightest idea why… :dubious: ), and a lot of those places (Oregon, San Diego) don’t routinely have a/c because they’ve never needed it.

The way snowbound people hibernate in the winter and peek out when the buds of spring appear, we hibernate in the summer. That first day when you step out in the morning and it’s about 68 degrees… ahhhh… bliss. You can open the windows, let the fresh air in. You can coast for a few weeks without heat or a/c. Do some catch-up on your utility bill. (Yeah, I know I can average the bill over the whole year, but I like the sport of seeing how high it will go. Last month, for my 1,200 sq ft house, it was $300. The month before, too. :rolleyes:)

Dawn will work on fire ants (not sure what crazy ants are and don’t want to know), and if it only moves them, so what? They become someone else’s problem. It’s the Great Chain of Being.

I don’t kill spiders. Except black widows. And if I suspect it’s a brown recluse. Spiders are our friends and mind their own business.

Whereabouts (in general) did you move from?

Chiggers are not normally a problem in residential areas, though a few outbreaks have been reported this year. You usually will get them only when walking in high grass/brush, but I do that a lot and haven’t had chiggers since I was a kid - and that was up in Maryland.

The only way that crazy ants could be considered “worse than fire ants” is that they are harder to control - regular ant bait doesn’t work. They don’t swarm and bite/sting like fire ants when you disturb them. And I will second the recommendation of Amdro for fire ants. It actually kills the colony and is the only thing IME that works reliably and consistently. As for toxicity, (I can’t get the link to work for some reason) says “Because such a small amount of active ingredient is in the bait, humans or animals would have to eat a huge amount before getting sick or dying… a 50-pound dog would have to eat 9 pounds of Amdro (hydramethylnon) fire ant bait.” You only use a couple of tablespoons or so per mound, and my dogs have never shown any interest in it.

I like to have a lot of lizards, toads, tree frogs, and snakes around so I keep pesticide use to a minimum. BUT, if you have a general (lots of ants, chiggers, and other obnoxious critters) infestation in your yard the best thing to do is use a granular pesticide like Triazicide to knock it out. It is non-toxic to humans and dogs after watering in and allowing to dry.

And welcome to Texas!

do I want to know what chiggers are? :eek:

If your HVAC is constantly cycling, then you have too big of a unit for your space. If your unit never turns off, then you have too small of a unit. A well sized AC should cycle about 3 times an hour. If it’s running more than 5, then it’s too big. If it’s running less, then it’s too small. Of course, this is for ‘normal’ usage. On those 120 degree days that happen twice a year, you expect it to be running nearly continuously, but it should still maintain the temperature you desire. I’m in WV, so we can undersize ours more than in Texas since our average summertime high is around 80 compared to San Antonios that is in the mid to upper 90s. An HVAC specialist should be able to properly size your unit next time you replace it.

Tiny, horrible little bugs that like to hide in bushes and grass and then jump out to gnaw on your skin and like to try to bury themselves in like a tick. You should feel happy you aren’t familiar with them. :smiley:

Welcome to Texas, OP! I can’t help with a lot of advice, but I will give one piece–small scorpions can squeeze down really tight. Through very small spaces, and also underneath your shoe sometimes to run off when you lift it. I’ve had surprising success in spraying scorpions with a bit of hairspray to kinda paralyze them before either throwing them out or putting sincere, dedicated effort into crushing them. I lived for a while in the hill country, and the scorpions getting in the house was what really bugged me. (Yes, yes, they are technically arthropods, not insects…)

Oddly, I’ve never had any experience with chiggers, even during the 20 years I lived in the brush country south of San Antonio.

Scorpions are a different story. Eventually I did get used to seeing them, and thanked God every time I saw one that they can’t fly. Although once one did fall down on my head from the ceiling fan in my home office. THAT was aggravating. Anyhoo, I have been stung by one on my foot, and it’s no big deal. I took an antihistamine and sat with my foot elevated with a bag of frozen peas on it (in truth, I suspect any vegetable would have worked :wink: ). I called the poison control hotline and they told me that Texas scorpions aren’t dangerous or poisonous. Not like those big, black scorpions you see on nature programs that are the size of a kitten. Their beige color makes them hard to spot. Still and all, shake out your shoes before you put them on.

My father used my mother’s nail polish to paint over his chigger bites. She favored a light pink shade during that period.

That’s right, I’m not from Texas, but this stuff kills ants anyway.

Welcome to our state. The heat fades eventually.

Where in Texas do you live? It kind of sounds like Austin/Hill Country, from some of your questions. TX Agrilife Extension ( has many online resources dealing with landscaping and insect control.

The wasps can get very large here. Not Asian Hornet sized, but fearsome all the same. Wasp spray works on their nests. They are surprisingly resilient to a pair of size 12 shoes slapped together over them.

EDIT: It pays to read the rest of the thread before responding. When I lived in Austin, KLBJ had a great garden show on the weekend mornings, around 7 -9 ish, where a lot of landscape and bug questions like yours were answered. 590 AM. Get a de-humidifier. Mold is no joke. Shake out your shoes before putting them on. Hill country gets scorpions, which is one of the few insect plagues we’re mostly spared in Houston. Black widows generally won’t mess with you if you don’t mess with them.

Thelma Lou, ‘crazy ants’ are a fairly new invasive critter from South America. See,

I do not know if they are the same species as black ants that swarmed at night once a year when I lived in Austin. It was like something out of a horror movie, and I stupidly decided to go ahead with my plan of dumping trash in the apartment dumpster, which required walking on the parking lot they were swarming on. I figured I could walk around them, like I do any of the innumerable fire ant streams you find while walking around in the Austin area. I was wrong. They bite.



The good news is that according to scientists they don’t really burrow under your skin.

The bad news is, it’s worse.

Suddenly I believe in genetic engineering. May I borrow a cup of DNA, neighbor?

Thank you, everyone.

I moved here from the Northeast, so I did not grow up with airconditioning, and I just don’t like keeping the house that cool in the summer. I like it around 75 or so, with a room fan. But at that temperature, the house stays kind of muggy.

Oh, I haven’t disturbed a whole nest of ants, yet. I’ve been bitten just trying to weed the yard. I’m glad to hear Dawn works. I haven’t been killing the spiders because I don’t want to clean up a mess that big.

I’m going to change those filters tonight.

Northern Piper, you may know chiggers by another name, like “no-see-ums” Whatever, they are tiny nasty bugs that I’ve suffered from but never actually seen. Avoid brushy areas or over the ankle grass. When I was a child and went fishing with my grandfather, he insisted on applying powdered sulfur at the ankles, the waistbands, or anyplace under stretchy bands. It seemed to help at the time.