Ants in vegetable garden: good or bad?

maiapapayaJuly 26, 2007

Hi all, I'm a first time gardener and have a little 4x8 plot in the community garden for my graduate student housing complex. My plants are thriving, growing really really fast (especially the zucchini), but I have a serious ant infestation. I've done some googling and it seems that it's most likely that the ants are pests, but I spent some time in the garden this morning watching them..

At first, I thought, oh surely they're carrying aphids or whiteflies to my plants so they can harvest the milk, since I saw them carrying little white egg-like things while they were walking around on the ground. Then, I turned over a tomato leaf on the plant where they were swarming, and behind it there were hundreds of ants on the top of one leaf, along with lots and lots of little white things. I watched, and after about 5 minutes, the ants were gone, as were the white things. They had carried the white things away from the leaf. A week later (today), I noticed the same behavior on a bell pepper plant. They don't seem to hang out on these plants, just swarm and then leave. The zucchini plant, on the other hand, has loads of ants just hanging out, especially in and around the flowers.

So, are my ants benefical, or are they pests? Please help a novice gardener! Thanks so much in advance.

You can see pictures of my garden at:

Here is a link that might be useful: some pictures of the garden

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90% of all insects are beneficial to your garden. So long as your plants are healthy I wouldn't worry. Most ants are pollinators.

If they become a problem, search the forums for safe control solutions such as water. There are plenty of existing threads on the topic.

    Bookmark   July 26, 2007 at 3:40PM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

I agree with Violet - never had any problems with them myself. While it's true they do "farm" aphids I've found them to be very good farmers when it comes to controlling the "herd". :)


PS: Nice looking garden. Glad to see somebody besides this old hillbilly wears flip-flops in the garden!! :^)

    Bookmark   July 26, 2007 at 4:21PM
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I have had tons of ants in my garden all season long. Up to this point they seemed not to be bothering the plants. They especially favored the sunflowers. However, a couple of days ago I found aphids covering several of the flower heads and many leaves. So I sprayed them with soap water. Today, I noticed ants and aphids on one of my eggplants. So now I am considering a way to control them before they spread to the rest of the garden.

    Bookmark   July 26, 2007 at 5:07PM
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zeedman Zone 5 Wisconsin

Ants themselves generally have no harmful effects - fire ants & carpenter ants being the exception. For the most part, they control other insects, and clean up debris. They can be a nuisance on some crops, like corn and okra.

But by carrying aphids from plant to plant, they can spread disease very rapidly. An heirloom soybean that I am growing this year has been nearly destroyed, as ants spread wilt down the row from one plant that was originally infected. Killing the aphids alone is not effective, since ants will just bring more from elsewhere.

In such cases, use of an ant bait will kill the nest, and end the spread. Then the aphids can be killed by a soap spray.

    Bookmark   July 26, 2007 at 6:33PM
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Thanks for all the help! I guess I'll just keep a close eye on them and make sure the plants stay healthy. If I notice any aphids or wilt, I'll take action!

I really appreciate your help :)

p.s. digdirt - Flip flops all the way! Who needs closed toe shoes to do a little watering? :P

    Bookmark   July 26, 2007 at 9:15PM
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I have these little ants in my garden, they're at the base of my Kale and collards. They seem to be moving right down the row killing each plant as they go. It looks to me that they are attacking the plant just below the soil line. The plants just fall over, it's making me nuts. Anybody have any ideas?


    Bookmark   June 2, 2011 at 1:19PM
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So I started my garden the week after Easter and planted tomatos, Peppers two kinds, peas and about 10 stocks of corn. About 2 weeks ago I noticed something took out 2 stocks of my corn and killed all my peas. It had chewed up the corn but one of the corn stocks made it and lived. My tomato plants have not been so lucky. Last week I noticed that out of 9 tomato plants 4 had been chewed at the base of the stem and killed..this is the same way the peas were killed. After fencing off what was left something managed to take another tomato plant out. I also have a great deal of ants and they seem to be all around the tomato plants and pepper plants. Till this day the pepper plants are untouched any ideas????? Mouse? Ants? Act of God???

    Bookmark   June 2, 2011 at 5:12PM
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Sergio, that happens a lot in my yard and garden too. I have determined the cause to generally be the entire animal kingdom--mice, rats, birds, SQUIRRELS, baby bunnies, and groundhogs. Squirrels will dig under and manipulate most barriers to get at whatever they want, sometimes though pulling a Houdini and leaving no trace of how they did it. Drought makes it worse-I leave buckets of water here and there in the yard, which I periodically empty onto needy plants and refill--this seems to help--I figured this out when I left the buckets empty a couple of times, only to find them toppled later by some thirsty animal. Get a cat or a daschund and send it out on regular patrols. Things that I love, I cover with small-holed fencing, including over the top, until it can get established. The worst are the birds, drawn by the sprinklers, who seem to arbitrarily peck the stem of just about any young plant in half, just to see if it might be tasty. Good luck to you!

    Bookmark   June 14, 2011 at 3:09PM
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Ants are very beneficial to the garden. They dig lots of little tunnels under the ground, aerating the soil. They pollinate many plants. They clean up debris and for the most part they don't really harm plants. It is true that they love the flower nectar of many plants- like my okra for instance. They cover my okra, but they don't harm my yield, they're only in it for the flower nectar. The only thing I hate about them, is that they bite which puts a damper on my flip-flop gardening.

    Bookmark   September 2, 2012 at 11:20AM
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After having planted a 40'x8' garden full of seeds and watching them disappear while ant hills appeared, I did a lot of googleing. What I have learned is that not only do ants eat some fruits and vegetables, but they also eat the seeds. And now, knowing that they do this, in addition to spreading other destroying insect larva, why in the world would I allow them in a garden that I have worked so hard in to grow? I also learned that simple baking soda is poison to them and it works beautifully. Happy gardening.

    Bookmark   June 9, 2013 at 4:29PM
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jeanwedding(6 ky)

Gail PLEASE explain about baking soda and ants... I did read on a natural ant killer blog use boric acid.. and sugar I believe in containers with lids and holes tiny in the lids

    Bookmark   June 10, 2013 at 2:40PM
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Wrigley, I've never seen ants chew through and take down plants at the base, are you sure it isn't perhaps cut worms?
I've never had any problems from my ants in the garden (hey, they are Canadian Ants, maybe they are really polite eh?:)
But yes, if you do have real problems with them, a mix of baking soda/sugar/water in any containers will help lessen the population. They take it back to the queen, or they ingest it and ... I think they explode but I really don't want to know:(
Have to admit to never needing to try this but I've heard of too many people raving about this to doubt it's effectiveness. The "recipe" below lists yeast too, I guess there are a number of combo's but likely they all work just as well. You don't need holes in the lids, if ants can crawl up vertical kitchen cabinets to the counter tops, they can manage a jam jar lid or even a bowl set in the ground a little so it doesn't get tipped over by you, just fine. If the bowl is level with the ground, this will also trap slugs and earwigs, so double duty (they drowned). Beer used to be used for slug/earwigs but what a waste of good beer:)

Here is a link that might be useful: baking soda and sugar water

    Bookmark   June 11, 2013 at 3:33AM
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The thing I think is important to remember is that some bugs are nocturnal, like I believe the cutworms are. You might find something munching the plant bases if you go out with a flashlight after the sun goes down.

    Bookmark   July 12, 2014 at 4:05PM
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