ants... friends or foe???

sarahlynnwhiteJuly 5, 2007

i have (and have had since the beginning of my planting season) ants over many of my plants. not gobs and gobs like an infestation, but at any given point you can find several black ants just scurring all over the place... they do not eat the leaves if they did my sunflowers would be naked, what are they doing? do they eat other insects... obviously we have all seen them carrying the dead ones, but do they kill and protect my precious plants? they are especially prevelent on my sunflower and corn plants. i think i have even seen them eating (or collecting-whatever) squash bug eggs on the back of a zucchini? could this be? other than that i have no idea what they are doing... there are no ant holes in my garden... thanks. sarah

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greenthumbintraining(7a DFW)

I think it depends...I know they can be pollinators,which is a good thing, and I'm sure some of them do some bug patrolling, but I just found out that the ants on my okra are actually protecting the aphids on the leaves.

    Bookmark   July 5, 2007 at 9:03PM
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yardenman(z7 MD)

Around fruit trees, they can be annoying as they support aphids. Otherwise, they do a good job of turning soil.

    Bookmark   July 5, 2007 at 9:41PM
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My ants pollenate the melons and protect my garden from grubs. They occasionally bite me, but it doesn't hurt, so I KNOW they're not Fire Ants. It can be bothersome though... as for ants on sunflowers, I have the same thing happening. I think they like the sweet sap that comes from the corn and sunflower plants.


    Bookmark   July 5, 2007 at 10:14PM
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zeedman Zone 5 Wisconsin

The problem with ants is that they don't just protect aphids, they transport them. This can spread a disease from one plant, to a whole row, very quickly. If you have problems with viral diseases, this can be a serious problem... and it is easier to control the aphids, if you first reduce the ant population.

But provided that you have a good population of beneficial insects (ladybugs, lacewings, flies, etc.) to control the aphids, ants generally do little harm. They are more of an annoyance than anything else, particularly on crops where they prefer to farm aphids (such as corn & okra), or plants that cater to ants (such as yardlong beans).

    Bookmark   July 6, 2007 at 12:32AM
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i have yardlong beans, no ant problems there... what do you mean they cater to ants. sarah

    Bookmark   July 6, 2007 at 8:22AM
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bejay9_10(zone 9/10)

Do we have ants! They are probably the worst foe in my garden. We are blessed with Argentine ants - little things that bite - (must be mostly mouth).

The biggest threat is to the citrus trees. I know they do a certain amount of pollinating, but I prefer to have it done by something else - bees or small wasps, perhaps.

The young citrus trees are most vulnerable. The ants use aphids like "cows" - carrying them up the trees to the leaves, as they can't ingest the plant juices themselves, they use the aphids to do it for them. They then "milk" the aphid and carry the juice back to the nest, where an "obliging" ant makes itself a jug to hold the incoming juices. Fascinating world - the ant colony.

For the gardener tho - the ant does a dual role - moving the soil to keep it porous, but also attacking the plant via the aphids. As mentioned, this causes plant diseases for the gardener.

Californians spend large sums of money every year controlling the ants - mainly from their immediate presence inside their homes.

My first encounter, came about when I left a doughnut on the kitchen table overnight. The next morning, the ants were completely covering the table with a line that stretched yards and yards back to their nest. I had honestly never seen anything quite like it in the cold climate I was used to. I ran to my new neighbor - who laughed, then quietly took out a can of insecticide and after an application or two, the ants had retreated/died.

Since then, I have learned to cope - it is necessary to be quite clean in the kitchen, or to employ an exterminator - early in the ant season to spray around the perimeter of the house.

They prefer certain things at certain times - like early in the year - seemingly sweet stuff, later when rearing offspring, they seem to like protein stuff - meat, cheese, swatted flies, etc. When warm weather sets in, they are around the water faucets.

But - the big threat - is in the garden, just when everything is going well - early summer - then they become active on veggies, and fruit trees. The citrus is especially attractive.

I found a simple trick that seems to work - by wrapping some duct tape around the tree trunk, them lathering some Tanglefoot around the tape, seems to stop the little buggers from climbing the tree. If they can't reach the leaves with their little "cow" aphids, they won't affect the tree.

They aren't quite as active on the vegetables, except corn (which I stopped trying to grow anyway).

I did note a real decrease in ants this year - I believe it is due to the many, many little lizards that adopted my back yard this year. I've read about frogs eating insects, but we have few frogs (no rain to speak of), but the lizard seems to have taken up the role - and for some reason, we have fewer ants.

So - are ants friend or foe? - yes, but they really need to be confined, just as so many other predators in the garden/home environment.

P.S. In all due respect to my southern neighbors, who try to deal with the Red ant - no thank you, don't need em. My sympathies anyway.

Just my 2 c's.


    Bookmark   July 6, 2007 at 11:13AM
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zeedman Zone 5 Wisconsin

"i have yardlong beans, no ant problems there... what do you mean they cater to ants. sarah"

I am a collector of yardlongs, and grow several varieties each year (5 this year). Cowpeas (and yardlong beans, which are a sub-species grown for their pods) have specialized pads located just below the flowers. These give off a substance that seems irresistible to many insects - in my garden, ants, wasps, and ladybugs. For this reason, I have long recommended growing yardlongs to maintain ladybug populations within the garden.

The wasps that feed there (mostly yellowjackets & paper wasps) become very docile; the substance produced must be very intoxicating for them. Their presence in the garden is also beneficial.

But in my garden, yardlongs also attracted carpenter ants in large numbers (from over 50 feet away) and their presence in the garden was unwelcome. They cause damage to other plants, and their bite is more than a minor irritation.

    Bookmark   July 6, 2007 at 6:07PM
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