Surprisingly, ants are not quite the friends we once thought. Although ants are often seen swarming over plants in the garden which are infested with aphids, attracted by the sweet honeydew, (produced by the aphids,) ants can actually promote the spread of aerial aphids, and increase the activity of root aphids when they have ants nests in the garden borders.
Garden Ants - like humans - have a varied diet, with distinct leaning towards things sweet and sticky! They are neither meat eaters or vegetarians exclusively - but omnivores, capable of eating most anything. Even the so-called meat-eating ants of warmer climates, will stop off at anything sweet and available.
Ants literally 'farm' aphids - just like humans farm cows! Once they have found a colony of aphids - not too difficult in most gardens - the ants will feed on the high protein sweet honeydew secreted by the aphids. An aphid can secrete more than its bodyweight each day. They produce the honeydew from sucking the sugar-rich sap from plants. The ants are not happy just having the leftovers, but will gently massage the back and rear end of the aphid to make the aphid produce honeydew on tap. (Much as a farmer will milk a cow!). Obviously there is nothing to be gained for the ant by killing the aphid, and ants have been know to fiercely fight off any other predators of the aphids.
Such is the 'relationship' between aphids and ants, that ants will even take the eggs of the aphids back underground to their own nests. Not to store for food, but to nurture them until hatched, whereupon they are taken back to a host plant - ready to start producing the much sought-after honeydew food for the ant colony.
A lot of ant activity on plants generally means that there is an aphid problem. Sort the Aphid problem, and you lose the ants (from that plant). Likewise, if you find ants climbing your fruit trees - before the fruit has ripened, it is usually a sign of aphids up out of sight! This is normally the case with apple trees.
Ant Stings - Ants nests in the lawn are pest through and through, as anyone who has sat on an ant infested lawn will tell you. However, it is only the red ant that actually stings. Ants nests in the lawn are very difficult to deal with. Flooding the nest with water rarely has any long-term effect. Ian has a suggested way of getting rid of ants out of the lawn - or anywhere else. Read what he suggests at the bottom of this page.
The gardeners' biggest problem with ants in the garden is their nest-building capacity, which can damage plant roots, soil structure, and cause poor plant performance and death. Ants sometimes burrow around the roots of plants, damaging the plant roots and harming the plant.
And if that's not enough! Ants attack ripe fruit, so, wherever possible, fruit trees should be grease-banded and any ant nests located and treated with insect dust/spray. Always follow directions on the packet.
For ants in the lawn, it may be better to try some Ant Kill gel liquid placed upon a small piece of plastic or glass - where it will not be soaked up by the surface. Otherwise repeated soaking of the nest area will deter them - or send them somewhere else.
The ants are attracted to the sugary content of the gel, only to take in the powerful insecticide that is also present. They then take this down into their nest where the poison is spread throughout.
Ants can do more damage to plants growing in containers, where the root disturbance can sometimes lead to wilting of the plant - or even death in hot weather conditions.
The ants that you see wandering around in your home, have invariably come in looking for food. Minute scraps of protein rich food - or anything sweet, such as crumbs scattered about by the kids will suffice. The lucky ant who finds the food supply, will alert the rest of his mates, and before you know it you have an ant trail leading from your house back to the ants nest - which is normally outdoors.
One way of killing ants in the house, is by applying a thin line of Borax around the edges of rooms and especially near the entrance point that ants use. Ordinary baking flour has the same deterrence effect! These methods are best for Ants in the house, for if tried outside, the inevitable moisture absorbed by the powders will negate their efficiency.
This view from Ian
Whilst ants are not a pest and do some benefit in the garden. Most people do not like a ant setting up house under their patio or in their lawn.
A sure fire way to get rid of them is mix a small bottle of clove oil (from the chemist) in a large watering can with a rose sprinkler. Quickly water this over the area the ants have set up home ........ and stand back! First you will see the flying ants leaving the nest in droves, the soldier ants will follow them on foot. Tried tested and never failed.
Hi, read your tip about clove oil, but won't they just move down the garden to another plant pot. I have fairly large pots full of soil on a small slabbed area in garden and would just prefer to get rid of the ants altogether. Can you suggest what to buy please. - Phil
Answer from GS Ed
Thanks for that info Phil. The advice came from a friend who is a
trusted source. Haha. ?...
Best to use some ant killer gel. Simply put a few drops on a bit of plastic or tile. The ants will soon start taking it down into their nest. It takes about a week to work fully. Meanwhile, find out what it attracting the ants to that pot!!!! Normally a supply of aphids.