I’m not about to rename “Turf’s Up” to “Pestilence and Plagues” but this week’s column follows up the grasshopper entry with an insect that many people consider to be the most annoying of all-ants.
Ants and aphids are definitely the most common insects that we field calls about at the garden centre and ant activity is reaching its peak as temperatures rise. I’m not sure what causes it but there is no shortage of fear and loathing among homeowners and gardeners alike when it comes to ants.
Ants in the house are a separate topic but let me just comment that all ants are not carpenter ants or termites and don’t assume that the presence of ants means that the house is going to collapse soon!
In the garden ants are actually very beneficial insects who feed on many other insect pests. They are generally harmless but the issue is that ants will also protect aphids, scale and other insects that damage plants from attack by their natural predators. Ants do not feed on plant foliage but they will build nests in the wrong locations; under paving stones or at the roots of plants. And, let’s be honest, most of us are not very tolerant of hundreds of ants running around in our gardens.
Ants and aphids have an interesting relationship and they are often seen together on plants. The sticky honeydew secreted by aphids is an important nutrient source for ants, so they will take any and all measures to protect the aphids from predators.
Ants prefer soft, sandy soils for building nests, so they’re often found along sidewalks, under patio stones or in garden beds where soils are light.
Your garden will be home to perhaps thousands of ants that you will never see and as with most insects it’s best to tacitly acknowledge their existence and get on with the task of cultivating beauty. But everyone’s comfort level is different and sometimes you need to take action.
Ant control is an industry unto itself and there is no shortage of products to help you control them. Ant traps consist of boric acid (with low toxicity to humans) mixed with a food attractant. Set them where the ants are active and they will be poisoned upon eating the bait. You can buy the same product as a liquid and apply it as drops.
Boiling water poured into entrance holes over a period of a few days will kill many ants and drive the colony elsewhere. Sprays containing pyrethins or permethrins kill on contact and can be useful for small infestations.
Dusts containing carbaryl (Sevin) are also packaged and sold as ant control products. Another dust that I recommend for control of many crawling insects is diatomaceous earth. The ground-up remains of tiny marine crustaceans stick to the insect and open up their skin, causing dehydration.
Finally, consider the following. Ants are the most abundant social insects on the planet. There are an estimated one quadrillion (one followed by 15 zeroes) ants on the planet at any time. They may all seem to be in your house or garden but they’re not, and those that are there are essentially harmless in the big scheme.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *