Ants are found in lawns and gardens around the world. Ants are a diverse group of insects that provide many useful environmental functions in home gardens. While ants do not feed directly on vegetable foliage, they can cause some secondary problems that increase the stress and damage to vegetable plants in your garden. Managing ants in your garden can be a difficult task and treating the primary problem with your vegetable plants is the most effective way to solve ant problems in your garden, according to the University of California.
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Accidental Ant Damage
Ants are generally beneficial insects to have in your garden. They scour the garden area collecting decomposing matter, which helps prevent fungal problems for vegetables. They also feed on a large number of common garden pests such as caterpillars, flees and termites. However, ant colonies located near the garden can cause damage to nearby plants. As workers excavate tunnels through the ground they can cause serious damage to vegetable plant roots. If you notice your plants struggling in your garden without any obvious cause, but regularly observe large numbers of ants, look for an ant colony nearby.
Ants can increase the damage to vegetable plants caused by honeydew-producing insects such as aphids, scales, whiteflies and mealybugs. Ants will farm these insects, moving them from one vegetable plant to another and collecting the sweet, sugary excretions these insects create when feeding on vegetable plants. Ants will even protect the honeydew insects from other predators in order to keep their high-energy meals safe, according to the University of Florida. Aphids and other honeydew insects can cause serious damage through their feeding activity as well as transmitting deadly viruses to vegetable plants if left untreated in home gardens.
Once established in your garden, ants will often expand their territory and make their way into your home in search of new food sources. Fresh cooked vegetables from your garden are a popular food source that attracts ants, according to the University of Kentucky. Ants that find their way into your home can be a persistent nuisance and difficult to remove. Follow the ants carefully to determine from where on your property they are originating.
While most ant populations are highly beneficial for your vegetable garden, those that are causing problems are easily managed with a variety of control measures. Pesticide baits that contain slow acting poisons that are carried back to the nest by worker ants and transferred from insect to insect are highly effective at killing entire colonies. If you can locate the entrance to the ant colony that is disrupting your vegetable garden, you can drown the colony with a liquid insecticide mix to kill it off quickly.
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- University of California IPM Online; Ants Management Guidelines; J. Klotz, et al.; February 2007
- University of Florida; Insect Management in the Home Garden; Susan E. Webb, et al.; January 2006
- University of Kentucky; Ant Control for Homeowners; Michael F. Potter; April 2004
- Colorado State University; Planttalk: Ants and Landscape Plants; October 2010
- University of Arizona; Ants: The Good, the Bad, and the Zany; Sue Hakala; 1997