Anita Morton - Growing Gardens

Pro and anti

I dont know if its just our place, but there seem to be extraordinary numbers of ants scurrying around this year. While they perform an important function in the garden, they can also be a nuisance.

Ants are a vital part of natures recycling mechanism. They consume dead insects and small creatures as well as carrying plant material underground. They are also important predators of some pest insects, and their tunnelling aerates the soil. Ants are an important food source for some birds, frogs and lizards. All this is great unfortunately they have bad habits, too!

Newly planted seeds are sometimes stolen by ants, leaving gaps in the rows or just not enough seeds left to germinate. Keeping the soil around seeds very moist may deter this behaviour a little, but wiping out the colony is the only real solution. If you know where the nest is, try pouring a kettle full of boiling water down the entrance. You might have to repeat it a couple of times, but they will eventually get the message. Remember to wear wellies to protect your feet and legs.

Ants are also diligent farmers of aphids, scale insects and mealy bugs. They help and protect these nuisances, and receive honeydew (a sweet secretion) in return. If you see sooty mould on a shrub, you probably have an infestation of one of these pests, herded by small black ants. One way of controlling the aphids or scale is to remove their protectors. The ants need sugar, so if we provide it free of charge they will abandon the aphids etc, allowing natural predators to control them. Place a jar lid or something similar next to the ants trail and fill it with moistened sugar or jam. Keep topping it up until the ants abandon their herd.


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