Ants in your Plants
By: Rhonda Fleming Hayes - About Rhonda
Makes your skin crawl, huh? Well, there are two sides to every story. Maybe these bugs just need a better publicist.
Ants are one of those insects that go both ways; pest or predator, depending on your point of view. Some ants are highly beneficial predators of plant pests while others like to party at your picnic. They don’t call them social insects for nothing.
Ants belong to the Hymenoptera family along with bees and wasps. Like bees they form an organized colony with specific divisions of labor. There are queens, infertile wingless female workers and some winged reproductives. These are both male and female; potential queens that go on mating flights.
Some ants feed off the ‘honeydew’ produced by aphids and whiteflies, and actually “tend” these pests like livestock. This can interfere with the job of beneficial insects like lacewings and ladybugs, leading to plant problems. A few species do direct damage cutting leaves or boring tunnels.
Ants should be left alone unless they are causing a problem. Eradicating native ant colonies can actually cause re-colonization by non-native species; fire ants in some areas being the worst case scenario. Commercially prepared ant baits are effective in controlling ant problems. These stomach poisons contain boric acid with a jelly type lure.
Ants do no harm to the actual flower. They feed on the sugary exudates from the peony bud while protecting it from other pests, a symbiotic relationship not always appreciated by everyone.
Understanding ant behavior, I know that the lone ant wandering lost from the vase of peonies by my laptop won’t bring his friends. As with life so it goes with gardening, sometimes you just have to look the other way.