As we begin to look towards spring and spending more time outdoors, we also begin to plan our flower garden. Although horticulturalists do not categorize ants as a garden pest, most homeowners consider the ant a most unwelcomed tenant in the flower garden. In the South, we are plagued with fire ants – and just like other types of ants they are considered aggressive. Not only do some ants maintain a mutually beneficial relationship with aphids, but they also can ruin peonies and other flowers. It is not logical to attempt to completely exterminate ants in your flower garden, but there are ways you can control them without resorting to the use of harmful chemicals.
Ants are highly sensitive to odors – just as they are attracted to sweets, there are several smells that repel them. Some smells that ants detest include mint, camphor, tansy, and clove oil. One way to try and repel ants is to soak cotton balls in one of this ant-repelling essential oils. You can also grow your own ant repellent in your veggie garden – hot peppers! Ants loathe hot peppers, and all you need to do is place the peppers in a blender with a bit of water to create a dense mash. Spread the pepper mash in problem areas and watch the ants disappear.
Often the things we do to nourish and care for our gardens have the very unfortunate side effect of attracting ants. The compost pile that breaks down plant material into useful fertilizer also attracts ants by sending sweet smells of items like banana peels, melon rinds, etc. into the air. To combat this, maintain a hot compost pile by using the proper ratio of green and brown ingredients (ratio = 2:1, green to brown). The use of an elevated compost tumbler can also easily prevent ant infestations.
Ants are most attracted to sweet foods, including many fruits and some nectar-rich flowers such as Peonies. As the buds of these sweet flowers turn to blossoms, the ants begin to gravitate to the sucrose that collects on the buds. You have two options to combat this – cut the flowers when they have opened fully or cut the flowers in bud and refrigerate them immediately. Within 24 hours, the ants will become sluggish and will be easy to wipe off the buds. Keep in mind that ants rarely inflict damage to flowers or fruits, they are simply a big nuisance to gardeners.
If you notice a congregation of ants on one specimen in your garden, be suspicious. Ants gather with purpose so when a large number has congregated together, upon closer examination you will most likely also Ants attack beneficial insects like ladybugs in order to protect aphids from these enemies. Aphids excrete sweet honeydew which provides great nourishment to ants. In exchange for this nourishment, the ants protect aphids from their enemies and even attack very beneficial insects such as ladybugs. The best way to deter ants from your garden is to treat the plant-damaging aphids first, leaving the ants to seek a food source elsewhere.
Although ants are a total nuisance to your flower garden, don’t fret if you have more ants in your garden than you’d like. On the plus side, ants also offer a number of benefits including:
- Ants eat the eggs and larvae of fleas and other pests
- Ants function as pollinators
- Ants aerate the soil