Although horticulturalists don't categorize ants as a garden pest, most people consider the ant an unwelcome tenant in the organic garden. Some species, like the carpenter ant and the stinging fire ant, are considered pests, but generally ants are beneficial. |
Ants are aggressive, especially the notorious fire ant of the south, which seems to expand its territory northward year by year. Some ants maintain a mutually beneficial relationship with aphids. Ants can also ruin an otherwise perfect spring bouquet of peonies. It's unreasonable to try to exterminate ants completely in an organic garden, but you can control them without resorting to harmful chemicals.
Most ants nest in the ground, digging a labyrinth of tunnels that allow air and moisture to get to the roots of plants. The leaves and insects brought into the nest decay and fertilize the surrounding plants. Many ants are predators and feed on insects that attack lawns and gardens, and in the process of gathering food, they often pollinate flowers and distribute seeds.
Ants are among the most successful of insects, outnumbering all other individual animals combined. They have been around since the days of the dinosaurs and inhabit just about every corner of Earth. What Ants Indicate
A sudden convergence of ants in the garden, or a line of ants moving up and down a tree, usually indicates the presence of aphids, mealybugs, or other sap-sucking insects that attack plants. These insects produce a substance called honeydew:
* The ants stroke the insects with their antennas, causing the insects to excrete the sweet liquid. * The ants swallow it and store it in a special holding stomach called the crop. * The honeydew is brought back to the nest and shared with the queen and other workers. * Some ants even keep aphids in their nest as a farmer would keep a cow, giving them food and shelter in exchange for honeydew.
If you notice a congregation of ants gathering on one of your garden specimens, be suspicious. Ants are purposeful creatures, not given to leisurely gatherings. Look closely, and use a magnifying glass if necessary: you will probably discover an infestation of aphids. The ants are enjoying the sweet honeydew excreted by the aphids. In exchange for this nourishment, the ants protect the aphids from their enemies, attacking such beneficial insects as ladybugs. You must treat the plant-damaging aphids first; the ants will seek food elsewhere.
Don't despair if you have more ants in your garden than you'd like. Ants aerate the soil, function as pollinators, and eat the eggs and larvae of fleas and other pests. Consider purchasing an ant farm to amuse the children, and learn more about the ways of this social insect.
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