Ants seem to be able to make a home out of anywhere and, unfortunately for gardeners, that can often include the pots in which beautiful flowers and plants are grown. |
It's one thing to have ants in the yard, but once they start nesting in your potted plants, even the most tolerant homeowner will be ready to eradicate them. While ants cause few problems for houseplants by themselves, their presence may indicate another pest problem more deserving of your attention. Keeping an eye out for these little critters in your plants could clue you in to a more serious problem before it's too late.
Although some species eat seeds and seedlings, according to the University of Kentucky entomology department, ants cause little direct damage to houseplants. If you see large numbers of ants on your houseplants, the risk to your plants' health likely comes instead from what attracts them: sap-sucking bugs like aphids, scale and mealybugs. Aphids, scale and mealybugs drain sap from your plants, taking water and nutrients as they do so. In turn, they excrete a sticky, sugary substance called honeydew. Honeydew attracts ants so readily that some ant species form symbiotic "farming" relationships with the pest insects, protecting the pests in exchange for the nutrient-rich honeydew they crave. Extensive infestations of sap-sucking insects can cause serious harm to your houseplants and, eventually, plant death.
Observe your houseplant closely for signs of the insects that attract ants. Although some species are tiny and hard to see, the honeydew will leave a sticky residue on the leaves that you can feel. According to the University of Delaware Cooperative Extension, controlling insect pests that attract ants will usually prevent ant problems as well, as ants begin foraging elsewhere for food. Insecticidal soap or spot treatment with rubbing alcohol controls these pests. Solution
If another insect pest isn't involved, inspect your potting soil for signs of nesting activity. If ants have nested in the pots, transfer the plants to clean pots with fresh potting soil, taking care to not to take the ants with you. If ants continue to enter your home, the University of Delaware Cooperative Extension recommends ant bait traps as the most effective solution against ant invasions.
In general, ants are often an indication that the plant's potting soil is too dry. In order to avoid an ant infestation, try to make sure that your plants are watered regularly and not kept in direct sunlight.
If the ants have already set up home, here are some suggestions to remove them from pot plants:
* If the potted plant is small, try submerging it in water. It should rid the plant of ants, as well as giving it some much-needed hydration. * Use a pot saucer. Fill this with water and it should act like a moat, protecting plants from further ant infestation. * Place ant powder over the nest and around the base of the plant. Most brands on the market guarantee that their powder will not affect the health of the plant. * Erect an ant barrier. This will help to prevent more ants moving into the pot plant. There are a number of sticky or detergent barriers on the market specifically designed to prevent insects from reaching certain areas. Apply these liquids and liquid mixes on and around the plant pot. Other deterrents that may be already in your cupboard include eucalyptus oil, baby powder and petroleum jelly.
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