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My wife has a small vegetable patch in the backyard, and every once in a while, I get bullied into helping clean out weeds and doing other bits of gardening work. Over the years, we’ve seen all kinds of critters, ranging from small snakes and lizards to a plethora of insects.
Ants, of course, are plentiful. We’ve always wondered if we need to treat them like we would other crop-eating bugs or just let them be. So, I decided to do some reading up about whether ants are a problem in vegetable gardens. And what I found out made making decisions a lot easier. Read on if you’re also trying to deal with ants in your garden.
Are ants a problem in vegetable gardens?
Turns out ants can be both a blessing and a curse to your vegetable crops. It just boils down to what species of ants you’re dealing with. Among the many types of ants, the regular black ants you find scurrying around, also known as gardening ants, can actually be good for your garden. Other ants, like carpenter ants and fire ants, can do quite a lot of damage.
Advantages of having ants in your vegetable garden
Here are some of the advantages of having an ant population in your garden.
Natural pest control
Quite a few bugs are natural pest controllers, such as ladybugs and green lacewings. Ants also fall under that category, because they eat the eggs of other insects and disrupt their feeding patterns. This helps keep the population of harmful insects under control.
A lot has been written and said about the decrease in the populations of natural pollinators such as bees and butterflies. Enter the garden ant. During their daily treks through flowerbeds and the foliage in general, while searching for food, ants become pollinators without even realizing it.
Ants help build and maintain a healthy ecosystem in your garden in more ways than one. For example, when ants tunnel and burrow to build their homes under the soil, they also make way for much-needed nutrients, air, and water to find their way to the roots of plants.
Ants also help organic matter decompose faster, giving the soil manure. In addition, ants also balance the scales of life by themselves becoming food for small lizards, frogs, and birds, all of which are other garden pests as well.
Disadvantages of having ants in your vegetable garden
They protect some pests
Ants are attracted to one food source in particular, and that is sugar. Aphids, which are some of the worst bugs you can have in your vegetable garden, naturally produce a sugar-rich sticky secretion called honeydew.
So, just like we farm cows, ants farm aphids, often moving them from one flower to another, and even into their ant mounds to protect them from predators. So while ants may help control some pests, they actually protect others that are beneficial to them.
They have nasty bites
Fire ants have a nasty reputation for how much their bites hurt. Their bite contains a particular venom that causes painful welts on our skin that last for a few days. This means an ant colony of fire ants can make working in your garden a painful experience.
Carpenter ants are trouble on more counts than one. They have a painful bite, and they spray formic acid after they bite, making it all the more painful.
In addition to their painful bites, carpenter ants also burrow into and nest in anything made of wood, including your home’s structure and wooden furniture.
How to get rid of ants from your vegetable garden
Considering ants are found everywhere (there are over 10,000 species of ants that we know of) and that they’ve outlasted the dinosaurs, I think it is safe to say that there is no way you can permanently get rid of them. You can, however, control the ant infestation you have before it actually causes any serious damage.
- Get rid of sap-sucking insects like aphids from your garden. This will discourage ants from setting up their homes in your garden.
- Artificial sweeteners are supposed to be fatal to ants, so liberally sprinkling these around ant hills is sure to kill them. Of course, this brings about the question of how healthy these products could be for us if it kills them, but that’s a topic for another discussion.
- Killing the queen ant is the most effective way to get rid of ants, and boiling water is poured into an anthill has been known to be an effective way to do this. However, considering ants build their homes to withstand rain and other weather conditions, it may take a few attempts before you are successful.
- Another effective and natural way to exterminate ants is by using food-grade diatomaceous earth. This is a natural product made from the fossils of diatoms, hard-shelled algae, that is ground into a fine powder. This kills insects like cockroaches and ants by dehydrating them. However, to be effective, the process will take a couple of weeks, and will need the area to be dry.
- Boric acid, or Borax as we call it, is among the most effective ant killers. The easiest way to use it is to create ant bait by mixing it with sugar and sprinkling it around the anthill. The ants will not be able to sense the borax in the mixture and will carry it into the hill, where they will die when they’ve eaten it.
Decide if you want them or not
You’re now armed with information about what ants can do for your garden and what they can do to it. So it’s now up to you to see what kind of ant species you have in your vegetable garden and whether you want them around or you need to take pest control measures.