Yes, ants can be a real
nuisance at the same time we must admire them for their ability to lift 50
times and pull 30 times their own weight.
We don't want them in the house, biting us or "farming the insects" of their
choice on our plants. Ants themselves don't do much damage to your plants, however they
protect and farm herds of aphids, cottony scales, mealybugs, soft-type scales, and
whiteflies. Ants save the eggs of these insects in their nests over the winter and
bring them out in the spring. These insects produce honeydew while feeding on your plants
which the ants just love. If you closely observe ants streaming up a tree and tending
their aphids, you will see them take their legs and rub the aphids which stimulates them
to produce the honeydew. This activity is known as "milking" the
honeydew that is secreted by the insects favors the growth of sooty mold. This is a very
destructive black fungus that spreads on plant leaves. The aphids are also responsible for
spreading many different viral diseases. What you want to ultimately do is to disrupt the
ants from tending to their insect flocks, getting in the house etc. This involves locating
and destroying the nest and queen.
There are 455 different types of
ants found in North America and around 8,000 worldwide that have been identified. They are
black, brown or reddish-brown in color. Size varies from 1/16 of an inch long to 1 inch.
The queens may from 1 to as long as 15 years! It is the carpenter ants that invade
decaying areas of lumber in buildings hollowing them out and causing serious structural
damage. Stinging ants like the red imported fire ant (reddish color, 1/4 inch in length)
and the southern fire ant (brownish-red with black of brown abdomen and head, 1/16 to 1/4
inch in length) inflict highly painful stings. They can be quite dangerous to babies and
Fire ants aside if you can tolerate some ants they are fascinating to watch. They do
aerate the soil and destroy some caterpillar pests.
Of interest is research in Switzerland shows that European
wood ants harvest conifer resin to disinfect their nests. The ants gather
grains of the hardened sap from the coniferous trees that surround their
nests. Conifer resin contains antibiotic chemicals which protect the trees
against infection. The researchers created nests with and without resin.
Those without had three times more fungus growing in them and contained
many more disease-causing bacteria. Ants’ nests are a good breeding
ground for disease, being crowded, warm and damp. But their public-health
systems keep infection at bay. They groom each other carefully, and dump
corpses outside the nests.
A Word on Boric Acid
Boric acid is a white, inorganic powder chemically
derived from water and boron, which is mined from vast mineral
deposits in the ground and used in consumer products such as laundry
additives, toothpaste and mouthwash. Deadly to cockroaches, boric acid
is low in toxicity to people and pets, and is even used as an eyewash
albeit in a 1% water solution.
It is also odorless and contains no volatile solvents. Boric acid has
been a favorite weapon against ants and roaches for more than a century, and is
one of the most effective cockroach control agents ever developed,
provided that it is used correctly. CAUTION: It should be kept away
from children and pets.
Here is another ant bait recipe:
Groundbeetles, humpback flies, parasitic wasps,
praying mantids and the yellow-shafted flicker all dine on ants.
Woodpeckers are voracious
ant eaters. You may see them also pick up ants in their beaks and crush them on their
feathers. What are they doing this for? Crushing the ants bodies releases tannic acid
which in turn protects the bird from parasites!
Here is something
interesting: it is said if you take a shovelful of ants from one hill or
nest and put it in another ant hill then take a shovelful from that hill
and put it where you took the first one the ants will then wage war on one
another and do themselves in!
Catnip, pennyroyal, peppermint, sage, and spearmint. Tansy which is often recommended
as an ant repellant may only work on sugar type ants. These are the ones that you see on
peonies and marching into the kitchen.
Warning: You do not want to plant Tansy anywhere
that livestock can feed on it as it is toxic to many animals. Do not let
it go to seed either as it may germinate in livestock fields.
Sprinkle leaves and flowers from sage, mints or tansy around the outside of your house
or plants that are bothered by ants. These plants can also be used as a living barrier for
ant control, bearing in mind that they are invasive in their growth habit and using
cuttings from these plants as a barrier is more effective. We grow tansy in an out of the
way place to harvest the cuttings.
Vinegar sprays in and around the hose foundation
will repel ants. Keep way from the soil and concrete. Lemon juice concentrate can also be used: mix
50/50 with water and spray.
Ants will not walk through a line of talcum powder
or chalk dust. Diatomaceous earth may also be used as a barrier in and out of the
Using a silica areogel/pyrethrum spray applied to
the base of plants like eggplants and peppers can control fire ants from girdling the stems
and killing the plants. This is a good barrier as it stays "put."
Caulk all cracks and crevices in the building to
deny them access. Be sure to use high quality pure silicone caulking as these are less
likely to shrink or crack once applied.
Distribute cucumber parings as a repellant.
Cucumbers contain a compound known as "trans-2-nonenal" that repels ants as well
Try sprinkling some of those instant grits around
the nests. See what happens!
For fire ants: We recommend Spinosad
or try this: Pour half a cup of Epsom salts into
the nest and all around it.
Sticky barriers like
Tanglefoot makes an excellent barrier and can be applied to tree trunks to disrupt
the ants from farming of aphids. This will naturally biodegrade itself towards the end of the
season. NOTE: On young trees with smaller trunks or those with thin bark (aspens, birches
etc.) do not apply directly to the bark surface. Instead use some thin fabric tied around
the trunk with the sticky stuff applied over this. Remove at the end of the season.
On smaller plants a bit of petroleum jelly smeared
around the base will stop ants immediately.
Make herbal teas to use as ant repellant sprays from tansy, catmint, peppermint or sage.
To make teas: Take enough cuttings from
these plants to tightly pack one 8 ounce cup. Bring 1 quart of water to a boil. Stir in
the plants. Take off the heat and allow to cool. Strain this mixture, add 1 teaspoon of
castile soap and use as a direct spray. You can also substitute 1 teaspoon of coconut oil
soap in place of the castile.
Pyrethrum mixed with isopropyl alcohol kills ants
on contact. Take 16 ounces of ready to use pyrethrum, mix in 1 tbsp. alcohol. Use this as
a drench directly on the active nest.
Boric acid: Mix 1 cup of sugar, 4 teaspoons of
boric acid and 24 ounces of water in a glass screw top jar. Shake thoroughly until you can
see that all the crystals are dissolved. Now put 1 cup of this mixture into a smaller jar
which you have filled halfway with loose cotton. Firmly screw the lid back on, seal around
the band with weatherproof tape and using an awl punch a few small holes in the center of
the lid. Put this near the entrance of the nest or wherever they have made a path to your
house. The key is the ants will get into the jar to eat the sugar and return to the nest
and pass it on to the rest of the colony. If you find many dead ants by the jar dilute the
solution and try again. With a proper mixture the colony may be destroyed in a few weeks.
It does take the destruction of the queen to completely eradicate a colony. Keep this away
from kids and pets!