The Q&A Archives: Ants In Pots

Question: Keep getting ants (I guess they're some type of sugar ant. small brown to black) don't bite. Infest many of my potted plants. Especially the Strawberries in the big strawberry clay POT. Don't seem to bother the plants themselves, just pulverize the dirt and swarm everywhere. Any suggestions?

PS what kind of fertilizer is good for strawberries in pots?

Answer: The ants you see may not be doing any harm themselves, but if you look more closely, you may see that they are hanging out with aphids, which are tiny insects that feed in masses on plant parts. They are sometimes called plant lice (this give you an ideaas to their size!); they are small, oval insects that congregate on new growth. Some ants actually feed on the waste product of aphids, called honeydew, because it is very sweet. If you can control the primary problem--usually aphids--you might just control the ants as well. If there are no aphids present, then look closely to see if the ants are causing any damage. Most often they prey on other insects or feed on plant sap that is already leaking from wounds caused by other insects or physical damage.I have used two things successfully when dealing with ants. The first is a homemade bug spray: 1 gallon water, 1/2 tsp. eucalyptus oil, 1 tbsp. vegetable oil, 1 tbsp. dishwashing liquid. Combine all ingredients and shake well. Pour liquid into a spray bottle. When applying shake often to keep components evenly distributed. This "potion" works well on ants and aphids in particular (cats don't like it much either). The second remedy should be kept out of the reach of children and pets: Make a paste out of boric acid powder and sweetened condensed milk. Add powder and condensed milk until you have a consistency somewhat like fudge. Roll into small balls and place balls where ants are a problem. The ants will carry the bait back to their nest where they share it with other ants who ingest it and die. When using this remedy outside place the balls in a sheltered area where the rain won't melt the bait and in such a way that children and pets can't get to them.

Strawberries will appreciate a half-strength application of liquid fertilizer, or a side-dressing of 5-10-10 fertilizer, or something similar with a low nitrogen content (too much nitrogen will produce lots of foliage at the expense of flowers and fruit).

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