The Q&A Archives: Reasons for Ant Infestation

Question: I have ants all over my plants. They especially like my lemon, persimmon, and squash plants. What is the best way to control them? Are they harmful to my plants? The ants like to crawl inside the squash flowers and all over the persimmon fruit. Some sort of bug is eating the tender new leaves of my Meyer lemon plant and my sweet basil. How do I control the pest? Is it safe to spray pesticides on plants that I will be consuming? My bouganvillea plant is dropping its flower bracts like crazy.We recently had a heatwave where the temperature was in the high 90's and low 100's for a couple of days. I don't know if this has anything to do with it. It's planted against the wall of my house facing South where it gets lots of sun. The plant is also on a drip system where it gets watered daily for 7 minutes. Rebecca Chinn Santa Clara, CA

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 idea as to their size!) Some ants actually feed on the waste product of aphids, called honeydew, because it is very sweet. 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. As for the insects feeding on new growth of your other plants, that may be aphids as well. Once you have taken a close look, e-mail me with a description of what you've found, and I'll try to make a recommendation. I can't make a call with so little information. Your bouganvillea may be suffering from the sudden heat wave. Feed it a very dilute plant food to ease it back to health. Also, bouganvillea prefer to dry out between waterings. It's better to water it deeply once per week than a little daily.

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