The Q&A Archives: Black Ants Everywhere

Question: Many of my sunflowers, cucumbers, and herbs are under constant attack from black ants. I live on the top floor of an apartment complex in Florida and have great conditions for growing. A few weeks after setting out my plants the nearby ant population discovers and invades them. I have no access to the nest and can only treat my balcony area. I have used commercial soap sprays, however, they only repel the ants for about a week and are very expensive. Is there any way to control these pests naturally, economically and safely? Perhaps a homemade insecticide?

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<br>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!); 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.<br><br>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 physicaldamage.<br> <br>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 liquidinto 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). <br><br>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 thebait 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.

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