The Q&A Archives: ants in plants

Question: I received a beautiful Jasmine plant for mothers day from one of our top local florists. It was infested with hundreds of ants. The florist replaced the plant 2 days ago, and I just noticed hundreds of ants coming from the plant. I removed the plant from the pot and saw that around all of the roots are ant colonies and the soil is CRAWLING with ants. can I use a systemic or ant poisoning without harming the new jasmine buds? The plant is loaded with buds and I am anxiously awaiting the fragrant aroma of the blossoms. Thank you for your help

Answer: I feel sorry for the florist, who evidentally got a shipment of ant infested plants from a grower.

Ants are social insects that live in soil. They may venture considerable distances from the nest to exploit a good food source. When common on houseplants, they generally indicate an infestation of a sap feeding insect like scale insects, aphids or mealybugs. They feed on the honeydew excreted by these insects and there are ant-insect interactions where the ants protect and "farm" the plant sucking insect for the honeydew. Control: When ants are associated with a honeydew excreting insect, you can eliminate the ants by eliminating the insect that is their food source. Ants nesting in pots or soil are sometimes difficult to eliminate but several insecticides will kill such ants. Check the label to be sure such materials can be used inside the home. Ant bait traps can be highly effective in eliminating ants coming into a home from outside if placed where the ants will encounter the traps. You want to control the ants at the source (the nest) and not just try to eliminate foragers.

You may want to use a systemic if you find aphids, scales or mealybugs on your plant. If you find no such insects, then the ants have simply nested in the potting soil because they originally had a source of food (at the grower's). If it were my plant, I would take it outdoors, unpot it, rinse all of the old potting soil off the roots - along with the ant eggs and queen - and then repot in fresh potting soil. This will eliminate the ants for good. If you work quickly, your jasmine will barely notice the change in potting soil. Even if it does and drops the current flower buds, it will produce more in a few weeks. That's when you can enjoy a clean, healthy plant with no worries about ants everywhere in your home.

Best wishes with your jasmine plant!

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