The Q&A Archives: large bleck ants on my Gardenias

Question: How do I get rid of the large ants chewing the leaves and buds off my gardenia? I have two Gardenias, but only one of them is covered by the ants, they chew the new buds off before it gets a chance to bloom. Also the leaves are turning yellow and falling off. I planted it one year ago and it was doing great until about 2 or 3 months ago when the ants took over.

Answer: Gardenias have a well-earned reputation for being difficult specimens for even the experienced indoor gardener. Gardenias thrive on bright light, high humidity, and an even supply of moisture and nutrients. The goal is to provide the proper balance of water, air and nutrients. If soil is kept constantly wet, the roots will be starved for air. Too much fertilizer can lead to damaging salt accumulation. Monitor the soil frequently for moisture content, and water thoroughly as the top inch of soil dries. Use a fertilizer that is formulated for acid-loving, blooming plants, such as an azalea-type product, according to rates listed on the label. Don?t be afraid to prune the gardenia; in fact, blooming will be more prolific on younger growth. Though the responsibilities of gardenia care are daunting, if you persevere, you?ll be rewarded with elegant white blossoms and sweet fragrance that simply cannot be matched by other plants.

For the most part, ants do not cause any serious problems in gardens. Exceptions to this are the species that bite or protect aphids. Ant hills in flowerbeds and lawn areas can become a nuisance, however, as can ants that come indoors when foraging for food, returning to outdoor nests. If you have ant colonies that you wish to control, there are several things you can do. A good least-toxic method is the use of boric acid baits. Boric acid baits can eliminate some ant colonies in about one week. The trick is to not kill the ants at the bait station, but to get the ants to carry the boric acid back to the nest, poisoning the members of the colony that never leave the nest. Most ants feed either on sugars or on protein, fats, or oils. To see which type you have, place small dabs of jelly and peanut butter (not mixed) where ants are seen and watch which food they are attracted to. If they are attracted to the jelly, you can make a boric acid bait by mixing one-half cup jelly, such as apple jelly, with 1 1/4 tsp boric acid powder. Punch several holes in the lid of the jar, then screw the lid on tightly and seal with tape. The holes should be large enough for the ants to pass through to reach the bait. Place the bait jar on its side where the ants will come in contact with it. If the ants are unable to gain footing on the jar lid, you might want to scratch the surface with sandpaper or a pebble. If the ants are attracted to peanut butter, use that for your bait rather than jelly. If you find many dead ants around the bait station, which ever bait you use, lower the amount of boric acid in the mixture. If you are still finding live ants after a week to 10 days, increase the amount of boric acid. Although boric acid is of very low toxicity, it is best to place bait jars where children and pets cannot reach them.

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