Ask a Question forum: Ants - good or bad?

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Name: Greg
Lake Forest Park, Washington (Zone 8b)
Garden Ideas: Level 1
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Brinybay
Aug 18, 2015 9:36 AM CST
Some ants have taken a liking to a lavender in a large terra pot. I've moved it twice, hoping they would go away, but they're still there (but I didn't move it very far, just a few feet). When I moved it this morning, I saw them moving eggs, so I assume they must be established in the pot as well. The plant itself seems to be fine. I would prefer to co-exist with them, but I don't know if they're pests or good guys, or maybe neutral. They are small red ants that make typical underground nests, not the kind that make the huge above-ground mounds. They remind me of fire ants, but we don't have those up here in the NW. (I was introduced to fire ants when I was in military training in the south many years ago).

Thumb of 2015-08-18/Brinybay/a376a9

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Name: Sheridragonfly/Sheri
Alabama (Zone 8b)
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Sheridragonfly
Aug 18, 2015 6:42 PM CST
those look like carpenter ants which do not bite
and I like them and despise fire ants who do bite and hurt...
The carpenter ants are getting into my hummingbird feeders
so I had to spray the bottom of the pole with ant spray and ground
but I was careful to not spray plants or foliage or anything that would harm
hummers or butterflys ..

Hope that helps...check out carpenter ants..
large and reddish and do not bite or harm anything that I know of
sheri in alabama zone 8
Name: Elaine
South Sarasota, Florida (Zone 9b)
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dyzzypyxxy
Aug 18, 2015 9:20 PM CST
Ants won't generally hurt your plants, Greg. They are probably nesting in the pot because it's warm and moist but up off the ground. Come winter they will 'migrate' down into the ground where it will stay warmer. They're just a nuisance.

Some types of ants will sometimes 'farm' other insects to harvest their droppings, which are sweet and sticky. So they can actually import things like aphids and whiteflies onto some plants for this purpose. But if the ants aren't getting on your plants. I don't think you have any worries unless they're bothering you.

If you do want to get rid of them, for instance if you were to move the plant indoors for the winter, a bait works the best, and targets only the ants. Some ants change their diet through the course of the seasons, eating protein bait in winter and sweet bait in warmer weather. So if you bait, and the ants don't take it away, try another type of bait until you find the right thing. They will take it back to the nest and poison the queen which destroys the colony. If you only kill the crawling workers that you see coming and going, the nest will continue to produce new ants, and sometimes will divide and form two nests, so just dusting or spraying stuff sometimes makes matters worse.

Down here our County Extension service gives classes each year specifically on Ants, Ants Ants. They're fun and very informative. But I'd guess we might have a few more bothersome types of ants here than you have up there, and they are active for more of the year, as well.
Elaine

"Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm." โ€“Winston Churchill
Name: Tiffany
Opp, AL (Zone 8b)
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purpleinopp
Aug 19, 2015 8:40 AM CST
From what I've seen of them, ants of any kind in pots are bad. That looks like the kind commonly called "piss ants" around here. Their tunneling/nesting destroys the soil structure/drainage in pots, as well as bringing pests to plants, as mentioned above, including the insidious and impossible to see root mealybugs. I have been battling ants for years in potted plants (which I have over 100 of, some years,) and they are my primary nemesis to having plants do well. They seem to prefer some pots over others, but I can't find the key to what the difference is.

If you can follow their trail to their ground nest, pouring boiling water on that will kill a LOT of them.

๐Ÿ‘€๐Ÿ˜๐Ÿ˜‚ - SMILE! -โ˜บ๐Ÿ˜Žโ˜ปโ˜ฎ๐Ÿ‘ŒโœŒโˆžโ˜ฏ๐Ÿฃ๐Ÿฆ๐Ÿ”๐Ÿ๐Ÿฏ๐Ÿพ
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โ˜•๐Ÿ‘“ The only way to succeed is to try.
Name: Elaine
South Sarasota, Florida (Zone 9b)
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dyzzypyxxy
Aug 19, 2015 8:55 AM CST
But Tiffany, if you don't kill the queen, the ants will just move the nest and continue breeding. Or if they percieve a hostile environment, they will also elect another queen and make another new nest, so by killing just "a lot" of the ants, you can actually compound the problem. Also, you can't pour boiling water into a pot with a plant in it, without killing the plant too, right?

Bait is The Way To Go, according to our wonderful old entomologist (now sadly retired) at the County Extension service. I have very little problem with ants here, since I do bait whenever I see them. Our house is old, with many cracks so if I don't keep them in check, they end up in the house as soon as the weather gets cold. There's a new organically approved bait called "Come N Get It" available at our feed store, although the big box stores haven't picked it up yet. That's what we use around the school garden, too. Approved for use around edibles.
Elaine

"Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm." โ€“Winston Churchill
Name: Greg
Lake Forest Park, Washington (Zone 8b)
Garden Ideas: Level 1
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Brinybay
Aug 19, 2015 10:39 AM CST
purpleinopp said:From what I've seen of them, ants of any kind in pots are bad. That looks like the kind commonly called "piss ants" around here. Their tunneling/nesting destroys the soil structure/drainage in pots, as well as bringing pests to plants, as mentioned above, including the insidious and impossible to see root mealybugs. I have been battling ants for years in potted plants (which I have over 100 of, some years,) and they are my primary nemesis to having plants do well. They seem to prefer some pots over others, but I can't find the key to what the difference is.

If you can follow their trail to their ground nest, pouring boiling water on that will kill a LOT of them.



When I was in military training in Louisiana, some guys called fire ants piss ants. We don't have them in the NW, but if they're carpenter ants, that gives me equal, maybe more concern because our house it old, last thing we need is ants chewing on it!

"Love the people who treat you right and forget the ones who don't." - Chiune Sugihara
Name: Tiffany
Opp, AL (Zone 8b)
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purpleinopp
Aug 19, 2015 11:03 AM CST
Piss ants is used fairly generically, there are probably many kinds that would be referred to that way. I've not heard anyone referring to fire ants as anything but that, so I had included that bit'o'info to differentiate, and agree that it doesn't look like a fire ant to me either. Sorry to have clouded the issue. AFAIK, those always build a mound too.

TY, Elaine! No, I wouldn't pour boiling water into a pot with a plant in it, just the ground if I can trace them to the spot where a ground nest/hole is, and that happens to be a spot where it would be harmless to anything but ants. Usually hard to follow their trail if it goes through the lawn, and almost always leads to the base of a live tree (where I also wouldn't put boiling water) or stump. If I had money for things like ant bait, I would buy an industrial load of it! Our whole town seems to be in/on a giant ant colony. I don't doubt one bit what you say, that killing thousands once in a while probably doesn't do much except make me feel better, for a few mins. There's no way they could all be killed, even if one battled them full-time and had unlimited access to an effective product. But it might be possible to clear them away from a house. I'll be thrilled to try someday, hopefully.
๐Ÿ‘€๐Ÿ˜๐Ÿ˜‚ - SMILE! -โ˜บ๐Ÿ˜Žโ˜ปโ˜ฎ๐Ÿ‘ŒโœŒโˆžโ˜ฏ๐Ÿฃ๐Ÿฆ๐Ÿ”๐Ÿ๐Ÿฏ๐Ÿพ
๐Ÿ€๐Ÿ‘’โ˜€๐Ÿ„๐Ÿ๐ŸŒฑ๐ŸŒฟ๐ŸŒด๐ŸŽ„๐Ÿ‘ฃ๐ŸŒต๐ŸŒทโš˜๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒป๐ŸŒฝ๐Ÿก๐Ÿƒ๐Ÿ‚๐ŸŒพ๐ŸŒฟ๐Ÿโฆโง ๐Ÿƒ๐Ÿ๐Ÿ‚๐ŸŒพ๐ŸŒป๐ŸŒบ๐ŸŒธ๐ŸŒผ๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒณ๐ŸŒฒ
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Name: Audrey
Central Texas (Zone 8a)
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Esperanza
Aug 19, 2015 7:12 PM CST
dyzzypyxxy said: There's a new organically approved bait called "Come N Get It" available at our feed store, although the big box stores haven't picked it up yet. That's what we use around the school garden, too. Approved for use around edibles.


Thank you for this information. I had not heard of this organic option before. I am looking it up now for reviews and ingredients. I have been trying everything and the ants are a huge pest in my succulent pots. They build the nests up around the base of the plants in less than a day. They work fast and are relentless in multiplying to surrounding pots Grumbling Cinnamon and pepper works o.k. most times, but the still will "harvest" from them. I was planning on getting a large thing of corn meal tomorrow to spread everywhere around my chicken coops. I normally live and let live, but stinging ants have no place here!

Name: Greg
Lake Forest Park, Washington (Zone 8b)
Garden Ideas: Level 1
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Brinybay
Aug 19, 2015 10:56 PM CST
purpleinopp said:

TY, Elaine! No, I wouldn't pour boiling water into a pot with a plant in it, just the ground if I can trace them to the spot where a ground nest/hole is, and that happens to be a spot where it would be harmless to anything but ants.


I think she meant pouring the hot water into the ant hole. Each time I moved the pot, I could see a hole that they hurriedly moved their eggs into. The other type of ants I was referring to are thatching ants. I've only seen them in the southern Puget Sound area: http://activerain.com/blogsview/1039826/if-you-were-a-thatch...

I don't believe the small red ants I'm seeing are carpenter ants: http://www.hipspro.com/Carpenter_ant.htm
"Love the people who treat you right and forget the ones who don't." - Chiune Sugihara
[Last edited by Brinybay - Aug 21, 2015 11:45 PM (+)]
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Name: Joe
Germantown, Tennessee (Zone 7b)
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exfed
Aug 20, 2015 10:46 AM CST
My recent experience puts ants into the "bad" category. My two outside air conditioner units sit near an annual flower bed. These are the compressor units. About a month ago, one of the units quit working because the fan motor burned out. Called my trustworthy AC company, determined the fan motor was dead and had it replaced ($500). Two weeks later, unit not working again. Same problem with fan motor burned out. Replaced it under warranty and that one lasted three days. All wiring, etc. checked out fine. Head scratching time for AC company and me. Another week, same problem. This time all parts were taken apart and very closely examined. Guess what. Small ants had gotten into the small electrical transfer box and were shorting it out. No signs of active ant nest when unit was checked those three times. Apparently, ants love the electrical field in the unit or maybe even the vibrations of the unit when cycling. Who knows. AC guys say this happens, but is rare and they see it maybe once every 3 or 4 years. Lots of ant spray in both units and all is well. So, since I'm out a good chunk of money, ants are on my not nice list.
Name: Elaine
South Sarasota, Florida (Zone 9b)
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dyzzypyxxy
Aug 20, 2015 10:55 AM CST
I agree, not good for electric and electronic stuff. We had the same problem with an electronic gate opener a year or so ago.

Btw, I just put a mothball or two in the control box now and the ants stay away.

But as far as harming plants, I haven't found any problems with ants besides the farming of aphids and such. Wash the plants off with the hose occasionally, (or a really good rain storm) and it takes care of that problem too.

I know in Mexico and other hotter places they have a variety of ants called leafcutters, but even they don't actually eat the plants. They cut pieces of the leaves to carry away and make nesting areas out of. Seldom enough damage to kill a plant.
Elaine

"Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm." โ€“Winston Churchill
Name: Greg
Lake Forest Park, Washington (Zone 8b)
Garden Ideas: Level 1
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Brinybay
Aug 20, 2015 11:06 AM CST
I'm still trying to determine what type of ants these are. I've found a couple of places online that have pictures, but they're too technical. I do know that these ants do not make a trail, I see one or two at a time that seem to be foraging alone. When I get time, I'm going to try to get a clearer picture of one.

http://academic.evergreen.edu/projects/ants/TESCBiota/common...
"Love the people who treat you right and forget the ones who don't." - Chiune Sugihara
Name: Elaine
South Sarasota, Florida (Zone 9b)
The one constant in life is change
Cat Lover Master Gardener: Florida Tropicals Multi-Region Gardener Vegetable Grower Region: Florida
Herbs Orchids Birds Garden Ideas: Level 2 Garden Sages Celebrating Gardening: 2015
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dyzzypyxxy
Aug 20, 2015 1:01 PM CST
Greg, your County Extension service should have access to an entemologist somewhere who could ID them for you. If you can get a clear, close-up picture they might even be able to pin them down from that.

Otherwise, we have people all the time bringing little bottles of ants and other bugs in to the Extension office. They train your County Master Gardeners to know all the common bugs in your area. At least they do that here.
Elaine

"Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm." โ€“Winston Churchill
Name: Jennifer
48036 MI (Zone 6b)
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jvdubb
Aug 20, 2015 1:24 PM CST
Also we have a bug ID forum
http://garden.org/forums/view/otherid/
Name: Sandi
Austin, Tx (Zone 8b)
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Bubbles
Aug 20, 2015 1:26 PM CST
@exfed The ants in your AC unit sounds like Rasberry (named after the exterminator who first discovered them in Houston area) or crazy ants. You need to be extra vigilant because they will come back. They are a terrible, expensive pest. I see you're in Tennessee. That means they are either migrating or someone brought theym into the neighborhood in a move from the south. Don't read the following if you want to sleep well tonight.


http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-rise-of-the-cr...
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Name: Ginger
Fountain, Florida (Zone 8b)
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gingin
Aug 21, 2015 2:28 PM CST
When pouring boiling water on the ants/down their hole add dish soap to it...not only will they "boil to death" so to speak, but they will also suffocate.
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