Ants - Knowledgebase Question

Willingboro, Ne
Question by bonniedejean
June 30, 2010
I have a prblem with ants - they are only 1/8 of an inch long. They have killed 2 PJM Rhododendrons from underground. How can I eliminate them without killing any more plants? Is this happening because the heart of the nest is directly under the plants?

M DeJean

Answer from NGA
June 30, 2010


Ants usually don't kill plants. They do like to feed on the nectar produced by plants and by the honeydew excreted by sucking insects such as aphids, scales or mealy bugs. If you have ants on your plants, there are probably insect populations providing food for the ants. Underground ant nests can cause root problems. As they excavate they can expose the roots to air pockets in the soil which can cause the roots to dry out. Generally you can discourage underground ant nests by regularly flooding the soil. Ants won't like their homes to be too wet. You can try discouraging them by flooding the soil every 3-4 days for a couple of weeks or you can place ant baits on the ground near your rhodies.

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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