Vegetable gardens and ants have been a combination gardeners have dealt with for generations. Ants belong to the same insect family as bees and termites, which mean ants are social insects and live in colonies. Like bees, ants can be beneficial to vegetable gardens if their colony growth is kept in check. If the colony grows large enough, the ants will overrun the garden and can cause considerable damage. Ants, like bees and termites, can also inflict serious pain and damage to property if not dealt with quickly.
Ants in small numbers are useful to the plants in a vegetable garden. They eat the larvae of flies, fleas and other insects that can damage plants. Ants also hunt caterpillars that eat plant leaves. They can also pollinate much like bees, carrying nectar from one plant to the next.
Ants in large numbers can destroy a vegetable garden. This is especially true for red ants, which can number in the thousands per colony. Ants go after seedlings, weak plants and pods. They have also been known to keep other types of insects, such as aphids, in a garden because the ants use their secretions as a food supply.
Ants and Aphids
Aphids are a sucking insect that, in large numbers, can cause plants to yellow, have stunted growth and eventually die. Ants will cultivate an aphid community in the same garden. During winter, ants protect the aphid eggs from predators. When the eggs hatch, the ants the ants will carry the aphid to the appropriate plant, where the aphid can feed. If an ant colony becomes large, it is in relation to an aphid colony nearby. One of the methods to control the ants is to eliminate the aphids. Do this either with hot, soapy water sprayed on the aphids or by introducing ladybugs and lacewings into the garden; these insects eat adult aphids.
Ants can be controlled by eliminating the food source and keeping the colony on the outside of the garden. Eliminate any garbage or pet food left nearby the garden. You can also drown ants with water. Use boiling, soapy water poured over the colony to drive the ants away or kill them off. Moving the colony physically is also a control method, but it is time- and labor-intensive; it can also be dangerous if you are trying to move red ants because these ants sting and cause severe irritation to skin.
Some methods of removing ants from vegetable gardens are dangerous. One of these is boric acid. This treatment is harmful to humans and should not be used if you have pets or children. Be careful of using boiling water in the garden; too much water on the plants will cook the plants. Understand that a small colony left unchecked will develop into a large colony quickly. Like bees, you must kill the queen for the ant colony to effectively be destroyed.