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Tomato Plants & Ants

By Izzy McPhee ; Updated September 21, 2017
A black ant on a healthy tomato stem.
ant image by Ekaterina Shvigert from Fotolia.com

If you have a garden, you have ants. Ants are part of the ecosystem that makes up a healthy environment. Just like earthworms, ants create oxygen-rich tunnels while breaking down organic matter that plants need to thrive. Ants also provide limited protection from other insects. Once an ant finds a food source, it will defend it fiercely. Ants can, however, pose a problem if they decide to eat more than a few of your tomatoes. Though there are many ant species, most people will encounter only a few of the most common types. One duty of a gardener is to recognize the difference between a beneficial insect and one that has nefarious intentions.

About Tomatoes

Tomatoes are one of the world’s most popular garden crops. They are grown worldwide and loved for their versatility in the kitchen; they are used for cosmetics and even as ornamental garden additions. You'll find tomatoes used in sauces, soups, pastes and breads as well as added fresh and raw to salads and sandwiches.

Grow tomatoes in well-drained, moist soils. Provide a steady supply of water to prevent fruit from not setting and splitting. A lot of organic matter tilled into the soil promotes not only healthy foliage; it feeds the plants steadily, ensuring plump, juicy fruits. Properly thinned plants stand less of a chance for circulation problems than those crammed together. Prevent fruit rot by thinning crowded fruits.

About Ants

Ant colonies can be vast; they can occupy more than 500 square feet and have depths of 26 feet into the earth. Intricate, far-reaching networks of tunnels allow the colony members to travel safely from one area to the next.

Ants even grow their own food. Depending on the species, each forager ant gathers small bits of organic matter, mixes it with saliva and fecal liquids, and deposits each bundle in a special chamber known as the community garden. Special garden keeper ants fastidiously groom each plot. These ants know the difference between harmful and beneficial fungi.

Ant colonies, like humans, have ranks. There is only a single working queen—her duty is to bear a colony's future members. Gardener ants plant and tend the food chambers while forager ants bring in a steady supply of organic matter. The strongest and most dangerous ants are the soldiers. Most are armed with impressive pinchers and strong stings to protect colony members from predators.

Types of Tomatoes

There are many tomato types available to gardeners. If you like small tomatoes, you'll get high yields of quality fruits from Yellow Riesentrallbe, Bi-color Cherry, Green Doctors, Gold Nugget, Katinka Cherry, Principe Borghese and Red Pear tomato varieties. Large tomato varieties include Beefsteak, Mortgage Lifter, Henderson's Ponderosa Pink, Burpee Delicious and Great White Beefsteak. Oddball tomatoes to consider include Black Pear, Black Zebra, Reisetomate, Yellow Pear and Costoluto Genovese.

Types of Ants

Recognize fire ants (Solenopsis), the invaders from the East, by their red color and aggressive behavior. The ants themselves are small, measuring only ¼ inch long. The first thing most people notice are the hills these angry ants create in lawns and driveways. The second thing they notice is the fire ants' painful stings.

Carpenter ants (Camponotus) are one of the most destructive ants around. They attack homes and businesses all across their habitat. Carpenter ants grow large, to 3/8 inch long. When disturbed, they deliver painful bites and stings. Find these ants by searching for sawdust around buildings.

Argentine ants (Iridomyrmex humilis) create huge colonies and, unlike some other species, have hundreds of queen ants. These tiny ants, only 1/10 inch long, eat sugary food crops. If they become a problem, their onslaught comes day and night until a food source is exhausted. Typically, Argentine ants are not aggressive and pose little threat to people and pets.

Controlling Ants

Methods of ant control include synthetic and organic means. Synthetic pesticides available include carbamates, pyrethroids, organophosphates and organochlorines. Typically, these types of pesticides require you to wait a minimum number of days before ingesting produce treated with them.

Organic methods include natural pyrethrum gathered from the pyrethrum daisy, tea tree oil, cedar oil, natural insecticidal soaps and borax. Keep in mind, even natural products may require a withdrawal period. Other ways of controlling ants include pouring boiling water on their hills and sprinkling diatomaceous earth throughout the area. Keep in mind that all these methods can kill beneficial insects as well. Some, like water, will kill your garden plants.