Ants in your Garden: Good or Bad?
Have you noticed many ant colonies in your garden this Spring and summer especially in areas without vegetation? Should you do something about them? Maybe.
Life cycles of ants range from 2-3 months depending on soil temperature.
From mid October to mid May, they hibernate in burrows deep below the
nest mound. This is why you do not see any right now.
As temperatures increase in Spring, colonies become active building up the mound and removing vegetation from the surface. Because there is no vegetation on the mound, we notice them. The mounds act as solariums to capture heat in early Spring for incubating the brood. Research has shown that colonies in shaded areas have a low probability of survival..
Small white elliptical eggs are found within the mound around mid June.
Eggs hatch in 2-4 weeks revealing white legless larvae which are completely dependent upon foraging workers for food and survival.
Workers collect a variety of small insects such as aphids, caterpillars, leaf hoppers, grasshoppers, flies as well as dead vertebrates, seeds, small seedlings.
Beneficial aspects of Ants:
They move approximately the same amount of soil as worms, loosening the soil in the process and increasing air and water movement into the ground. They keep the ecosystem clean of insect carcasses and aid in the destruction of plant and animal matter. By carrying this matter into their nests, the soil is fertilized and nutrients are recycled through the ecosystem.
Harmful aspects of Ants: Too many mounds so that desired young vegetation and seeds are destroyed
It is preferable to control the ants verses killing them.
Especially during periods of wet Spring weather, wash the mound with a stream of water from the garden hose. You may have to do this several days in a row. The ants will relocate.
Ants are repelled by strong smells and acidy plant substances so will relocate. Mix lemon, hot peppers or garlic with water in a blender and then apply the solution as a spray or drench around where the mounds are. A few ants will be killed but the rest will relocate.
The ant trail can also be disrupted using a spray of soap and water or garlic and water or peppermint and water. This confuses the ants.
Eliminate honey dew insects (aphids, mealy bugs, scale) since ants farm them for the honeydew they secrete.
Other organic methods to use as a last resort but will kill the ants:
Sprinkle baking soda around the mounds as it is poisonous to ants . They take it back to the nest and die.
This is also true with spreading diatomaceous earth around the mound.
Pour 3 gallons of boiling water into the nest each day for several days in a row mid morning when ants are most active.
Environment Resources Committee of New Gloucester 11/3/15