Can ants kill plants? Yes, they can. But hang on.
Not all species of ants kill plants. Most ants can be beneficial to the plants of your yard or garden.
They’ll hunt down the plant pests and thereby helping you in a way to control plant-damaging pests in your garden.
Ants also help in the aeration of the soil enabling the plants to absorb more nutrients.
But two species can kill plants. So, what are these species?
Let’s find it out.
Leafcutter Ants And Red Fire Ants Can Kill Plants
Most species of ants are good for plants. But leafcutter ants in your yard, garden, and plant pots are deadly for the plants.
Leafcutter ants are the generic name given to 47 ant species. These are native to Mexico and Central America.
In the US, there are only two species of leafcutter ants. They’re limited to Arizona, Texas, Louisiana, and some parts of southern California, for now.
Leafcutter ants grow up to ½ an inch in size, and they’re reddish-brown to dark brown.
The spines on their thorax leading to the abdomen are apparent, distinguishing them from other ants.
Most of the time, you’ll notice leafcutter ants carrying little vegetation, like a broken leaf on their mandibles.
Leafcutter ants are known as the town ant, cut ant, parasol ants, fungus ant, and night ant.
These ants are highly destructive to plants in the gardens, orchards (especially plum trees and peach trees), and even crops.
Leafcutter ants kill the plants by cutting off their leaves stems and attacking their roots. That makes them deadly to ornamental plants in the garden.
The strange part is these ants don’t eat the leaves and stems of the plants.
So, what do leafcutter ants do with the leaves?
Leafcutter ants will take the leaves to their underground nests and deposit the leaves there to rot.
Over time, the fungus develops in the leaves buried in the underground nests they eat.
Entomologists believe that leafcutter ants eat fungus growing on the decaying leaves deposited in their nests.
Unlike most ant species, leafcutter ants don’t eat sugary stuff or dead insects.
Another species of ants that can kill plants in your garden is the red fire ants.
Red fire ants are omnivores. They eat insects, dead animals, and plants.
The red fire ants will feed on a variety of things on plants. Some of them are –
- Seeds of trees like walnuts, sunflowers, and peanuts. The oil in the seeds is the red fire ants’ reliable source of fat and protein.
- The honeydew that other plants pests like aphids, whiteflies, and mealybugs produce. Red fire ants will eat these plants’ pests too.
- Red fire ants can dig the soil around the seedlings and young plants. That will cause girdling, which leads to drying of the roots.
- Red fire ants will kill crops by tunneling into their roots.
- Red fire ants will kill beneficial insects like bees and other species of ants.
Their numbers increase fast. A single female red fire ant can lay 1250 eggs per day.
Red fire ants are fiercely aggressive. A single red fire ant bites and stings at the same time. And they attack in swarms.
Red fire ants infestation in the garden, yard, or in the agricultural fields is noticeable by the ants’ mounds on the soil.
The distinctive feature of the red fire ant mound is that their mounds don’t have a whole or an opening at the top.
Red fire ants will create the entry and exit points along the perimeter of the mound rather than on the tip of it like most species of ants do.
There are specific ways to get rid of each of these ants. The method that works on the red fire ants won’t work on the leafcutter ants.
So, let’s find out how to get rid of leafcutter ants and red fire ants.
How To Get Rid Of Leafcutter Ants?
As per Texas A&M university, getting rid of leafcutter ants is difficult. Multiple follow-up treatments, after the main treatment is needed to get rid of these ants from your property.
These ants eat only the fungus that forms on the rotting leaves, so ant baits and pesticide sprays marked for regular ants don’t work on them.
To eliminate leafcutter ants, you’ve to attack their source which is their underground nests. And you do it by using ant granules.
Amdoro ant block is one of the few ant granules in the market that work on leafcutter ants.
You’ll need to slightly dig up the anthill or the mud mound of the leafcutter ants before using the ant granule.
Only scattering the granules around or on the ant mound or on the ant trail won’t work.
Also, applying the ant granule only once won’t work either.
Though leafcutter ant activities will decline within 4 to 6 weeks after the first application, they can come back within 4 months.
So, you’ll need multiple applications of ant granules to get rid of these ants.
You can use ant granules only outdoors. Don’t use it on agricultural lands because these granules can be harmful to the crops.
While digging up leafcutter ant mounds, ensure that you wear shoes and full trousers. It will help if you tuck the trousers inside the socks.
Leafcutter ants aren’t aggressive like fire ants, but they’ll turn aggressive and bite while you’re destroying their colonies.
So, take appropriate precautions. Also, follow the use directions on the Amdoro ant block granule’s labels.
How To Get Rid Of Fire Ants In Plants?
Getting rid of fire ants in and around plants is straightforward, but it needs some diligence and caution.
Fire ants are fiercely aggressive. When they feel they or their nests are under threat, fire ants attack in hordes. A single fire ant can sting and bite multiple times.
So, while getting rid of them, it’s essential to keep yourself covered with appropriate clothing. Also, wear shoes with socks and your pants tucked into the socks.
To get rid of fire ants on the plants, spray a plant-safe ant spray on the fire ants. The spray will kill them on contact.
But to ensure that fire ants don’t come back to the plants, check for fire ant colonies nearby the plants, in your lawn, garden, and yard.
Fire ant nests are tiny mud mounds or ant hills on the ground. Unlike most ant mounds, the fire ant mounds don’t have any crater or hole at the tip.
Fire ants enter and exit their nests through the holes and gaps along the perimeter of the mounds.
There are two basic ways to get rid of fire ants in the garden: hot water and ant baits.
On finding the ant mounds, pour hot water on the mound. Hot water kills the fire ants.
But be careful. Swarms of fire ants will attack you. But if you’re wearing protective clothing, they won’t be able to bite you.
Another effective and non-confrontational way to eliminate fire ants in the garden and the potted plants is gel ant baits.
The gel ant baits come in syringes. Apply a few drops of gel ant baits around the potted plants and on places where you notice fire ant foraging activity.
Spring is usually when fire ants become active, and their activity lasts till the mid of fall. So, apply the gel bait during this period.
Avoid using the gel bait in wet weather because the rainwater will wash away the gel bait.
How does gel baits work? The gel baits contain ingredients like soyabean oil which attract the ants.
The fire ants eat the gel bait. They also carry the baits back to their colonies. The ants in the colonies also eat the gel baits.
These gel baits contain insecticides that kill all the ants that feed on them.
An easier alternative to gel bait is the granular ant baits.
Granular ant baits eliminate fire ants, their queen, and their entire colony.
Scatter the granular ant bait on the ant mounds and trails and on the places where you’ve noticed fire ant activities.
Acephate eliminates fire ants in lawns and yards.
But there’s a catch. Do not use baits containing acephate for treating ants in the vegetable garden.
Some ant baits that contain acephate are Hi-Yield Acephate Fire Ant Killer, Ortho Orthene Fire Ant Killer, or Surrender Fire Ant Killer. You should avoid using these in vegetable gardens.
To get rid of fire ants in the vegetable garden, use Spinosad, permethrin, or bifenthrin-based insecticides and baits.
Leafcutter ants and red fire ants can kill plants. These ants can kill ants in pots, yard, garden, and can even damage the grass in your lawn.
In this guide, you’ve found out how these ants look like, their behavior, and how they cause the damage.
There are also tips and information on how to get rid of these ants and the challenges you’ll face while eliminating them.
Remember to wear protective clothing and read the safety instructions on the sprays and granules before using them.
Nang Chen is an Entomologist and Arachnologist who is associated with Vienna’s museum of natural history. He’s also a consultant with real estate groups, insecticide conglomerates and law enforcement groups as a forensic entomologist. Nang Chen holds an M.S. from South China University and he’s a regular contributor to our site.