If you’re a vegetable garden lover (like myself), you’ve probably seen an abundance of different wildlife and insects around your patch. Although it’s great to have them there as they provide massive benefits to our ecosystem, they can sometimes be pests. After seeing an ant colony build a mound in the middle of my vegetable patch, I thought to myself, “Is this going to be a problem?”. To save me from any issues, I decided to compile some comprehensive research on if ants will eat my vegetables. I discovered the following:
Only some ants will eat your vegetables. Typically, these are species that have a reddish-brown appearance, or also known as fire ants, because of their sting. They usually go for seeds, as these are easy to store within their colonies and offer an astounding number of vitamins that can increase their life expectancy.
As you can see from the above, only a few species of ants can cause negative effects on your vegetable garden, which is usually just the seeds or seedlings. The species that can cause havoc are commonly known as fire or red ants. Which, as you can imagine, they have a reddish appearance.
However, with black ants, they can actually provide our vegetable gardens with benefits, so be sure not to shoo them away too quickly.
To better understand ants and their effect on your vegetable garden, I’ve developed this extremely in-depth guide with everything you need to know about this relationship.
Will ants eat vegetable gardens?
As mentioned above, ants don’t typically indulge themselves with vegetables. In fact, they only want the seeds as they’re light to carry and provide an excellent source of vitamins to their entire colony.
To my surprise, fire ants are the primary pests for this type of issue. This is because they’re usually much larger than black ant species and can carry a lot more resources. So, you can consider these 200 species of fire ants, the workers of the ant world.
Apart from ants stealing your seeds, there isn’t much else they’re able to achieve. However, from a colony developing in your vegetable garden, they can also invite more sap-loving plants, which can cause harmful effects.
Why do red ants eat seeds?
Ants are wonderful seed dispersers, and they adore moving them away from your vegetable garden and transporting them into their colonies. This is because they provide an astronomical number of nutritional benefits and can offer an entire colony an excellent food source. Because it’s such an easily accessible and vital food source for ants, you’ll typically find they nest in forests, vegetable garden patches, or next to seed-producing plants. Below are more reasons why ants are attracted to your seeds:
Some seeds will have elaiosomes caps to them, which can seem highly inviting for ants. These contain essential proteins, oils, and many other chemicals which attracts ants to a specific location.
Most of the time, foraging ants that are part of the fire ant family will eat the elaiosomes caps and leave the seed behind. So, it can almost act as a prevention method. If this occurs, the seed will still germinate in the right conditions where you originally sowed them into the ground. The only downside to elaiosomes caps is that they’ll typically break off the seeds before you lay them because of the packaging and shipping.
As mentioned above, ants love seeds because they’re the perfect food source for large colonies. They won’t necessarily eat the seed right away, as they’ll take them back to their nests to store. The harvesting ants (fire ants or also known as Pogonomyrmex) are well-known for this type of behavior. Typically, these carriers are found in hotter climates and look a reddish-brown color. Apart from being identifiable from their color, you should also be able to see a small “beard” on their chin.
Now you understand the reasons behind fire ants taking your seeds. I wouldn’t go ahead and exterminate them right away. Although they can provide you with some negatives, they can also offer you some immense benefits. This is because they can minimize the number of “real” predators in your vegetable garden. Remember, ants don’t just eat seeds. They also find other insects and pests rather delicious too.
Due to this, exterminating may be a bad idea, and you may want to consider controlling the infestation rather than completely getting rid of it.
Are ants bad for a vegetable garden?
In your vegetable garden, ants can be pests in various ways and depending on the species type, some are worse than others. To understand this better, see below:
We’ve mentioned a lot about red ants causing issues in your garden, but black ones can also produce some very minor problems also. Here are what they are:
- Most insects invite other insects, and if a colony of black ants appears, an increased amount of other harmful insects can also follow.
- Ants love to dig. Because of these tunnels, they make the soil weak for the roots.
- Just like red ants, black ants can build colonies in small mud mounds. This can look unpleasant to the eye and depending on the location, can affect your plant’s growth.
Although the above negatives sound extremely bad, this is rarely an issue and something you shouldn’t worry about. However, you should be aware of this in case the problem is becoming uncontrollable.
Above, we’ve mentioned various reasons why red ants can harm your vegetable garden. Below is a summary of the negatives red ants can cause you:
- Fire ants don’t just cause a nasty sting. They love stealing your seeds and seedlings to store them in their colonies.
- Red ants can cause all the negatives that come along with black ants.
- These types of ants are a lot larger and can commonly have bigger colonies making the infestation much more devastating.
As you can see, both ant types can cause adverse effects to your vegetable garden. However, red ants have a significant increase in issues they can cause, as they can trigger the same problems as black ants and much more.
How ants can help your vegetable garden
We’ve briefly spoken about the negative effects that ants can have on your garden, but there must be some good ones, right? Well, you’re correct. Ants play a significant role in our ecosystem. After all, that’s why they’re here because all insects and animals serve a purpose in the food chain. To gain a better understanding of how ants can actually help your vegetable garden, see below.
Natural pest repellents
As questionable as that may sound, pests can control pests. But this is very similar to other garden-related pests like green lacewings, lady beetles, and much more. This is because ants are scavengers, as they’ll eat practically anything that provides them energy. I’m sure you’ve seen ants hang out near bins, which says it all. However, apart from eating our garbage, they’re also inclined to eat other pest’s eggs.
Because they enjoy indulging in such things, it minimizes the chances of other pest reproducing. Because of this, people commonly call ants an effective biological control agent, as they can serve a purpose in pest management.
Improves pollination rates
Did you know, pollination plays a vital role in developing vegetables? So much that 1/3 of our food is a result of pollination. Without it, some vegetables will flourish but not actually produce any vegetables. If this were to occur, it would be rather frustrating, to say the least.
During my school years, I was also told that pollination mainly came from bees. Although bees are a crucial player in this situation, ants can also apply a similar effect. As you’re probably aware, ants cross and scour over vegetables to find valuable resources. Due to this, they’re carrying pollination particles over to other plants, which allows for more even distribution.
Helps our ecosystem
A healthy ecosystem means healthy plants, and although ants are known to make the soil much weaker for vegetables to grow successfully. They can actually speed up the process of decomposition with organic material such as dead insects or leaves. Because of this, they naturally help fertilize your vegetables. Apart from this, they’ll also feast on fungus which will put more organic matter into your soil.
As you can see, although ants can offer disadvantages to our vegetables, they can also offer some remarkable benefits. However, the negatives should never be forgotten about, and below we go into detail about these.
How ants can negatively affect your vegetable garden
Like with all benefits, there must come some negatives. Below, we discuss the disadvantages that ants cause our vegetable gardens.
Although ants love eating tiny insect eggs, they can actually help various sap-sucking bugs out. Unfortunately for us, they help insects like mealybugs and aphids by carrying them to safety away from predators. This safety net is typically the closest set of plants or vegetables they’re able to find.
Because they’re sap farming insects, they take away a vital nutrient from our plants, which can dramatically reduce their development. This shows as a study was conducted at the University of Turku in Finland, as they discovered that sap-feeding insects reduce growth by 29%, reproduction by 17%, and decreases the effect of photosynthesis by 27%. As you’re able to see, due to this infestation, your plants can receive significant negatives.
Ants can get considerably large, and especially red ants. As they get bigger, they also dig much more significant holes in your soil. This is called tunneling, and if this occurs, your vegetable roots will have a much weaker base to grow in. Although it’s rare for ants to achieve this, a large colony can undoubtedly do it.
For sufficient growth, your vegetables need “perfect” living conditions. Failing to do so may result in you not receiving the outcome you were once hoping for. So, if you believe your infestation is becoming an issue, it’s time to get rid of them.
Leafcutter and fire ants
We’ve spoken about fire ants and the effects they can have on our plants. To recap, they love stealing seeds and taking them back to their colonies. But, something I haven’t mentioned is leaf cutter ants. This is because they’re a rare ant species that only exist in some climates.
Leafcutter plants aren’t their generic name, as they’re called Atta or Acromyrmex. But whatever you name them, they love taking your leaves. However, they don’t eat them. They actually take them back to their nests and use them to grow fungus which is another excellent food source for ants.
Another prevalent issue is ant hills. They don’t just look awful to look at, but they can be rather destructive. Sometimes if an ant hill is highly populated, it can move pavement slabs, rocks, and various other decorative items out of place, causing them to break.
Ant hills also take away some nutrients from the surrounding plants and vegetables. These hills are built for ants to raise their young in stable temperatures. To make these the perfect living conditions the mound needs access to sunlight and good nutritious soil to even out the temperature and humidity inside. Due to this, ant hills steal soil mass which is home to water and oxygen.
From above, you’re able to develop an understanding of the benefits and negatives ants cause us. If you have a colony of black ants, I would consider keeping them if they don’t become unmanageable. However, if they’re fire ants, I would exterminate them immediately. For some excellent knowledge about how to get rid of red ants, see below.
Best fire ant baits
We’ve continually spoken about how much of a nuisance fire ants can be to your adored vegetable gardens. Although they can leave you with a nasty sting, fire ants are also known to steal seeds or seedlings, which they take back to their colonies.
Before we get into these baits, something that’ll deter fire ants away from your vegetable garden is tilling. If you till around their mounds, this disrupts them forcing the ants to leave. However, I understand that some ant hills cannot be tilled because of their location. Because of this, we have to come up with ways to remove them from your vegetable patch successfully.
NOTE – Before we get into this, you should be aware that the best time of year to control fire ants is in spring or fall. If you’re applying baits around an area during this time, you’ll see the best results.
Below we go into detail about vegetable-friendly fire ant baits. However, before applying them to your designated area, be sure to read the label for where and how it can be used safely. The label must state that the baits are specially designed to be placed around vegetables without disturbing their growth development.
Understanding the basics
Before we jump into the best fire ant baits, it’s essential to understand some basic information based on them.
Only a select few fire ant baits can be used in both lawn and garden environments. The ones that I suggest you use need to have two active ingredients inside them. These are spinosad and pyriproxyfen.
Spinosad is an entirely natural metabolite product, which is produced by soil microorganisms. Due to its traits, it can affect the ant’s nervous system while providing organic benefits to your vegetables. If you were to opt-in for a bait that includes spinosad, you’d receive results fast and efficiently.
Now for pyriproxyfen, this is considered an insect growth regulator as it reduces reproduction. Although this pesticide is great for stopping the reproduction of more ants, it doesn’t actually eliminate the existing ones. Due to this, colonies can survive several months after applying this treatment.
If red ants appear, it’s best to immediately apply this pesticide to reduce the chances of them developing a large colony in your garden. Remember not to just treat their hills but also areas around your vegetable garden. This is because ants will travel several feet away from their colony to gather resources and food.
When treating a mound, many people apply the bait directly on top of it. However, this is a highly ineffective way of doing it. Instead, sprinkle the baits around the mound and on top. This way, the ants can carry it into their colony and multiply the spread.
The best time to apply baits is either with temperatures around 70 to 75 ºF or during the early morning or late afternoon. These times are best because ants typically forage during these periods. Also, only apply bait if there’s no threat of rainfall within 24 hours. Unlike other baits and fertilizers, ant baits can be less effective due to rainy conditions.
In the ant bait world, there are two solutions. These are liquid-base and granular-based insecticides. Using either depends on the overall size of your investigation. To find out more about these, read below.
The best way to eliminate large mounds from your vegetable garden is to use a liquid insecticide. However, be sure this is suitable for use within your vegetable gardens (below, we discuss some examples). Before applying, be sure you’ve read the instructions. This is because some liquid insecticides come ready-mixed and others non-ready mixed, meaning you may have to add ingredients like water to complete the formula.
The most effective insecticides for ants will contain the active ingredient spinosad, which is the same for this liquid controller. After “drowning” an ant hill with this type of insecticide, it’ll act pretty fast, causing the ants to become exterminated.
Below are some examples of liquid insecticides that contain these ingredients:
- Bonide Captain Jack’s Dead Bug Brew Concentrate
- Monterey Garden Insect Spray Concentrate
- Southern Ag Conserve Naturalyte Insect Control Concentrate
The following effective method of exterminating fire ants from a specific location is by using granules. As we’re now aware, fire ants love stealing seeds. To reduce the chances of this occurring, you can actually apply this granular insecticide in your soil to deter them away.
To achieve this deterring method, you’ll choose one of the below granular insecticides or something similar. You’ll then want to apply it in your vegetable garden before planting or just after emerging them. When used, you’ll need to work it into at least the top 4 to 6 inches of soil. As a rule of thumb, you’ll need to apply around 5 cups per 500 square feet of area. But, before applying, make sure you follow the recommended guidance on the product.
If you want to apply granular insecticides to an individual fire ant mound, you’ll only need to apply around one tablespoon of a granular insecticide. Before applying, make sure your insecticide contains bifenthrin for best results.
Below are some examples we recommend you use for granular insecticides:
- Hi-Yield Vegetable & Ornamental Insect Control Granules
- Bonide Eight Insect Control Flower & Vegetable Soil Above & Below Soil Insect Granules
As you’re able to see from the above, there are various ways in which you’re able to treat a vegetable garden for fire ants. It goes without saying, be sure to read your insecticides labels before applying them to your vegetable garden. Using an incorrect one can be devastating for your crops and can even cause them to die.
As you’re able to see from the above, ants can sometimes cause negative effects to your vegetable garden. However, both black and red ants can cause issues. But typically, it’s just the red ants you really need to worry about. This is because they love stealing our seeds and seedlings, which is unheard of with black ants.
After reading, you should be able to understand the reasons why ants do this and how to prevent them. The prevention methods are relatively simple and easy to implement as long as you have the right equipment. Before exterminating ants, be sure you have the appropriate killers to avoid them causing even more damage to your adored vegetable garden.