Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Ants - the unwelcome orchard inhabitants

I’ve always had a soft spot for ants. Hard working, intelligent and organized little creatures. I’ve come across gardeners before who do not like them but always found it hard to empathise….. but alas in the light of recent publications and findings, I have to place them high on the list of the critters-top-10-most -wanted!
It comes about due to the ants’ unfortunate liking for honeydew. Honeydew is the sugary sweet substance secreted by aphids. It’s what makes the leaves so sticky when you have an aphid outbreak on your fruit trees. Ants – or at least red ants anyway – are inordinately fond of the stuff and apparently will go to great lengths to obtain it. Incredibly, and this is what makes them so unwelcome – they not only encourage, but farm aphid colonies on trees and plants – and unfortunately that means your precious cherries and apples and plums in particular. Ants have actually been observed carrying lone aphids to new shoots in order that they spread the colony. They also attack, deter and kill other beneficial insects such as Lacewings and earwigs, that are found to be trying to attack the aphid colony.
Of course advising that you try to deter ants from a garden environment isn’t easy. Unless you actually know where the nest is – there may well be more than one – it’s almost impossible. But spend some time observing the ants, and where they go to and come from, may well reap rewards. The best solution for dealing with an ants nest is to pour boiling water on it. You can also buy sprays that deal with ants at any hardware store but it’s only really useful on individuals one at a time rather than dealing with a whole nest.
Sticky bands which are placed around the base of a tree definitely work – but unfortunately will also trap spiders, earwigs, ladybirds and lacewings which are the natural enemies of the aphid so a bit self-defeating.
One things for sure – forewarned is forearmed so if you see a line of ants patrolling any of your fruit trees then it’s time for action. And yes, I still feel guilty even saying so. But you simply can’t afford to have aphid colonies being nurtured on your fruit growing territory; not only do they sap a plant or trees strength, they also spread viruses and encourage sooty moulds to grow on the sticky secretions they leave on leaf and stem.

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