Are ants harmful in containers?

newgen(9 Central California)July 19, 2011

A few of my container citrus trees have lots of ants in the soil, when I water, they come up. Is there any harm to the tree if I let them be?

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hoosierquilt USDA 10A Sunset 23 Vista CA

Well, where there are ants, so there are aphids :-) I would not want ants in my container tree, especially if you're over-wintering inside. Put out bait traps for the ants (Borax), and give your citrus a very good high pressure hosing off, focusing in on the newest flush and flowers, to remove any aphids. It is a bit of a fallacy that ants are good pollenators. They're not. Bees, butterflies, moths and even birds do a much better job. Ditch the ants.

Patty S.

    Bookmark   July 19, 2011 at 2:31PM
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newgen(9 Central California)

I'll put out some traps. These containers stay outdoors year round. Thanks,

    Bookmark   July 19, 2011 at 3:19PM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

Actually, ants and aphids aren't always partners. In other words, you can have a colony of ants in your containers and not have any aphids at all. And vice versa. It's also interesting to note that there are some plants are pollinated nicely by ants, though it's not that common. Check out your Sweet Alyssum, if you have any.

But I agree that we do not want them setting up housekeeping in our containerized plants. They can create large air spaces around the root system, causing root dessication. Some ants will nibble on flower nectaries to get the sweet substance via a short-cut. This can harm the flower's chance at fruit formation. We also can't ignore the fact that some ants will sting, too.

Some ants will protect aphids and scale insects from natural predators, that is certainly true.

If you use the Boric acid ant bait traps, be sure to put them where nothing else can get to them. The ants need to have access in and out, but they need to placed where animals or children can't touch them.

    Bookmark   July 19, 2011 at 3:38PM
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TimSF(CA Z8B/Sunset17)

To go completely pesticide-free in warding ants, I keep water filled in a deep catch tray that I place potted plants in. The pot is raised above the water line using pot feet (don't let water touch bottom of pot!). I've kept my orchids (and now IML) completely ant and scale-free for years with this method. There's a picture posted in the start to my thread a couple lines down titled "Meyer lemon tree in 511 - any successes?" if you'd care for a look.

    Bookmark   July 19, 2011 at 4:19PM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

Tim, do you put a few drops of dish soap in your water moat? I've seen ants float across water unless that dish soap was in there.

    Bookmark   July 19, 2011 at 10:46PM
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Rhizo...That is so true. I have actually seen them float across my pond in ant made canoes! Lol. No kidding, I watch them fall in and find a way to get to the other side before my fish and frog grab

I would keep them off my trees for sure.

Good luck


    Bookmark   July 19, 2011 at 10:56PM
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TimSF(CA Z8B/Sunset17)

Hi rhizo. The dish soap is a great idea (I'll have to gave it a try!), but no, I usually just fill with water which won't need topping off again for a couple of months. I find that as long as there are no ants in the pot to begin with, and given that the saucer is a large enough diameter, the ants really don't find great need to explore the (container) island. Just make sure that no ants to start are in the pot and that the plant otherwise does not touch the mainland (side of a wall, etc.) and you'll be ant- and scale-free!

    Bookmark   July 19, 2011 at 11:01PM
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Ants can swim! I have been using the pot on pot feet with big saucer full of water for ages and the ants come and go as they please! I have seen them swim the short distance over to the feet.However,I finally got them beat....spread vasaline around the lip of the saucer...they wont climb over sticky for them and they dont want to get their feet dirty LOL

    Bookmark   July 29, 2011 at 7:48AM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

The vasoline comes with its own problems. Beneficial critters can come into contact with it, for example. That's why the few drops of dish soap is so helpful. The ants will sink to the bottom like they're "swimmin' with da fishes", their little feet weighted down with cement.

    Bookmark   July 29, 2011 at 12:22PM
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Nice one rhizo i will try that then! do you need to lather it up a bit or just pour a drop or two of dishwashing liquid in it?

    Bookmark   July 30, 2011 at 9:48AM
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A drop or two is all that is needed.

What soap does is reduce the surface tension of water, allowing the ant to break through the surface of water, rather than float on it.

    Bookmark   July 30, 2011 at 1:28PM
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