Ants attacking corn?

meloncauli-flowerJuly 31, 2012

I posted a question a while ago about my waist high corn and whether or not they would produce anything. Well I just got silks on it a week or so ago and yesterday I came out to find ants all over it and half the silk was gone. I could see some kernels forming too. I think the ants might have eaten the silks and they might be going after the kernels too. Has anyone else had problems like this? I didn't think the ants would actually be a problem but now I am considering buying ant traps for the garden.

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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

Some ants will go after sweet corn, especially if food in general is scarce. Ants love sweet stuff. They probably are eating the silks and kernels, and once they start, it is hard to stop them. However, even though I have ants in my garden, it isn't ants that I see eating the cornsilks. I'm seeing grasshoppers and other pests that are on the silks in the morning hours and are more likely to be eating the silks than the ants that I see crawling around on the leaves and stalks. So, just the presence of the ants doesn't necessarily meant the ants are doing the damage. It could be almost any plant-eating pest, including grasshoppers and corn earworms.

It is unlikely you would get full ears anyway in this heat. All my late corn that has tasseled, silked and ripened in the last three weeks has been poor quality ears with poor tip fill, and really not enough kernels per ear to make it worth picking and eating. I've been feeding it to the deer.T he poor fertilization is heat-related and you cannot do anything about the heat.

Thus, with poor tip fill likely and the prospect of usable ears slim, only you can decide if it is worth spending the money for ant traps. Before you buy anything, read the label and make sure the traps are labeled for use in a vegetable garden. That's true, of course, with any pesticide. If the ants already are in the garden and damaging the corn, it may be too late for the traps to be effective.

I don't usually have ants bothering sweet corn in an average year, and they usually don't bother early or mid-season corn that ripens before the end of June. As the summer gets hotter and drier, they become peskier on sweet corn and other plants. I normally don't treat my garden for ants unless it is fire ants that are bothering people in the garden.

Ants also are beneficial insects in the garden, so I hate to interfere with them. (I make an exception for fire ants.) I try to leave the insect population alone most of the time and let the good insects take care of the bad insects. In average years that works pretty well. It does not work as well in drought years.

You also could just scatter corn meal or sugar or dry molasses (available at feed stores) on the ground near the corn. It works in a couple of ways. First, it can attract the ants away from the corn plants. Secondly, sugar or dry molasses help improve the soil and make it more biologically active. Ants prefer poorer soil, especially soil low in biological activity. So, for a more long-term improvement, making the soil more biologically active will reduce future ant issues.

Good luck,


    Bookmark   July 31, 2012 at 11:53PM
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Thank you very much for the response. I have decided to just let the ants have it. The ants have a nest somewhere right next to my small patio garden so I may have to try your suggestions for the molasses and corn meal next year. My first year gardening and I have had the worst luck. All year round I've had issues with pests destroying my plants. Caterpillars, leaf miners, and now the ants. Plus one case of fungal disease on my melon and cucumber plants. Not a good 1st year. Lost a lot of plants.

Thank you very much again. Hopefully we will have things under control better for next year.

    Bookmark   August 2, 2012 at 2:16PM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

Don't let the problems get you down.

There is no such thing a a perfect year without pests or diseases. It is becoming increasingly rare to have a year when we aren't battling drought on top of the usual pests and diseases. Maybe next year will be better.

We all lose plants, no matter how long we have been gardening. It happens. Plants get sick and die. They get eaten by deer, rabbits, moles, voles and gophers They get stepped on or laid on by dogs, dug up (especially when small) by cats, and clipped off at the ground level by wild birds. Sometimes they get pulled right out of the ground when non-gardening family members decide to help you while you're weeding the garden. They get diseases, they get pests. They get hit by herbicide drift when someone next door or down the street sprays a herbicide on a windy day. The sun tries to bake, broil and roast them. Hail attacks our plants, tornadoes and severe storms send strong winds barreling their way. Floodwaters rush into their area and try to drown them.

Guess what? Most years you will get good production any way. Maybe everything won't produce at a high level every year, but over time it balances out. Maybe this was the wonderful onion and tomato year, and maybe next year will be the wonderful broccoli and corn year. Most years you won't get a perfect crop from every single thing you plant, but some years you'll get a pretty good crop from pretty much anything.

In gardening, there are no guarantees, but we all keep on doing it anyway.

Pests are much worse in hot dry years. The heat causes them to hatch early and reproduce and grow more quickly. Diseases can be worse if you're watering with some sort of overhead watering system that puts water on the leaves. That's one reason droughts are so hard on everything---it is like the pests and diseases join forces with the drought. I like wet years better, but maybe that's because we have so few of them, and they are such a novelty. I don't think I see as many pests in wet years, but see more diseases. Every kind of weather has its own challenges, but we just work around those as well as we can.

Happy Growing,


    Bookmark   August 2, 2012 at 3:55PM
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I had ants all over my one bed of field corn last year. I washed them off frequently with a hose, but they just came back. I was concerned that I would interfere with pollination by watering the tassels and I think I did because I didn't get very many corn kernels. This year I have ants in my sweet corn. I decided to just let them go and not wash them off after last year's experience. They ate a lot of the kernels toward the top end. The same thing happened with my second batch of corn. Now I have a third batch with ears. I've grown corn this late in San Diego before so I'd like to see if I can get corn from these. I bought some tanglefoot to try putting around the corn stalk near the bottom. Has anyone tried this? It's a sticky substance commonly used on young trees to stop crawling insects and in sticky fly traps.

    Bookmark   August 8, 2012 at 12:04AM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

Tanglefoot works great in general, but I've never tried it on corn stalks. That's going to be a lot of work putting it on all the corn stalks.


    Bookmark   August 8, 2012 at 11:15AM
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