These ants are making me crazy

Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, ALNovember 12, 2013

Of course, there's different kinds of ants. I'm talking about the little ones pictured below, DH calls them piss ants. Excuse the vulgar vernacular, I've included that because I think it's a common common name for them. They're not the smallest ants around, but about half the size of fire ants. There are multi-billions of them all around the yard, whenever one stands still, need to make sure ants aren't crawling up your feet. Winning the lottery would be needed to fund a full-scale battle. It's the kind that marches in 'highways' across the ground, and up tree trunks. They're the reason we leave our trash dumpster at the curb all of the time.



Workers on edge of large, plastic storage tub:

I'm sick of them in pots, and know they are attracted to the organics I've used in pots for many years. (The only serious gardening negative about moving from OH to AL, IMHO.) The plants that have ants in their pots never look as good as they should. One great mystery is why they invade some pots but not others, with same plants and 'soil.' I can't isolate any particular factor... What to observe besides exposure, type of plant?

I'm considering starting to shift plants to coirpeat (which has nothing in common with what's usually called peat) and wonder if anyone has had ant colonies in pots of that stuff? I'm not considering this because of ants, but if ants are still interested, it might be a reason not to invest that much $ in a new type of 'potting soil.' Just investigating the pros/cons at this point.

My usual method for evicting them is to submerge pots under water. That's a real pain, and unsanitary as far as foliage maladies go, as well as soil-based entities like springtails, fungus gnats, yada yada. And then you have a heavy, dripping wet plant to get through the house to the tub/shower, to keep dripping somewhere where ants can't get back in. Sometimes a plant will decide this is just too insulting, and up'n'die.

I was doing this yesterday and went to retrieve a pot but noticed, after 30 minutes of being under water, there were still ants crawling around on the pot and plant, completely submerged. I've read a lot of info, and watched many documentaries about ants and that's never been mentioned before, that they can go so long without breathing. Did you know?

These ants have been under water for over 30 minutes:

Also, they do such a good job of constructing their quarters, that air bubbles were still coming up after that amount of time, from the same spot in the pot. No wonder their numbers weren't at all reduced by the flooding earlier this summer.

On a related note...
People say ants don't affect plants and that they are benign in a garden except to farm pests but I completely disagree after observing them for years. First of all, farming pests is not benign, it's extremely destructive, though I think the blame for the dead plants can sometimes get placed incorrectly on what is really a secondary issue. Would sooty mold or powdery mildew have shown up w/o the ants getting involved? Foliar fungi & pathogens? Sometimes, but not all. Ants deserve more credit for the destruction they do.

I can't find any research being done, but I'm convinced they kill trees, through a combination of farming pests on the foliage, and nesting activity around the roots. (Not that they have the capability to have such a higher purpose, just what happens from what they do.) Every time I'm successful in following an ant trail to a hole in the ground, it's at the base of a tree. Not the colony under a rock, that's just a neighborhood of the main colony (like the quarters they construct in pots.) If you follow those ants farther, (and they are the same type) you'll go to a tree. Some type of ants attack predators of the pests they are farming. I can't observe that on these trees, the lowest limbs are well above head level.

There was a holly tree in the front yard that looked fine (as many gravely ill trees do until they just fall over one day, as 2 of the 3 trunks of this one did,) when I moved here but it is now dead, and stepping anywhere near the stump will likely result in ants crawling up your feet/legs. There are also several other stumps of not-huge size, indicating other trees died before the normal span of time for their species, an oak stump less than 2 feet across being the most obvious one.

I did see a documentary where the researchers have evidence that the ants kill crops, first to farm the pests, then to make use of the dead plant material, just like I suspect with trees. It just takes so long for ants to kill a tree, the direct connection is not being made, or the connection is made backwards - that the ants exploited an already ill entity.

Predators? Inefficient and far too few. Ant lion - one at a time. Birds, toads - similar - nowhere near a colony-ruining event if they dine. I've never seen an anole eat an ant, though I've seen them sit next to 'ant highways' many times. Bears - hopefully we won't have any in the neighborhood. Seems like a virtually predator-free critter to me, the ant. Although individuals are miniscule, the colony is a formidable force, capable of battling entities exponentially larger than the individuals, with the ability to sacrifice parts of itself to save the whole. Strictly clean-up crew? I totally disagree. Is there any critter (in the US) that ruins entire ant colonies?

Please feel free to share any thoughts, observations, or just 'get it off your chest' if ants are making you crazy too!

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jean001a(Portland OR 7b)

The ants in the images are too small and unclear to ID them. But to follow up with your husband's suggestion of a common name, they're likely to be odorous ants, Tapinoma sessile.

These ants are nationwide.
And are becoming more and more troublesome for pest management companies.

I have them at my house. They came with the house when we bought it. I've had to learn to live with them. Every time they come indoors and create obvious trails, I set out bait.

Outdoor management is obviously a different thing as that is where ants are supposed to be.

But soaking your containers won't work unless the entire container, rim and all, is submerged. Then you also place a temporary bridge to the edge of the "pool" so that they have a way to leave the pot.

Oh yes, they also farm honeydew-producing pests for the sugary-laden food. So make certain your plants are "clean."

Numerous management links online. I used the search phrase "managing odorous house ants in containers" -- but no quotes.

    Bookmark   November 12, 2013 at 11:39AM
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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL

Hi Jean, TY for your input!

"the entire container, rim and all, is submerged. Then you also place a temporary bridge to the edge of the "pool" so that they have a way to leave the pot." Excellent description of how I do it, TY!

They will get out without the bridge though. They cling together in a raft, fascinating.

Research into managing them is making great strides, they're successfully sterilizing them, and making them zombies. I don't think these things are available to the average person, but haven't really investigated.

Have you tried any coirpeat?

Sorry if I didn't elaborate on the connection of why ants farm pests, but TY for adding that point in case anyone was missing that. Wrong of me to assume everyone reading would know. Not sure what you mean by 'clean' plants. If I see pests, they are removed, foliage rinsed. That? Not really having a problem with pests on house plants outside for summer, just the ant colonies in the pots. They may be used as incubators for the eggs at times when the ambient temp is above that below ground, as there are ALWAYS tons of eggs. I've never seen a queen exit a submerged pot, but they may not be able to. No idea if these colonies have a queen.

Many kinds of ants will do this, so the discussion of this need not be species-specific, just that this is the type that is so difficult to convince to stop, in my pots. Not sure they're the same type that you have since although they march all around the house, we don't see any inside. That may or may not be a clue, but I don't think it makes a difference regarding battling them. There are several kinds of smaller ants that can also invade pots, but I rarely see them, and once evicted, they don't seem to be back the next day, or for a long time.

    Bookmark   November 12, 2013 at 12:05PM
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jean001a(Portland OR 7b)

A "bridge" is useful because it helps limit escapees climbing the plant.

'clean' plants = free of any honeydew-producing pests, among them aphids, mealybugs, whiteflies, scale.

If you have odorous house ants, each colony has multiple queens.

Another thought, which may not be practical if you have many pots:
Ants don't cross a moat. Once a pot is ant-free, elevate it on bricks which are set in a container with water half-way up the side of the bricks.

    Bookmark   November 12, 2013 at 1:25PM
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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL

Thanks for the continued help! Yes, I saw that too! Fascinating to watch them 'climb the tower,' but takes more time. That's why the one plant was completely under water, the whole thing, foliage, flowers, whole thing. The ants were crawling around under water after 30 minutes. It got too dark to see in there after that, but the one plant that stayed in for 2 hours still had ants when I finally took it out.

The ants seem to have no interest in anything inside, so I don't know if they're what you're calling house ants or not. I never saw this kind of ant in OH, or any of the smaller ones that take up residence in pots here, just much bigger black ones which were definitely interested in coming inside.

AFAIK, plants don't have pests aside from the occasional aphid or white fly that any bunch of plants outside would have, which I dispose of/rinse or trim off. I look at every leaf at least 4-5x per week, almost every day. They're definitely not picking pots housing plants with pests as a basis for that decision. The pots that seem to have ants in them more often than not show signs of stress and slow growth from issues around the roots, not pests at the foliage.

The primary issue is nests in pots. If I could isolate why they like some and are not interested in others, that would be awesome!

I'd like to put a moat around the whole porch, sigh! Yes, there's a lot of pots, most of them hanging. The ants find those too. They can be temporarily thwarted by coating the hanging arms with veg oil, or backwards tape, but either method is short-lived, and messy or ugly. (Not that this conglomeration of cheap plastic pots is terribly attractive, but I'm working toward having the outside of all pots covered with enough dangling foliage to 'fix' that.)

This is shady end of front porch. There are more pots on the back porch, around my potting area, hanging from several trees, and our dog's house.

    Bookmark   November 14, 2013 at 3:49PM
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While I am well aware that most people do not care that most species of ants are beneficial and they simply want to kill all of them off the linked article may be of interest to some others.

Here is a link that might be useful: Ants are beneficial

    Bookmark   November 16, 2013 at 6:40AM
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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL

Thanks for the link, but I completely disagree with the unqualified (no scientific sources cited) opinion expressed there. Anyone can take a master gardener class.

    Bookmark   November 16, 2013 at 9:32AM
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jean001a(Portland OR 7b)

Yes, anyone can be a Master Gardener, but not all can write an informative article/series. That particular article is an overview sort of thing with some specifics as examples.

You can locate documented material/info with your favorite search engine by using the phrase "ants as beneficial insects site:edu" -- but omit the quotes. (The link below is via G---gle on Firefox.)

The 'site:edu' limits the results to educational institutions. Or you could change it to 'site:gov' to obtain info from government pubs/papers/etc..

Here is a link that might be useful: ants as beneficial insects site:edu

    Bookmark   November 16, 2013 at 11:46AM
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