En EspaŅol

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?


Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions
Can't find the answer in our existing FAQs, submit a question to Mr. Smarty Plants.
Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.
rate this answer
Not Yet Rated

Wednesday - May 25, 2011

From: Muskogee, OK
Region: Southwest
Topic: Non-Natives, Pests
Title: Ants in vegetable garden in Muskogee OK
Answered by: Barbara Medford


I have ants in my vegetable garden this spring - I think because of all the rain. I think they are the culprits that ruined my spinach and swiss chard. They have left all the lettuces alone..but you can see ants 'roaming.' How do I get rid of them?


It's nice somebody is getting some  rain, we sure aren't down here in Austin. But, you're correct, ants do seem to be driven to the surface by too much water in the soil, making their beds visible. However, we don't think the ants are the primary culprits for the damage to your spinach and Swiss chard. Ants are also farmers, but they are not fond of vegetables.

Let's begin by seeing what is really causing problems with your spinach and Swiss Chard. On the page from the University of California Integrated Pest Management Program How to Manage Pests-Spinach, you will see a list of predators on spinach. Do you see ants listed? No, but you  see  aphids. Ants are very fond of aphids, but not to eat. They will protect or fiercely defend aphids so they can harvest the "honeydew," exuded by the aphids. That honeydew is a major food source for the ants. On outdoor (and sometimes indoor) plants, ants protect and care for honeydew-producing insects such as aphids, soft scales, whiteflies, and mealybugs, increasing damage from these pests. The aphid is also a major pest of the Swiss chard, so the ant farmers will visit that, too.

What to do about it? Most vegetables are non-native to North America or so hybridized that they are unrecognizable genetically, and so we have no information on them in our Native Plant Database. If you eliminate the aphids, the ants will move on to somewhere else they can practice their honeydew farming.  Obviously, if you intend to eat the products from your garden, you will not want to apply any pesticides. We recommend a good hard spray of water onto the affected plants, which knocks aphids and their eggs off and they can't get back up. Since this year's vegetable crop is probably a lost cause, the next best thing you can do is try to keep the aphids from wintering over in your garden. See this aricle on Controlling Aphids in Your Garden.


More Non-Natives Questions

Failure to thrive of closet plant
August 13, 2008 - I have a closet plant that is old and was doing fine and then started having droopy leaves. It needed to be in a larger pot so I transplanted into a larger pot with new potting soil. It continues to...
view the full question and answer

Avoiding planting Indian Paintbrush in Hawaii because of invasiveness
March 01, 2007 - My daughter is living in Hilo, Hawaii. For her birthday, her boyfriend ordered her some Indian Paintbrush seeds. Trying to be sure she grows them correctly in a pot, she found instructions that say ...
view the full question and answer

Can non-native Jacaranda be grown in San Antonio
May 17, 2011 - Can I grow a jacaranda tree in San Antonio? Wonder if it can handle heat, occasional freezes, & dry seasons.
view the full question and answer

Control of invasive non-native Alliaria petiolata (garlic mustard)
June 11, 2009 - What can I do to control garlic mustard that has moved into my wild area and what should I plant to combat this aggressive plant? Ostrich ferns, Pagoda dogwoods and emerald hemlocks have been recommen...
view the full question and answer

Source for nitrates and phosphorus (P205) for lawn care
July 04, 2008 - I recently supplied soil samples from my back yard to my local extension here in Austin. I have a hybrid Bermuda turf grass (TIF 419) that has had its share of ups and downs, and wanted to assess the ...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.
© 2015 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center