Rent Shop Volunteer Join

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?

Share

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

Please forgive us, but Mr. Smarty Plants has been overwhelmed by a flood of mail and must take a break for awhile to catch up. We hope to be accepting new questions again soon. Thank you!

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

QUESTION:

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?

ANSWER:

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 Pests Questions

Removing grassy weeds from cactus garden in Corpus Christi TX
May 07, 2013 - How do you get grassy weeds out of a cactus garden? I don't want to use roundup around the cacti? Can you recommend a herbicide that won't harm the cactus?
view the full question and answer

Webs on trees and porch
August 21, 2008 - i have webs all over my semi covered porch in my back yard. i have noticed these small webs are also on the trees in my backyard. what are they and are they dangerous to the trees or my family who sit...
view the full question and answer

Need help with a Coreopsis eating beetle in Shiro, TX
April 20, 2011 - Mr.Smarty Plants,(Sorry, I kept messing up with my emails) Anyway, here goes: I usually have a beautiful meadow full of lanceleaf coreopsis blooming by now. Not this year. I found to my horror every s...
view the full question and answer

Weedy buffalo grass from Dripping Springs, TX
March 07, 2013 - I have a buffalo grass lawn. It is thin and filled with weeds. I would like to find a solution to improve my lawn. I prefer a native grass but I need to be able to control the weeds and I am not ph...
view the full question and answer

Larvae swimming in water with plant cutting
September 09, 2010 - When you take a cutting from a plant and put it in water and bring it in your home a couple of days later you notice larvae swimming around, what is that?
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.