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 Non-Natives Questions

Care of non-native Sorbaria sorbifolia (false spiraea)
August 24, 2010 - I have 2 Sorbaria sorbifolia (false spiraea) that will not flower. This is their third summer. What should I do?
view the full question and answer

What is hollowing out my rosebuds in Austin, TX?
April 28, 2012 - I recently noticed some of my rose buds had been hollowed out from the inside. I have seen no evidence of insect though. What do you think it is and how can I treat the problem?
view the full question and answer

Problems with non-native indoor palm in Guilford CT
April 08, 2012 - My question is I have an indoor palm plant that I have had for 7 yrs. It has grown from about a 5" plant to about 3' tall plant. The past few weeks the leaves are turning yellow & brown and lost abo...
view the full question and answer

Sprout from a non-native sago palm in Poinciana FL
October 16, 2013 - I have two mature (10 years old)sago palms. One of them sprouted a new "head' at the top of the trunk. It is competing with the original one. It is not a pup coming from the root area. Can I cut it ...
view the full question and answer

Shade ground cover under honeysuckle from Wichita KS
February 21, 2012 - Hi! I know this is a bit odd, but I am trying to find a nontoxic, good ground covering plant that can live in the shade while competing with the roots of a whole bunch of honeysuckle. I have a few ide...
view the full question and answer

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