Tiniest ants make big problem.

by Sandra Woodham
(Perth, Western Australia)

This is an ant and tomato bush in a pot question.

I recently had to dig out a shrub because it was sick. I noticed the soil in that part of the garden looked like it was being turned over underneath with tell tale evidence along the lines of white ant trails, sort of gritty turnings.

Soon after that I planted a tomato bush in a large pot nearby. I was very excited about its lush, rapid development and the first few flowers soon appeared then one morning I was shocked to see the bottom few leaves had turned yellow and gradually as each day went by more leaves began dying off. On close inspection I found the soil to have the same tell tale look so I scratched deeper and found the tiniest ants.

What can I do? I think it is too late for my tomato bush but I am concerned that this may be a bigger subterranean problem in this
section of my garden.
I look forward to your comments.

Hi Sandra, I'm an expert in ants! Around here, I have red ones, black ones, big ones, tiny ones, all kinds of ants - and they are all treated the same in my house - they get a dose of ant killer, which is a mixture of borax and something sweet - Raid puts out one that is super effective - it's liquid, so you just put a few drops on a jar lid or something similar, cover it with a can and let them have it.

The foragers take the sweet death back to the hive, and they all die within a few days to a week. Occasionally, for a really big hive, it takes a couple of attempts, and of course, you have to watch for those first few foragers.

In your situation, you can use this beside or even underneath the pot with the tomato plant in, and they will be dead in a week, and hopefully your plant will recover. Ants don't usually eat the roots, just tunnel around them.

Couple of things to keep in mind: killing the ant colony won't take care of their farm animals - aphids. If your plants have aphids placed there by the ants so they can milk the 'honeydew' from them, you will have to deal with those separately.

Ant bait is poisonous to pets and other animals - keep dogs away.

Ants are beneficial to the garden soil; as you noted, they till it to a fine tilth and they create lots of tunnels for water to drain away quickly even in a rainstorm.

They normally live in damp wood, so if your garden is somewhere near a forest or where branches have been buried during house construction, for instance, this is where they'll set up house.

Hopefully, this will get your situation under control and you'll get tons of tomatoes on the plant.


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