Aphids are small insects that feed on green leafy plants. An aphid colony can destroy a garden, and unfortunately, they tend to attract colonies of ants.
Anyone who has dealt with ants or aphids (or both) in their garden can appreciate the frustration of finding signs of the tiny insects on fruits and veggies.
But, there are ways to get rid of ants and aphid populations, if you understand why they rely on each other.
How Do Aphids Help Ants?
Ants and aphids have a symbiotic relationship based on mutual gain. But, the aphids are subservient to the ants. As aphids feast on green leaves and provide a food source for ants. In turn, the ants protect the aphids from other predators.
The Importance of Controlling Aphids and Ants on Plants
Understanding the ants and aphids’ symbiotic relationship is the first step in evicting both insects from your garden. It is possible to have one without the other, the other is likely apt to settle in soon when you get one of these pests.
Ants and Aphids: A Symbiotic Relationship
Ants farming aphids sounds silly, but it’s like how humans manage cattle. The ants don’t generally dine on aphids unless food is scarce. But, they love the honeydew that aphids create after eating leafy greens.
Aphids love to feast on leafy green plants. As they digest the greens, the aphids excrete honeydew, a sweet substance made of excess sugars.
The ants love to eat the honeydew. They keep aphid colonies nearby and protect the elements and predators.
Ants may take drastic measures. For example, biting off the aphids’ wings, to keep a colony close by, but they also protect them.
Since aphids reproduce and grow fast, ants have an endless supply of their favorite sugary meal – as long as they protect the aphids.
Signs of Aphids in a Garden
Aphids are tiny, green, and slow-moving. They reproduce extremely fast and overtake a garden if left unchecked. Though you can see aphids, usually on the undersides of leaves, there are other notable signs that you have them in your garden.
- Leaves turn yellow, curl, or seem distorted.
- You notice a sticky substance (the honeydew) on the leaves or stems of your plants.
- A black substance appears on your branches. It is probably a fungus known as sooty mold.
- Your fruit or flowers look deformed.
- You notice a lot of ants gravitating toward your plants.
Getting Rid of Aphids
Getting rid of aphids is a great place to start, especially if they haven’t attracted ants yet. It’s best to prevent aphids from infiltrating in the first place. We’ll talk about preventative methods a bit later.
- Try a strong spray of water on the leaves to knock the aphids off. They usually can’t find their way back to a plant.
- Sprinkle flour on your plants to inhibit the aphids’ digestive system
- Wipe down affected leaves with mild soapy water every few days for two weeks.
- Spray plants with a cayenne pepper mixture. One quart of water, one teaspoon of liquid Dawn dish soap, and a bit of cayenne pepper.
- Food Grade Diatomaceous earth, an organic material that’s non-toxic to humans and pets, kills aphids. Be careful not to use it if your plants are in bloom because it can harm bees too!
Related: Diatomaceous Earth and Aphids
While aphids can’t generally find their way back to a plant if they are knocked off, they are persistent. With the help of farmer ants, aphids can dig into your greenery. You may need to try combining these techniques to eradicate them.
Preventing Aphids and Ants in Your Garden
Taking preventative measures is your best bet for avoiding an ant and aphid infestation. Ants are more likely to go where the aphids are (and vice versa). Making your garden inhospitable for both insects is an excellent idea!
- Apply neem oil or insecticidal soap spray to deter aphids from your garden.
- Plan your garden to include aphid repellent plants, like catnip, nasturtiums, garlic, and chives.
- Introduce beneficial insects and aphid predators that won’t harm your garden but prey on aphids, like ladybugs, lacewings, and parasitic wasps.
- Chop up banana peels and bury them near your plants.
- Try spraying dormant horticultural oil on fruit and shade trees to kill aphid eggs over the winter.
- Ant bait traps are effective at eliminating ant colonies by destroying several insects at a time.
- Wrap plants or trees with tape or netting to catch the ants and keep them from protecting the aphids.
It’s important to note that ants don’t attract aphids; they seek them out.
If you can prevent aphids from infesting your plants, you stand a much better chance of keeping the ants at bay.