Ants in the vegetable garden: good or bad?

Ants on a vegetable plant

Ants can be quite annoying if not harmful around the house or inside buildings and are usually regarded as pests. Despite this ants play quite a different role in vegetable gardens and other outdoor areas.

You shouldn’t try to get rid of ants from your vegetable garden like you would from your home. This is because ants play quite a positive role in a garden by acting as predators, soil engineers, and potentially even pollinators.

Ants as predators for pest control

Ants are generalist predators of many pest insects and can eat a lot of different types of insects at a time, making them ideal biological pest control agents. They even have a positive impact on pest species that they don’t prey on by disturbing them and slowing down their feeding and reproduction.

Ants as soil engineers

Ants near ant hill
Anthill soil has more organic matter and nutrients than the soil around it

Ants that live in the ground burrow into the soil to create their nests. Their burrowing has quite a big impact on soil movement, nutrient cycling, and water availability. Water and nutrients can easily move through the tiny tunnels created by ants. As a result soil structure and fertility improve.

It has been found that ant nests have a larger component of organic matter, phosphorous, nitrogen, and potassium than the soil around them, meaning that ants can increase soil fertility. This increase in organic matter increases soil health even further because more of the good microbes are able to live in this soil.

Ants as pollinators

Ants may unintentionally carry pollen from one flower to the other when they walk from flower to flower but this has not been proven as yet.

Ants as a sign of a pest problem

Ants can also be a sign of a pest problem as they gather in large numbers to eat pests found on plants and are usually more easily visible than most pests.

Ants can sometimes create problems in a vegetable garden

Ants eating aphids
Ants are more easily visible than the aphids that they “farm”

Although it’s very unlikely that ants would directly harm any of your vegetable plants, ants sometimes ‘farm’ certain types of pests, including aphids and mealybugs. This is because these insects feed on plant sap and secrete the excess sugars as a sticky substance, commonly known as honeydew.

Ants that farm these pests benefit from having more insects and as a result, more honeydew. So they protect these insects from predators.

Despite being a clear sign of the presence of these pests on your vegetable plants, you would have to get rid of these ants before you can treat these pests, especially if you want to use other predators, such as ladybugs, to control their populations.

Another instance where you would need to get rid of ants is if they are fire ants or some other species of ant that can be harmful to humans.

Getting rid of ants from your vegetable garden

You can use hot pepper spray or simply sprinkle some chili powder on your vegetable plants to get rid of ants on them. Some of the ants that the spray or powder lands on may die almost instantly but it will not harm your plants or any other insects or larger animals. The effect of hot pepper sprays or chili powder wears off soon so you may have to reapply a few more times.

Ants do a lot more good for vegetable gardens by controlling pests, creating healthy soil, and potentially pollinating flowers. This means that it’s almost always better to just let them stay unless they are ‘farming’ and in turn protecting pests or if they may be harmful to you or your family.

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Ants in the vegetable garden: good or bad?

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