Why Are There Ants on My Vegetable Plants?

Ants on My Vegetable Plants

“I have ants in my garden, and they are eating my veggie plants. What is the best product to use on a vegetable garden that is safe for us to eat vegetables from?” Question from Jill of Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin

Answer: Ants are not vegetable garden pests. They may be attracted to the sweet juices of a split tomato or strawberry or drink the nectar from a sweet flower, but their peskiness ends there. But, that does not mean they aren’t a sign of a garden problem. Ants herd aphids like cattle so they can eat the sweet honeydew they produce, and aphids are a very obnoxious plant pest. If you get rid of the aphids, the ants will leave, and you don’t even need to use heavy chemicals.

Managing Aphids in the Garden

Aphids are delicate pests and quite easy to remove, believe it or not. When I have an infestation, I use these four methods of removal.

1. Spray them off with a sharp stream from the hose. This actually removes them fast and will kill quite a few. It’s a good first step for management.

2. Prune off really badly infested flowers or stems and spray the others with lightly soapy water (fill a spray bottle with water and add just a drop of dishwashing liquid). This will remove damaged parts of the plant and greatly reduce aphid populations.

3. If the two previous steps don’t get rid of your aphids, spray plants with OMRI Listed insecticidal soap to tackle any lingerers. The mild product is approved for organic gardening and works. If you are worried about it harming other insects, you can rinse off plants a few hours after application.

4. Nurture ladybugs and other beneficial insects that consume aphids. Refrain from using any harsh pesticides, and the beneficials will come. (Click here to read more about beneficial insects.)

I hope these tips help you better manage your aphid problems. They are annoying insects, but they won’t stand a chance if you continue with these methods.

If you ever have other ant problems, please click here to read an answer about removing fire ants. The methods of removal would apply to most ants.

Happy vegetable gardening!

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist

Ants Are On My Fava Beans. What Do I Do?

These ants are farming aphids for their sweet honeydew.

“I planted fava beans, and I noticed that I have ants on them. How do I get rid of them without using any unnatural pesticides?” Question from Isabella of Waxhaw, North Carolina

Answer: There are two possible reasons why ants may be visiting your fava beans, and in both situations, the ants are not doing damage. Here are the two possible scenarios and solutions.

  1.  Aphids are a pest of fava beans, and ants “farm” aphids to eat the sweet honeydew the aphids produce. If you have aphids, they are destructive pests that need to be managed. Please click on this link to read “How Do I Manage Aphids Without Chemicals?” Check out the image above to see what aphids look like, for easy identification.
  2. Fava beans have “extrafloral nectaries”, or leaf-like structures at the base of the leaves that produce extra nectar, and many non-harmful insects feed on this nectar, including ants. They may be pesky, but the ants will not damage your plants. If they really annoy you, just spray the plants off with a sharp stream of hose water now and then to knock them off.

Happy gardening,

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist