Ants: Defeating those little invaders

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…no one likes to admit they have.

by George Freeman
Editor, Ozarks Living

Sooner or later, we all battle ants, and it’s getting worse. Ants from Japan arrived in the Ozarks on potted plants years ago, and they show up in some unexpected places.

They especially turn up in older homes with cracks and crevices in places you didn’t even know you had, or for all of us, in the potted plants, which we often bring indoors for winter.

Ants, Grape Jelly and Borax

Taking the bait. A mixture of grape or mint jelly and Borax is an effective poison, and will attract thousands of ants to feed.

Ants can be a year-round problem, and while you may see one or two, you can bet the ant farm there are more to follow once they find food. Feeding habits vary. Most prey on small insects or scavenge bits of dead organisms. Some ants actually “garden,” using gathered leaf bits to grow fungus in their nests. And like some relatives, they stay.

In fact, ants also perform important tasks. Like earthworms, they help turn and aerate the soil. They also disperse seeds, and even aid in pollination. But let’s face, the only good ant is an outdoor ant.

Ants even enjoy a symbiotic relationship with aphids. They feed on the sugary “dew” left behind by aphids, which is how they damage your roses. In exchange, the ants protect the aphids from predators.

A spray insecticide may give you the satisfaction of seeing ants drop dead on your counters, but it’s not the best choice for dealing with sugar ants. Instead, spray vinegar and water or a spritz of Simple Green. This kills ants and breaks their pheromone trail.

Baits combine a preferred ant food with an active ingredient that kills the ant after it brings a meal back to the colony to share. The result: the ants you don’t see will die as well, and kill the queen as well, destroying the nest.

You can make a simple but effective bait using just two ingredients: mint or grape jelly and boric acid. Boric acid is sold in hardware or grocery stores, but save yourself a bundle and just buy a box of Twenty Mule Team Borax, which is 90 percent boric acid. It’s useful to have around in other ways.

Mix mint jelly with just two tablespoons of boric acid to make a paste. You don’t even have to be that accurate, and if you have one of those squeeze bottles for condiments, fill it with the mixture for easy application. Otherwise, be sure to store the mix in a jar with a lid. Drop the “bait” on an old business card. You should see ants feed on the jelly (see above photo), then continue on their way back to the colony. Reapply several times until the ants gradually disappear. Be patient. And be careful where you put the bait if you have pets.

Now, about aphids on your roses, trying simply washing them off with water.

George Freeman is a veteran journalist and photographer. An award-winning writer, editor and columnist in Springfield, Mo., with more than 50 years experience. His preference is for positive and uplifting stories about people, places, traditions and trends that make the Ozarks one of the most livable regions anywhere. A member of the Garden Writers Association of America, he is a past-president of the Society of Professional Journalists of Southwest Missouri, the Kansas and Ohio AP societies; a board member of Friends of the Garden and a member of the Rotary Club of Springfield. In 1976, he traveled to India as a member of a Rotary Foundation Group Study Exchange Team.

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