Finding ants in your garden is something you can associate with different emotions. Some people view them as an immediate problem that needs to be removed, others view them as a benefiting presence that’s to be cherished, and for others – they are just a minor nuisance.
So, what are the benefits and damage ants in the garden can cause? When should you be alarmed of ant infestation in the yard and when should you just ignore them? We’ll go over all the specifics in this article.
What is the ants’ role in your garden? Are ants beneficial insects?
There are millions of insects on the planet and only about 3% of them are considered pests as the Penn State Extension points out. Usually, an insect is considered a pest when it transmits diseases, when it destroys or hinders crops, or when it invades our homes and causes damage to our property. Most insects don’t fall in these categories and are instead considered “beneficial” since they contribute to the good health of our ecosystem.
Ants are a weird case from these points of view as they can be both beneficial insects and pests.
In terms of their effects on our gardens, plants, trees, and crops, ants can actually have quite a few positive effects. For one, as this study published in PubMed shows, ants can have multiple beneficial effects on soil fertility, as they dig through the soil, make it more water-absorbent, relocate refuse, and so on. Ants such as the black garden ant are also predatory animals that feed on other insects, many of which are actual plant pests. Even tree ants, plant-ants, and most other ants eating plants tend to consume the mildew that forms on plants and not the plants themselves.
At the same time, however, there is a definite symbiotic connection between aphids and ants in which the aphids help feed the ants and the ants protect the aphids from their predators by being the predators’ predators. And since aphids are pests that are highly damaging to our crops, their symbiotic relationship with ants is not something a gardener or a farmer should tolerate.
So, as you can see, finding ants in your garden can have many implications. It depends on what specific type of ants you’ve encountered as well – some ants are known to sting unpleasantly with fire ants being even able to band up and attack large mammals that disturb them. Finding carpenter ants in trees is also unpleasant as they can easily get into your home and start doing some serious property damage.
What do ants do for the environment?
Overall, when you ignore the fact that ants can get into our homes and cause damage and nuisance there, they are considered to be beneficial for the environment. Yes, their connection with aphids can be problematic, but as a whole ants feed on a lot of pest insects, they help fertilize infertile soils, and they contribute to a healthy ecosystem.
All this makes dealing with ants less of a black and white issue and a more complex dilemma. In most situations, you’ll need to ask yourself how much of a nuisance ants actually are for you and whether you and your garden can cohabitate with them.
What damage can ants cause to your garden, trees, plants, lawn, etc.?
Despite their beneficial effects, ants can cause damage as well.
Carpenter ant damage is the easiest example as a carpenter ant infestation can lead to structural damage not only to your home but to garages, warehouses, sheds, fences, as well as trees.
A joint ants/aphids infestation can quickly destroy large portions of the crops or plants in a garden as well, while fire ants can bite and hurt you, your kids or your pets. Additionally, keep in mind that while ants can have beneficial and fertilizing effects on your garden’s soil, they can also disturb an already well-fertilized and balanced soil. A newly formed ants nests near your crops’ roots can disturb the soil around them so much that it might harm and halt the development of said crops.
As far as lawns are concerned, even a harmless ant nest can be a nuisance as it will create bumps in otherwise nice and even lawns. This can be quite annoying for people who want to maintain a nice look for their lawn or who want to keep it even for their kids to play in, for having guest parties, and so on. Removing lawn ant nests and evening the ground can be quite the bother, especially if you have to do it regularly.
Also, keep in mind that removing and destroying ant nests from a garden can often backfire because neighboring ant colonies can easily notice the freed up space and new ant queens might settle in. When this happens the situation can get even worse as newly formed infestations will often spread even further than the pre-existing single nest.
Ants are peculiar insects when it comes to defining them as pests or as beneficial insects since they are essentially both. How you view the ants in your lawn, garden, farm or home depends entirely on the precise situation you’re in, on your goals for the property, as well as on the exact type of ants you’re dealing with.