Contact Clippings

  • Email Grass Clippings - Email the Grass Clippings Team

    Telephone: 0871 234 3480

    Fax: 0871 234 3481

    GMT Office Hours Only

Our Details

Our Partners

« American Lawns Vs the Great British Lawn | Main | Turning a sow's ear into a silk purse »

Controlling Ants in your Lawn

Grass Clippings - Ants in LawnsThe seasonal July weather has led to a dramatic increase in the number of ant hills in lawns.  It is not the ants that are a problem, mostly their anthills that are like mini mole hills across the lawn. Ants prefer living in dry light soils and are capable of shifting a large proportion of soil onto the lawn's surface, causing havoc with the mower as these raised areas will get easily 'scalped' by the action of mowing.

We always hear horror stories of lawn owners pouring boiling water over the anthills with the net result of dead patches of grass where the hot water scalded and then killed the grass plants. There are over 15,000 different species of ants in the world and no matter how interesting or fascinating they are as a subject, the fact remains that the few species found in the UK are totally unacceptable pests in the home and garden.

The UK species of red and yellow ants are mainly carnivorous and are generally only an outdoor problem. Black ants however, are a species of sweet eaters; their natural food being honeydew, a secretion from aphids (greenfly, blackfly and whitefly) and other plant sap eating insects. Food is taken up by aphids in a volume which they cannot digest, thus, they produce a high and continual discharge of honeydew. Ants will farm the aphids and protect them against other predators. If you see black ants on your roses, vegetables, shrubs and fruit trees, you can be certain that the new growth of such plants is being attacked by sap sucking insects.

Ants can cause concern but they are a nuisance rather than destructive pests. They feed mainly on insects, including other ants. They also look for the sweet liquid known as honeydew, which is excreted by aphids and some other sap-feeding insects.

Damage
Ants can protect aphids from attack by ladybirds and other predators in order to secure their supply of honeydew. Increased numbers of aphids may result in more damage to plants. However, ants do little damage to plants themselves, except by disturbing soil around plant roots and depositing it on the surface during their nest building activities. Some ants (mostly Myrmica species - commonly known as red ants) can sting, but for most people this is no more than a minor irritation.

Biology
Ant nests contain one or more fertile female ants, known as queen ants, which lay eggs in brood chambers within the nest. Most of the other ants in a nest are smaller sterile females, which are known as worker ants. Their role is to maintain, guard and enlarge the nest, feed the larvae and to gather food for the colony. The white maggot-like larvae are fed on a liquid diet secreted by the worker ants. When fully fed, the larvae turn into pupae. Some species of ants pupate inside spindle-shaped whitish-brown silk cocoons. These cocoons are often mistakenly referred to as 'ant eggs'. The real eggs are very small and not easily seen with the naked eye. At certain times of year, ant nests produce winged ants. These are young queens and male ants, which often emerge en masse from nests during humid weather in the summer. These ly up and mate, after which the males die and the young queens try to find a suitable place where they can establish a new nest. Once mated, the queen ant no longer needs wings, so they are bitten off.

Control
Unless their nests are particularly troublesome, ants are best left alone. If a colony is destroyed it is likely that its place will be taken by incoming queen ants, which take over the territory and establish new nests. Disperse ant heaps on lawns by brushing the excavated soil on a dry day before the lawn is mown, otherwise the soil will get smeared on the lawn surface by the mower. If the lawn has an uneven surface due to years of ant activity, peel back the turf in the raised areas, remove excess soil and relay the turf. This is easier to do in the winter when ants are less active.

There is not a lot you can really do about ants in your lawn, except get a bit mad and go blue in the face. Raise the mower setting and pick a nice dry day and scatter the anthills with a besom broom or a stiff garden broom just ahead of mowing. You could control the ants in your pathways and building lines and try and prevent them getting to your lawn in the first place - a case of prevention is better than cure.

Grass Clippings - Nippon Ant Control ProductMany proprietary ant powders, baits, sprays and aerosols are available for controlling ants in and near buildings, but these are not suitable for general garden use. To make a real impression on ant numbers it would be necessary to destroy the nests rather than just the foraging ants. That is difficult to achieve as ant nests occupy a much larger volume of soil than might be suggested by the small heaps of soil excavated on to the surface. Take a look at the Vitax - Nippon Range of Ant Control Products which are available from Garden Centes or your local DIY Warehouse or greener alternatives are available online from Green Gardener

A pathogenic nematode, Steinernema feltiae, is available from some mail order suppliers of biological controls for treating ant nests in lawns and flower beds. The microscopic worm-like nematodes are watered into the soil in places where ants are bringing soil up onto the surface.

With thanks to the The Royal Horticultural Society for providing some of the text in this article.

Comments

Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear on this weblog until the author has approved them.

If you have a TypeKey or TypePad account, please Sign In.

Lawn Technical Pages

Common Lawn Problems

Buy Lawn Products

Other Gardening Sites

Weed Control

  • Weed Free Contract Pesticide Application Services and Weed Control in Amenity Turf

    The Lawn Company Professional Lawn Care Treatments, Lawn Care Products and Advice

Turf Industry Sites

Weather

  • Metcheck - detailed UK weather including seven day forecasts

    Met Office - UK Meteorological services