Ants are tiny, social insects that love to live in colonies. More often than not, you’ll find them bustling their way across the ground in groups.
Their colonies can consist of thousands to millions of ants, and it is fascinating to look at them.
The world has about 13,000 identified species of ants, and they’ve been around since the cretaceous period. You can confidently say that they have high-fived the dinosaurs.
Interesting, isn’t it?
But what if you find these ants partying in your plant pot or your garden? Is it okay when these six-legged arthropods climb up your stems or excavate their home in your soil?
One thing is for sure- the next time you encounter an anthill in your garden, try not to stomp on it. These can prove to be a boon in disguise.
Read on to find out more about the ‘Soil, Plant and Ant’ connection.
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Are ants good or bad for the soil?
Ants play a crucial role in promoting a healthy ecosystem. When you have them in the soil, they serve as active biological control agents that feed on the eggs of pests and disturb their habitat. They do not feed on the plant itself and only build their nests using the soil pellets.
Reason Ants Enter the Soil
Ants prefer to build their houses underground. They are very organized and compartmentalize their abode to accommodate space for everything.
They also build their nests in crevices that are not easily accessible.
When you dig into an anthill, you will find long tunnels that have adequate space for food storage and laying eggs.
Ants use soil to excavate their nests. They leave a tiny opening on the top for entry and exit.
The inner space is occupied by the specific colony and the Queen Ant is the only one that can lay eggs.
Their aim is to shape the soil pellets to build themselves a residence space. They do not alter the soil nutrition or feed on the plants’ leaves, stems, and roots.
Moreover, ants dig up holes in the soil that can promote adequate aeration. This will reduce compaction and the roots can easily absorb the nutrients.
The ant holes ensure that there is a perfect exchange of gases that will result in the profound growth of the greens. The roots also spread vigorously and give the plant some solid foundation.
Advantages of having ants in the soil
Ants are mostly carnivorous in nature. They can feed on the eggs and young ones of the pests. They also destroy the habitat of certain pests that reside in the soil.
They disrupt the feeding process of the younglings and stall their growth. This in turn results in their death. The ant colonies then feed on them and carry the left-overs to their nests.
This is a simple method of integrated pest management where you are using biological agents to combat the harm that other biological agents do to the plant.
If you are a gardener, this is the sweetest news for you! Many pollinating birds and animals feed on ants.
While they move from one plant to another, pollination happens.
Also, ants themselves move from flower to flower when in search of nectar. The pollens stick to their body and they deliver them effortlessly to their destination.
Ants are experts in speeding up the process of decomposition. They dig holes into the soil, and that gives way to more air, water, and nutrients that reach the roots.
Also, the decomposed organic matter (dried leaves, dead pests, and manure) can provide added nutrition.
When the ants bring food into their nest, the left-overs that they don’t feed on will ultimately decompose to nourish the soil.
The ants can indicate the presence of aphids, bugs, and other sap-feeding insects. The bodies of these species produce honeydew (a sweet substance).
Ants crave for this substance and often line up to get their share. If you find a lot of ants gathered at a place or climbing up your trees, know that the sap-feeding insects are around.
Disadvantages of having ants in the soil
There are two sides to a coin. It might not always be the brightest idea to have ants in your soil.
Ants love sugar. If your yard has fleshy and sweet fruits or vegetables, you have to be careful with the ants.
They can scurry out of the soil, run up the branches and dig holes into the delicacies.
Thus, if you find armies of ants on your soil, they have a tendency to dig excessive holes. This can ultimately cause soil erosion in the long run.
That is why it is necessary to regulate the number of ants that your garden, plant pot, lawn, or yard is hosting.
Aphids and ants have a symbiotic association. Like we have discussed, ants need aphids and sap-sucking insects for honeydew. Therefore, they take them back to their anthills.
Hosting them in the soil means depriving the plant of nutrients and putting it in harm’s way.
These aphids can act as vectors for plant viruses and cause the growth of undesirable black molds.
The ant nests can be an inconvenience to your flowering pots. They actively dump soil on the plant and bury the growing shoots. This can hinder plant growth.
Another problem with ants is that they also disturb the roots when they build the elongated tunnels underneath the ground.
This is usually a rarity but there’s nothing wrong with being careful.
The best thing to do in these kinds of situations is to assess where the anthill is. If you think it is going to disrupt plant growth, find ways to divert the ants or remove the soil mold from the sensitive area.
After all, most of the ants are not your enemies. If you know how to use these tiny creatures correctly, they will prove to be an asset.
In fact, gardeners purposefully introduce ants into their plant habitat. It all depends on how effective you are in keeping a close watch on their numbers and activity.
Daniel has been a plant enthusiast for over 20 years. He owns hundreds of houseplants and prepares for the chili growing seasons yearly with great anticipation. His favorite plants are plant species in the Araceae family, such as Monstera, Philodendron, and Anthurium. He also loves gardening and is growing hot peppers, tomatoes, and many more vegetables.