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Monday, December 16, 2013

Ants Farming Aphids on Pyracantha

Q. We have a couple pyracantha bushes. We noticed this past summer some small, pen point sized, bright green bugs on the end of the branches. A day or two later I noticed ants in those same places but couldn't tell if they were eating the bugs or not. Please advise if we need to do something.
Pyracantha, sometimes called firethorn,, with its red berries.Some have orange, yellow and off-red.

A. From the sound of it the bush had aphids, sometimes called plant lice, but summer is not the usual time that aphids appear. Aphids normally appear with new growth in the spring and disappear when it gets hot.
            Ants are attracted to aphids because the aphids release sugary honeydew when they're feeding on the pyracantha leaves.
Leaf cupping on plums due to aphid feeding in the spring.
            Ants “farm” the aphids, take this honeydew excretion and use it. So you may see ants traveling up and down the pyracantha gathering and transporting honeydew to their nest in the soil. Ants may even move the aphids around to new locations to expand their “herd”.
            It's not a big problem if these are just aphids. The aphids will cause some stickiness on the leaves and may cause leaves to fall from the plant if the feeding becomes heavy. But that time of year I would not expect them to be a big problem.
Ants herding aphids for their honeydew
            If the problems is excessive the easiest thing to do is mix some soap and water, about as much as you would use when you would wash your dishes. Put it in a spray bottle and spray the soapy mixture directly on these green bugs, usually on the underside of the leaves.
            You will probably have to do this every couple of days since soap and water does not leave any poisonous residue on the leaf surface and these spots will repopulate quickly after the spraying is done.
            If you want more permanent control then you can use a traditional insecticide that has a label listing ornamental plants and aphid control. You can also treat the ant nest in the soil. Pouring boiling water on the ant hill will give some temporary organic control of the ants.

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