My husband Craig always keeps a close eye on our orchard. This spring he noticed quite a few ants crawling around on two of our cherry trees. There was a tiny bug that the ants seemed very interested in. We quickly discovered that ants have another occupation other than counter-top pests!
They are also farmers...
Ants have quite an interesting relationship with aphids-which we learned were those little tiny bugs. They actually maintain “herds” of aphids and “milk” the aphids to get a sweet type of syrup from them called 'honeydew'. While the ants protect the aphids from other pests, in turn the aphids provide a delicious food source for the ants.
The problem is that aphids are very destructive to fruit trees and plants in general . Their diet consists of the sap from the inside of the plant, stunting growth and causing deformation. But worst of all is that they can pass disease into the plant not to mention a fungus that can accompany a large herd.
We learned that ladybugs eat aphids--and you can purchase packages of live ladybugs from garden centers! So we bought a package of about 1500 ladybugs for $7.50. The package is kept in a refrigerator (to keep the ladybugs in a type of dormant state) until you are ready to release them. It’s best to release them at nighttime so they can settle into their new environment before the heat of the day.
Lacewings are also another predator to aphids that you can try. You can try planting mint, fennel, dill, yarrow, and dandelions nearby to help attract the ladybugs and lacewings.
It worked! After a little time the ants cleared out, the aphids disappeared, and our trees were healthy and robust again. And thankfully we found a good alternative to poisonous pesticides and chemicals! Have you had trouble with aphids? Tell us about it!