Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Leaf-cutter ants

...are the bane of my gardening existence. Or at least my attempts at gardening in what seems to be an ant-infested lot. I know, you probably thought from reading the title of this post that I would say how interesting they are, or maybe how they use the mold that grows on the leaves they cut to feed themselves, or something else flattering about them. But no. You might have gotten that response from me, say, ten years ago when I first came to Costa Rica. After living with them, however, I have a completely different opinion of the little bastards.

Here are a few things that leaf-cutter ants seem to like (and thus, if you have an ant-infested lot, you may wish to learn from my costly experience):
  • Roses. They can devour a rosebush in a matter of hours.
  • Scorpion tails. I actually don't know what these are really called in English; I'm translating from Spanish here. Hummingbirds and butterflies love them; so do leaf-cutter ants.
  • Hydrangeas. Forget it.
  • Begonias.
  • Gerbera daisies. They even take the petals off all of the flowers.
  • Orchid trees (buy a big one and it should be okay; they keep eating the leaves off of my little one every time it tries to come back).
  • Pomegranate trees (same suggestion as above).
  • Canna lilies.
  • Raspberry canes.
  • Bird of paradise flowers. Mostly the leaves, thus not actually giving the flower itself a chance to, well, flower.
  • Butterfly weed.
Well I think that's most of what I've tried to plant in this yard that has been done in by those freakin' ants. And here are a few things that, surprisingly, they leave alone:
  • Most herbs, including parsley, lavender, and basil.
  • Tomatoes.
  • Lantanas.
  • Cosmos.
  • Grass.
  • Not much else.
Actually I take it back about the lantanas; I have seen them with lantana flowers. I think this plant just grows too fast for them to eradicate it totally.

The ants are so-so on passionflower/maracuya/passaflora so far. Sometimes they cut them down, sometimes they don't. I think if they have better plants to destroy, such as my beautiful roses or scorpion tail plants, they'll leave the passafloras alone.

Well, today I put all of my roses in pots, so let's see how they do.

And just for fun, here are some pics of leaf-cutter ants doing what they do best:


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