Ants on zucchini or summer squash plants are not uncommon. While they can seem alarming when there are a lot of them, most ant species don’t cause damage in your vegetable garden. However, it is a good idea to keep an eye on them as they can hinder pollination and can be a sign of other pest problems,
Learn why you might find ants on zucchini or squash plant and when and how you should take action to get rid of them.
Why Ants Are Attracted to Zucchini Plants
When ants are found on otherwise healthy-looking zucchini or summer squash plants, it’s mostly in or around the male or female flowers. Ants are usually there for two reasons: to feed on the pollen, or because there are aphids on the plants.
Ants feeding on the pollen are harmless but if the ants are attracted by aphids, it can be more serious. Aphids are tiny insects, about 1/10 of an inch, that suck sap from the plant and then excrete honeydew, which is rich in sugar attracting ants that feed on it. Aphids carry disease and their excretions can lead to the appearance of sooty mold, which prevents the plant from photosynthesizing properly.
It’s a different story if you find ants on a zucchini plant that is dead or dying from a different pest, namely the squash vine borer that tunnels through the stems. In this case, ants, which are scavengers and eat just about anything, are feeding on the plant debris. To break the disease cycle, remove the plant from your garden and discard it in the trash, not on the compost.
Do Ants Harm Zucchini Plants?
When ants feed on pollen or nectar, it is not beneficial to the plant because ants only come to feed. They do not act as pollinators that zucchini and summer squash need to develop fruit. Ants perform other important functions in a garden but pollination is not one of them.
Not only do ants compete with bees and leave them with less pollen and nectar, a summer squash blossom teeming with ants is also less likely to be pollinated by bees, they just move on to the next, non-occupied flower.
When ants such as pavement ants or odorous house ants are a secondary problem, meaning they are on the plants because of aphids, it can harm the plant because aphids reproduce very quickly—each adult aphid can produce 80 aphids within a week—and with the ants following to feed on the honeydew they leave behind, the situation can get out of hand if the population numbers are not controlled.
Ways to Get Ants off Zucchini Plants
The necessary course of action depends on the number of ants you find on your zucchini plants. If you don’t have a major aphid problem, and there are just a few ants on or in each flower, just washing them away with a blast of water from the hose usually takes care of it.
Controlling a real ant infestation requires getting rid of the aphids. It is best to take the non-chemical route, using beneficial insects such as parasitic wasps and/or applying insecticidal soap, or biological insecticides. Trying to get rid of aphids with a broad-spectrum insecticide is not a good idea not only because it indiscriminately kills all insects, pests and beneficial insects alike, and it is also tricky because aphids multiply so rapidly.
An ant colony somewhere in your yard does not necessarily mean the ants will migrate to your zucchini or squash plants in large numbers. It is best to wait and see especially because ants perform an important role as beneficial insects, such as aerating the soil. If ants start attacking your zucchini plants, you can always flood the colony with water from the hose.
Fire ants can damage all sorts of vegetable crops, especially seedlings and young transplants. You should get rid of them by baiting and using a specialized insecticide if they settle in your vegetable garden.
Aphids. University of California Integrated Pest Management.