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WHAT’S BLOOMIN’

Gardening advice: Ways to banish pests: ants, aphids, weeds

Friday, June 21, 2013 - 12:01 am

Q.: While walking under my grape arbor, little black ants kept dropping on my head. After brushing them out of my hair, I looked closely at the vine, and the ends of the new shoots were covered with black aphids and ants. What is going on with that, and is there anything I can use to get rid of these pests?

A.: This is known as a symbiotic relationship between two unrelated and very different species of animals. In other words, each benefits the other. Aphids suck out the plant's juices and then produce a fluid called honeydew. The ants like the fluid and protect the aphids, the means of their favorite food, by aggressively attacking any predators that go after the aphids.

•To remove them from your vines, or other plants, you could shoot a strong spray of water at the vine and knock a lot of them off, or you could use an environmentally safe product called EcoSmart, a product I added to my arsenal this year. This product is made up of 2-Phenethyl propionate (this is a refined peanut oil with the allergy-causing properties removed), clove oil, rosemary oil, peppermint oil and thyme oil as the active ingredients.

These ingredients have been proven to be safe for humans and pets but lethal to many indoor/outdoor pests. I have tried it on ants and aphids, and it does kill them. You can purchase this ready to go spray at Menards and other garden centers.

•This is a lethal organic pesticide so use caution when spraying the foliage on new plants that you have just introduced to your garden. Wait until evening or on a cloudy day and test it on a few leaves before spraying the whole plant.

•Even though a product is labeled organic and safe, always follow label directions when using.

Q.: I have so many weeds, and I can't get ahead of them. Any suggestions would be welcome.

A.: Weeds are a never-ending battle in the garden right now — actually every year, spring until freeze. Unfortunately I can only give you the usual advice, which is as follows:

•Use Roundup where you can without harming your important plants.

•Pull or use a hoe or garden claw to lift weeds from their moorings.

•Once you have removed the weeds, sprinkle the soil with Preen or corn gluten, which is a natural pre-emergent herbicide. Both will prevent the weed seed from germinating.

•Cover the area with mulch — this can be a variety of products, such as straw, grass clippings, chopped-up leaves, wood mulch, pine needle mulch, shredded paper and so on.

•Cover the weeds with layers of newspapers and spread mulch on them to save pulling or hoeing.

•Use your gas, electric or wireless weed whacker to knock them out of the ground, then use whichever pre-emergent product you wish on the bare soil and add mulch.

•There are other methods, such as using vinegar, alcohol, salt, etc. But all of these can be moved through the soil by rain or watering and will harm your other plants. So unless the weeds are in a driveway or in the cracks of walkways, etc., it is not recommended to use these products.

•Boiling water poured on weeds kills them, but, again, if you are doing this in the grass or in groundcover, etc., it will kill those plants as well. I have used this method on a flagstone walkway, and it works well.

Jane Ford is an Advanced Master Gardener. Email questions to jaf701@fron tier.com. This column is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinion of The News-Sentinel.