Ants in Your Plants- A Solution?
Do you keep ant killer in your kitchen?
“Well it turns out every year I seem to have this crazy problem with ants. Seems that no matter what I do there are ants, ants, ants”, said Heather in a voicemail. “Now I don’t see them at first when I go to plant my beloved strawberry or watermelon plants – but as soon as they are in the ground all of a sudden the ants show up, the stalks are nibbled on and they fall over, dead.”
Just before Heather left me this phone message I was told by a CBC listener on my regular phone-in show in Alberta that Splenda (the artificial sweetener) was an ant killer. Yes, the very same Spenda, an artificial sweetener, many people consume daily and store in their kitchen cupboards was being reported as an ant killer.
I was sure Splenda would not work. I had naively tried all the other crazy things CBC listeners have pawned off on me over the years. Yes it is true. I am the plant expert and people phone me with their bug problems or worse yet their solutions to other caller’s bug problems. I repeat: I am a horticulturist, not an entomologist.
Rightly or wrongly I always march right home and try these (usually bug) solutions myself. I was told (by a listener) that large rhubarb leaves spread over an anthill would kill ants. NOT TRUE.
I was told (by a listener) ants would explode from eating a sprinkling of dry Cream of Wheat (not cooked) on their anthill. NOT TRUE. (I assume it’s the same for other breakfast cereals and even though I have seen recent reports online that other cereals work – I suspect there is no substance to this cereal theory.)
And so when I was told Splenda kills ants I was a little hesitant to endorse or deny this claim. So I turned to the formidable Dr. Ken Fry (Ph.D. Entomologist) at Olds College for advice and he was helpful but not hopeful: “Further work needs to be done to evaluate high doses of aspartame.”
A research paper he sent me focused on fire ants: The mortality rates of workers fed erythritol, aspartame, and saccharin were higher than 80% and were significantly higher than for those fed D-glucose anhydrous and water. That sounds good except we don’t have fire ants in Alberta or BC or anywhere in Canada as far as I know.
Jouni Sorvari, University of Eastern Finland focused his study on black ants, and thinks the whole sweetener thing is an urban legend: Our results strongly oppose the rumors that aspartame sweeteners are effective as an ant poison, at least with a typical dose of household aspartame products.
So of course I went out and bought Splenda for my own ant problems. I also suggested it to Heather in response to her question about ants in her plants because she was “at my wits end and tired of spending money on plants that just weren’t going to make it.”
I don’t have trouble with ants in my garden but I bought and sprinkled Splenda in the cracks where my south facing concrete pad meets my house and the conditions rival high noon in the Mohave Desert in August. I noticed right away that Splenda does not contain Aspartame or any of the other products referred to in the studies Ken had forwarded. Instead the active ingredient in Splenda is Maltodextrin (corn) and Sucralose. I’m no chemist but this is a different product from what the official studies report investigating, so I was hopeful.
I noticed two things right away. My puppy was attracted to the Splenda and, once I locked her up inside and spread more, the two types of ants I had observed traipsing through and living under my house disappeared overnight. As a bonus there were a few pillbug carcasses on the concrete pad. Maybe they usually die here and the ants cart them away or maybe Splenda kills pillbugs too.
Meanwhile Heather said she “went and “borrowed” some [Splenda] from my local coffee shop, in the little packets, and brought them home and sprinkled them all around the flower box and actually in the soil. (I’m not sure if you are supposed to do that.)
And also [I spread] a little bit on the plants, but not very much! And I have to say I have not seen any ants. Maybe one or two few sniffing around (probably to see that this is not a good idea.) But that is about it. So I am optimistic that maybe there is a solution. And it is called Splenda! I wonder if they’ll put that in their commercials coming up soon!
I took a few videos of the busy ants before the Splenda application but there is not much to see now on my hot concrete pad with the ants gone. Maybe they are breeding a bigger and better and more resistant version of themselves and will pop up again next summer. Or maybe I am fooling myself and the dog ate all the ants along with the Splenda and she will die soon.
As I said I am no scientist and I am not certain that Splenda works for ant control in every situation. It’s been two weeks since the first call from Heather and she is cautiously optimistic and has not lost any plants yet. I was skeptical and now I am convinced there is something going on with Splenda and I am certain I will never ever eat or cook with it or serve it to company. I am not sure what Maltodextrin or Sucralose are something is killing the ants. Bring on the sugar!
What Would Donna Do?
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