Leaf-cutter ants...oh my, what to do?

Colima, Mexico(Zone 11)

Hello tropical zone gardeners, Toward the end of 2014 and the beginning of 2015, i had a terrible time with leaf cutter ants. They have been around since i began this garden 8 years ago, but not in great numbers until recently. My garden is at the back of the house and walled in the spanish tradition. They come in the night and can strip a large tree completely bare by dawn. I cut back a lot of vegetation (luckily things grow fast here) and attacked them with a soap, water, cinnamon and clove oil mixture which does kill them, but others keep coming. No toxic chemicals are used in my garden to prevent harming the caterpillars,butterflies and other nectar lovers and pollinators. Does anyone have problems with the leaf cutter ants? How do you deal with them?

Winter Springs, FL(Zone 9b)

I had to research the net to see what they were, as I have every kind of ant in my garden but not that one. I did find this, maybe it helps...http://www.gardenguides.com/70546-rid-cutter-ants.htm.

I've never found an organic way to get rid of ants, they just move to a new location.

Colima, Mexico(Zone 11)

Hi sunkissed. Nice to talk to you again and thank you for the website, although i received a "Page not found" message when i went there. I don't think there are leaf-cutter ants in the US. Maybe Texas has some. I know Mexico, Central & South America have them. They did try to make a colony in my garden but i killed them off with my soap/cinammon/clove solution before they were able to colonize. So i am not having to deal with a colony in the garden which would actually make things easier, maybe. The leaf-cutters come in off the street and over the walls like thieves in the night and by morning they have mostly disappeared. They leave the cut leaves on the ground and another group of leaf-cutter carriers come to pick up what was left on the ground after they have cut the vegetation into proper sizes and shapes for carrying on top of their heads. I was regularly able to remove the leaves laying on the ground in the early morning and i think this discouraged them eventually. I also pruned down the beautiful Ixora which they seem to have targeted, after which they started on the Mexican Flame Vine which was huge at the time.

Howard Garrett has an organic recipe for killing off fire ant colonies at


Winter Springs, FL(Zone 9b)

http://www.gardenguides.com/70546-rid-cutter-ants.html - hope this link work, it was missing the last letter.

Thanks for the link to dirtdoctor. I've tried orange oil before and it does get rid of the mound, but new mounds pop up eventually, so much rain here, just washes anything away.

Good luck. I have to say I'm glad they're not here, we have plenty of ants to deal with. ☺

Colima, Mexico(Zone 11)

What a difference an "l" makes, sk. This is a good article, although ants can crawl over the wall and i can't really follow them, especially at midnight. But the fact that the first night l-c ants leave all the damage on the ground and the 2nd night l-c's harvest the leaves and take them back to the nest next day leads me to believe that if i take away the leaves before the 2nd night l-c's arrive, they may well become discouraged and go somewhere else. In my experience, ants learn fairly quickly. Possibly this will be an effective method to get rid of them. Then again, they may change their tactics and the first night ants may both cut and harvest the leaves. I will experiment with this idea if i have another major attack.

I have noticed in many ants, when rains or storms are coming, the ants increase their activities in a noticeable way, plus a lot of them want to come in the house.

The major attack i experienced came at a time when our Volcano de Colima started significant activity just one year ago. i can't help but think the ants can sense the magma rising in the mountain (in the same way they respond to a coming storm) and increase their activity to insure a good food supply.

The leaf-cutter activity has pretty much ceased in the garden, and i hesitate to say they are mostly gone. Their leaf cutting activities have essentially stopped (for the time being?), but i am cautious and want to be prepared if/when they return in large numbers. It is good to know they generally work between 11pm and midnight. It might be a good idea to be ready for them with a forceful hosing down and see how they respond to that.

It was during the daytime that i would notice small squads of leaf-cutters that appeared to be gathering to start a colony in the garden. In each case, i quickly responded to any colonizing activity by dispatching the ants involved. This works for me primarily because i have a small garden.

I'd still love to hear from some folks who have actually dealt with leaf-cutter ants and in what ways, what has worked for them, what has not. Thanks again sunkissed for this helpful link :-)

This message was edited Nov 18, 2015 11:06 PM

Fredericksburg, TX

I have them here in Panama, but not to the extent you do.
The leaf cutters here live around the property underground without mounds. It is difficult to detect where they actually are. They can just disappear into some jungle and I can't track them. Wouldn't mess with their home anyway. Mine don't cut foliage and others pick it up. Each ant cuts and carries foliage right then, so easy to spot them.

I have them come through the yard at night also, but only stripping certain ornamentals - fuschia, begonia, etc. Others leaf-cutters are around all of the time pecking away at daylilies, gardenias, etc. Fortunately, they eat on one type of plant then move on to something else before it is stripped. I have lots of plants and it is fairly moist here, year round. Lots of choices for their salad bar.

The local agric shops sell a gel that you can put out. Boric acid and sugar water. I don't use it. Too many ants. Also the regular ants will eat it and if their outside nests are disturbed then they will come in the house.

I try to keep the plants they like well-watered and healthy. That helps some.
In desperation, to save the gardenias, I purchased an insecticide with nicotine in it. Mixed it up and applied it to the base of the trunk and about 2 inches out into the surrounding soil. (We have native honey bees, I did not want to kill them. That stopped them. I did not see ants cutting the plants after that. I believe it worked as a repellent, not a killer.

If you don't want to use an insecticide, maybe cigarettes/tobacco crumbled around the base of likely target plants. Or oils? orange, rosemary. Dried herbs? Hard to stop them once they have started and hard to know what to do if they only sweep in at night - what plant will be next?

This message was edited Feb 25, 2016 10:13 AM

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