Garden dectective: Ants in our raised-bed vegetable garden

Published: Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 8CALIFORNIA LIFE

We have ants in our raised-bed vegetable garden as well as a few other areas around our home. We use bait traps only when things get out of hand in early spring when they historically show up indoors.

In the vegetable garden, the ants make holes around the plant bases and push piles of fine soil out of these holes. We're not sure this is helping the plants.

Are there any nontoxic ways to keep the ants out of our raised bed?

– Doug and Barbara Ramey, Rancho Cordova

According to UC master gardener Carol Hunter, ants by themselves are not a serious garden pest.

But ants are closely associated with honeydew produced by sucking-insect pests, such as aphids, soft scales, mealy bugs and whiteflies.

The most common honeydew-feeding species in California is the Argentine ant; you can spot them by their swollen, translucent abdomens.

Argentine ants build their nests under the soil surface. Pest Note 7411 provides complete information on a wide variety of ants, including key to identification. Find it at (This pest note is also available by mail at the address at the end of the column; request "PN7411.")

Baits can be an effective way to deal with ants. Several different forms are available.

For residential users, the most readily available form of bait are solids or liquids that are prepackaged into ant stakes or small plastic bait station containers. These products are easy to use and are quite safe if kept away from children and pets.

Some products dry up rapidly and must be frequently replaced to control a large population. Different attractants are more effective against different species of ants and at different times of the year.

What can I do to prevent the moths from ruining my Gala apples? I lost most of them last year. I would appreciate any suggestions you might have. Thank you.

– Pete Laderman, Lincoln

The moths that are damaging your Gala apples are probably codling moths, said UC master gardener Carol Hunter. The larvae penetrate the fruit and bore into the core leaving brown-colored holes in the fruit that are filled with frass (larval droppings).

Codling moths can be difficult to manage if they are allowed to build up over a season or two. There are several methods for reducing the population without using insecticides. These methods include sanitation, bagging the fruit, mass trapping and trunk banding.

Thinning out and removing infested fruit on the tree is an especially important part of an integrated pest management program for codling moth. Pruning trees to a height where the canopy is easy to reach also will facilitate management of this pest.

The Fair Oaks Horticulture Center hosts a variety of workshops for the home gardener, including pruning fruit trees. The workshop schedule for next year will be available online in December at

Read what master gardeners have learned about codling moth management at the Fair Oaks Horticulture Center at

Another excellent resource to assist with control of the codling moth is Pest Note 7412, available at The Pest Note is also available by sending a self-addressed, stamped business-size envelope to: PN 7412, UC Cooperative Extension, 4145 Branch Center Road, Sacramento, CA 95827.


Questions are answered by master gardeners at the UC Cooperative Extension services in Sacramento and Placer counties.

Send questions to Garden Detective, P.O. Box 15779, Sacramento, CA 95852. Send email to h& Please put "Garden Detective" in the subject field and include your postal address. To contact your UC Extension directly, call:

Sacramento: (916) 875-6913; 9 a.m.-noon and 1-4 p.m. weekdays

Amador: (209) 223-6838; 10 a.m.-noon Monday through Thursday; email

Butte: (530) 538-7201; 8 a.m.-noon and 1-5 p.m. weekdays

El Dorado: (530) 621-5512; 9 a.m.-noon weekdays

Placer: (530) 889-7388; 9 a.m.-noon on Tuesdays, Wednesday and Thursdays or leave a message and calls will be returned

Nevada: (530) 273-0919; 9 a.m.-noon Tuesdays through Thursday or leave a message

Shasta, Tehama, Trinity: (530) 225-4605

Solano: (707) 784-1322; leave a message and calls will be returned

Sutter, Yuba: (530) 822-7515; 9 a.m.-noon Mondays and Tuesdays and 1-4 p.m. Thursdays

Yolo: (530) 666-8737; 9-11 a.m. Tuesdays and Fridays, or leave a message and calls will be returned

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