If your garden is looking sadder than usual and is overrun by black specks moving along your plants' stems, you're not alone.
Some gardeners in Saskatchewan are having trouble managing ants' attacks on their produce this summer. Dawn Erker, a member of the Saskatchewan Gardeners Facebook Group, said she is having trouble keeping the pests off her plants—and even off of her legs.
"They eat my plants and they bite me," Erker said. "And it's not always hills, so you don't even know that you're standing on them until all of a sudden you feel a bite, or you feel the crawly, itchy, icky feeling."
Art Davis, a biology professor at the University of Saskatchewan, explains that the warm weather could be the reason for the increase in ant activity.
From June 28 to July 4, the average daily high in the province was more than 30 C, according to Environment Canada.
"It's possible that with the heat certain species are finding that this is relatively good going and are reproducing more than usual," he said.
"If we could, you know, have our ants all living in alleys and not in our yards directly, that might be the best. But, of course, they'll choose where they wish to live and it just comes down to whether one can live with them or not."
Pestering the pests
Erker said she's had ant problems for several years, but it has been particularly taxing on her garden this year.
After losing some of her first batch of plants, she bought some more to fill them in. Those also fell victim to nearby ant hills.
One problem she's facing is ridding her backyard of ants without affecting her pets, or friendly insects like bees.
She said that some methods she has been recommended are just temporary solutions, like products that will force the ants to move their hill that just lead to them setting up elsewhere in her yard, or a neighbour's. Other gardeners in the Facebook group have suggested various pesticides — homemade and store bought — or simple tricks like coffee grounds.
Davis didn't have a universal answer for how to manage ants, but suggested insecticide discs that are enclosed to deter other insects or animals from getting to the solutions inside.
The University of Saskatchewan's college of agriculture and bioresources suggests that however you plan to fight back, avoid using homemade pesticides like a mixture of Borax and sugar. It says that ingredients used in homemade concoctions may be harmful to more than just the ants that gardeners are targeting.
It also recommends keeping the plants healthy with enough sun, water and fertilizer, because ants target weaker plants.