If you have a garden, you have probably spotted at least a few types of ants out there. Different species of ants make their nests and colonies in various places, but many look for food sources in gardens. You might notice an anthill in the dirt of your garden, or just a trail of ants walking along the trees and shrubs. Ants aren’t always bad, especially when they’re outside, but some types of ants can destroy your plants.

Seed Movement and Planting

Most ant species are harmless to the plants within your garden and can actually serve a positive purpose. One of the most important roles they play for gardening is the collection and disbursement of seeds. When they move around the forests in the eastern part of the United States, they tend to move wildflower seeds around and contribute to further growth across the nation.

Certain seeds, when dispersed by ants, also have special attraction properties. Members of specific ant species look for seeds rich in fat bodies, or elaiosomes, and take those seeds back to their nests or colonies to feed the larvae. The undamaged seed is left on the waste heap of the colony, where they are planted into the ground as part of the absorption process that occurs in ant colonies. The ants can be seen as the gardeners of the insect world, making them a positive addition to your garden.

Protection From Herbivores

Image via Flickr by marknenadov

Various species of insects are herbivores by nature, which can attract them to the plants, shrubs, and trees in your garden. Ants can protect your landscaping from these herbivores. Ants tend to patrol the plants that contain nectar, found on the stems and sepals of the flowers, because they like to eat the nectar. When other seed-eating insects or herbivores try to feast on the plants or disturb them in any way, the ants will attack. These attacks serve to interrupt feeding, molting, egg laying, and courtship behaviors by causing the other insects to fall off the plants.

Addition of Butterflies and Birds

When ants live in your garden, you might notice an increase in the number of birds and butterflies that live and visit the outdoor space as well. Certain species of caterpillars produce honeydew, a sweet substance that helps attract ant protectors. When the ants arrive to feast on the honeydew, they farm the caterpillars, sometimes carrying them back to their nests, to aid in development into butterflies. Butterflies add beauty to your garden. Birds might be more interested in coming around your garden because of the caterpillars, which many birds eat.

The Bad Ants

The worst type of ants to see in your garden are fire ants. Those in this aggressive ant species respond to attacks by biting and stinging, so they’re dangerous to have around. Non-native imported red fire ants cause damage to crops and destroy other types of native ant populations. If you spot these ants in your garden, it’s best to bring in a professional exterminator.

The majority of ants won’t cause damage to your garden, and can actually help strengthen the health of the plants.