My lovely pentas always have so many ants on them that I don’t want to bring them into the house. There are too many to pick off. Can you suggest something so I can cut pentas for arrangements without ants?
Pretty pentas show off in the warm-season garden throughout the year, even during the hottest part of the summer. They add color to the landscape and as cut flowers to bring inside. However, hitchhiking critters are not usually invited to join the party indoors.
Gardeners often plant pentas for the flowers that attract butterflies, hummingbirds, and bees. It is the flowers and the reward of nectar that attracts these critters. While searching for the sweet nectar produced way inside the tubular flowers, the flowers entice the visiting insects to carry pollen to other flowers, thereby ensuring cross-pollination and genetic diversity in the next generation. I had a college professor once describe flowers as “dressed up for the singles bar.”
At least in pentas, ants are not part of the pollination dance. The ants are after a free meal, namely a load of sugar-laden nectar. They are not feeding on the plants or causing any damage, but their presence can be disturbing if trying to cut or pick the flowers. Control is usually recommended, but a few things can be done to reduce the number of ants riding on pentas plucked for a bouquet.
A strong spray of water can be used to dislodge the ants, as can a swish of the cut blooms in a bucket of water. Cutting the flowers at dusk can produce stalks with fewer ants. I often simply cut the flowers and give them a good shake to shed the ants. Cutting the flowers, placing them in water, and leaving the vase or container in the shade or on the porch for a few hours before bringing them inside can also send the ants scurrying.
Ants are attracted to pots for building a home. If the pentas are in pots to be brought inside, ants may be nesting among the roots. If this is the case, submerge infested plant pots in a tub of water. There should be enough water to completely immerse the container. Leave it in the water for 10 to 30 minutes, and most of the ants will abandon the pot.
Pesticides should only be used to control a pest causing damage and then chosen and used with care. Ant baits are very effective management for ant colonies. If this is the choice, read and follow all label instructions to ensure safe use of the product.
Pentas are grown for their attractiveness to insects, bees, and butterflies. Ants are just along for the free lunch, shake them off, cut pentas for arrangements without ants, and enjoy.
This column first appeared in the Treasure Coast Newspapers.