Azaleas definitely attract the attention of people with their amazing flowers and foliage. But, beyond our sight, they may also attract a range of other insects as well. Some of which may not mean well!
Azaleas may not directly attract ants but other insects and the substances they create will attract ants.
Insects that feed on your leaf sap and produce honeydew will attract ants to your azaleas.
Why Ants Would Be Attracted To Azaleas?
There are a few reasons why ants may find your azalea plants very appealing. Some of the reasons may even be surprising to you.
Ants spend their entire day working. But, just like us, they cannot do so with the heat of the sun beating down upon them.
Heat is especially felt in the ground in their nests. This is where they keep their eggs. As a result, they will look for cool shelter.
Ever seen ants running around with small white dots? If so these are their eggs. When their nests get too hot, they move their eggs. So how does your azalea play a part in this?
Well under an azalea plant pot or amongst moist azalea soil would make a cool respite from the heat!
Ants can choose to lodge themselves and their eggs under your azalea plants. This is where it is cool. Or they may even place them among your azalea plants in the moist soil particles.
Notice swarms of ants around your azaleas after you water them? It could be the water that is drawing the ants to them. As odd as it may sound ants get dehydrated as well.
Ants will require water every day, and your azaleas may be the perfect source.
An ant can drink around 7 microliters of water per sitting. This equates to 1/5th of a drop of water.
Droplets of water sitting on your azalea plants would be more than enough to quench their thirst!
But, this doesn’t mean they will be permanent guests. They may just be passing through and there is no need to worry unless they persist.
If ants have found food on your azaleas, a bit of concern should ensue!
Ants need a high sugar food source to power their tasks all day. What better substance than food that a plant creates. The only catch is they do not retrieve it themselves.
Instead, they wait for other insects to leach it out and then they retrieve it from these insects.
But, something else happens along the way. These insects increase the sugar concentration in this solution, and it’s just right for ants.
As long as ants are receiving the honeydew, they will stick around. Unfortunately, your azaleas are the source of this substance!
Connection Between Ants and Honeydew
Ants are hardworking insects and you would be surprised by the weight a single ant can carry. These minuscule insects are capable of pulling off amazing feats!
However, what isn’t surprising is their constant requirement for energy in the form of a ready-to-consume substance.
And a steady supply of it is mandatory to power themselves and their offspring, i.e. their entire colony.
Their energy cannot be met with grass or any green material. They need something that contains sugar.
That’s because sugar is easier to convert to energy. Plus it converts to more energy than any other substance.
To satisfy their requirement, a sugar solution with a high concentration is most ideal. This is where ‘honeydew’ makes the most suitable option.
What is so special about this substance that has ants so crazy about it? Continue reading to finally uncover this mystery.
What Is Honeydew?
So, what is honeydew? It is best to describe it as a sticky substance rich in sugar. Chemically, it is a huge energy source.
Honeydew is usually a by-product of the phloem of plants. Phloem sap is accessible to insects while they attack the plants.
Surprisingly, a few insects such as Aphids, Leaf-Hoppers, a few Caterpillars, and selective Scale Insects can excrete honeydew after feeding.
They excrete it through their anus or sometimes ants damage them to retrieve it. This is where ants mostly get their supply of honeydew.
But, there is another way ants can retrieve this energizing edible! When insects injure a plant to feed on its phloem, it leaves a puncture wound. From this wound, sap may continue to seep out!
It then becomes a very hard sugary substance called ‘manna’ is what’s left behind. But, the ants won’t mind this. It provides an appealing opportunity for sugar-hungry ants.
Their very sharp and strong jaws can easily break up this hard texture of the hardened sugar.
But, honeydew can be a danger to azaleas. When left on leaves, it can cause the growth of sooty mold. This will then hinder your azalea’s ability to carry out photosynthesis.
Insects That Produce Honeydew
Quite a few insects are known to contain or expel honeydew. Most of them belong to the Hemiptera group of insects.
In this group, you will find insects with wings and also some that lack wings. Examples are cicadas, aphids, leaf-hoppers, caterpillars (only some), etc. Ants or other insects that use honeydew could choose any of these insects.
Myrmecophily- Symbiotic Relationship with Ants
Relationships between different organisms are not something new. They have existed for a long time and many organisms depend on them.
One example is myrmecophily which involves a relationship with ants.
The relationship could be beneficial, mutualistic, commensalism, or even parasitic in some cases.
The relationship between ‘honeydew-producing insects’ and ants is a mutualistic one that looks very symbiotic in nature. We’ll tell you how.
- Aphids may release honeydew or the ants can ‘milk’ it from them. But, the ants offer something important to the aphids. Any guesses what it is? Protection, that’s what the ants offer the aphids.
Because aphids are commonly preyed on by other insects like lady beetles, they need a helping hand. Ants offer up protection to assure their food suppliers are safe in exchange for food.
- Another example is of ants actually bringing in Hemiptera larvae (aphid, leaf-hopper, or cicada) into their own nest. Here they will rear the larvae as their own. In cases of danger or disruption, they will even make the effort to remove the larvae with their own.
Wondering do azaleas have deep roots?
Why Azaleas Attract Honeydew Producers?
Azaleas like all plants have xylem and phloem. Both help to transport water and food materials to all plant parts.
Even the most remote areas such as leaves require food and water in order to grow.
While dead tissue comprises the xylem, living cells constitute the phloem. The phloem is known to conduct food products of photosynthesis.
Its journey starts at the leaves and travels throughout the entire plant. Eventually, it will be stored in tubers, bulbs, or even roots.
All green plants including azaleas depend heavily upon photosynthesis for food and eventually for growth.
So, on any typical day, leaves will be full of photosynthesized food, known as sap. The sap is a solution rich in sugars dissolved in the water.
Unfortunately, azaleas have a few mortal insect enemies who would only be more than glad to drink its sap.
Leaves that are green and lush are gushing with sap that can potentially become honeydew. This is what draws insects to feed on their sap.
Are Ants Bad for Azaleas?
Hearing that indirectly ants are attracted to azaleas may prompt an important question that needs answering.
Are ants bad for azaleas? If so, why. What effect do they cause? Well, in a roundabout way, ants are bad for azaleas.
Where there are ants, there are also aphids. And where there are aphids and possibly leaf-hoppers there is sap being drained from your azalea plants!
So this cycle starts with sap and ends with ants. But the ants aren’t really harming the azaleas, you could argue.
While that is true, they are protecting the aphids and tending the leaf-hoppers. These aphids and hoppers slowly diminish your azalea’s food materials.
They won’t kill the azaleas or damage them fast. However, an entire colony of aphids and ants creates visible signs of poor health.
The first symptoms are limpness and wilting. The next sign is a distinct change in the color of the plant leaves.
Get to know Why do azaleas turn brown?
So, are ants bad for azaleas? Since ants are drawn to destructive azalea pests, yes ants are bad. They prevent natural pest predators from accessing the azalea plants and their pests!
How to get rid of Ants From Azaleas?
When it comes to plants, ants can be a problem that costs your plants something.
Besides, it’s embarrassing giving a tour of your garden when there are ants trailing in and out of your azalea flower pots!
Well, it’s obvious why the ants are standing guard on your azalea plants. They are protecting their food supply! Getting them out and away from your azaleas cannot be done directly. They may end up coming back again.
You have to find what they want and try to remove it. Thus, it gives them no reason to keep coming back. In this case, you must take their food source away.
This means dealing with the other pests!
As soon as you get rid of the pests, you also get rid of the honeydew. After this, there will be no honeydew. The ants won’t have a reason to be near your azaleas.
How to Get Rid of Aphids?
Powering your water hose at a high setting on the aphids and larvae can help to dislodge them. Even if it does not eradicate them, it keeps their population in check.
Spraying azalea plants weekly with horticultural oil, neem oil, or insecticidal soap solutions can be effective. But, make sure you do this only when the temperature is below 80℉.
How to Get Rid of Scale Insects?
These insects are slightly harder to remove from your azalea plants. They cling to the stem very tightly and you will have to cut or scrape them off with a sharp object.
Avoid using certain insecticides like Imidacloprid as they are harmful to important plant pollinators like bees. Do not use them during flower blooming periods.
Just a few insects that azaleas attract are lace bugs, azalea caterpillars, aphids, and leafhoppers. Otherwise, these insects may produce honeydew which also attracts ants to the azalea plants.
Naturally, ants help in soil decomposition thus, enriching the soil. They can also be aphid predators. That’s if the ants don’t prefer the honeydew over the aphids themselves. If so, they will probably help and protect the aphids affecting your azalea plants.
Ants are natural predators in the garden and important insects in the food web. However, when they are attracted to your azaleas, it’s usually not for good reason.
Yes, azalea attracts ants but that’s only when it is having pests that produce honeydew. Ants thoroughly enjoy honeydew as a food source!
To get rid of the ants, you will have to cut off their food source. This means eliminating all the honeydew producers from your azalea plants.
NOTE: Honeydew can cause the growth of Sooty mold which can hamper photosynthesis.
So, the honeydew and the ants have to go!