“None of the ants previously seen by man were more than an inch in length – most considerably under that size. But even the most minute of them have an instinct and talent for industry, social organization, and savagery that makes man look feeble by comparison.” — Them! (1954 movie on gigantic, killer, atomic-radiated ants)
End of month view down the pergola looking east.
Possibly the best thing about my summer garden 2015 is Eucalyptus ‘Moon Lagoon’
In late summer it’s putting out this chartreuse, willowy new growth, which is mesmerizing against the backdrop of its own tangled-up-in-blue leaves. (Speaking of color, where’s your famous fiery red response to strong sun, Aloe cameronii? Not hot enough for you? It’s been plenty hot for me, thanks.)
A very telescoped view from the west gate to show the wash of blue that’s taken over the garden. ‘Moon Lagoon’ in the foreground, Acacia baileyana ‘Purpurea’ in the background (and blue apartment building in the distance). Just looking at the froth of blue cools me down.
The three that I was possibly most anxious to see make it through summer are just outside the office. Columnar Cussonia gamtoosensis is almost fence height now. The Coast Woolybush to the right, Adenanthos sericeus, has been a peach all summer.*
And Grevillea ‘Moonlight’ seems safely established here too.
Impromptu birdbath, which looks an awful lot like a headstone monument to a fallen aloe.
That’s an abbreviated EOMV so we can get to the bug report. Possibly the worst thing about my summer garden 2015 has been the ants. Apparently, if Southern California had a resident population of feisty fire ants, we wouldn’t be experiencing a scourge of Argentine ants, but we don’t, so we are. Linepithema humile stowed away on ships bound for our ports sometime in the 1980s, and life just hasn’t been the same since. Native ants were pushovers, no contest at all. I don’t like to dwell on this fact for long or I’d probably run away from home, but scientists tell us that the Argentine ants all belong to one giant SUPER COLONY. Which in practical terms means, because they’re all bros, they don’t fight. They amiably cooperate in a tireless, jack-booted bid for world domination. They are the Uruk-hai of ants. They seek out the same conditions we do, not too hot or cold, not too wet or dry, just nicely warmish and humid.
So when it’s too dry they line up around the shower with their tiny towels, circle the sinks with itty-bitty tooth brushes. They’re everywhere. Them!
I put together this little birdbath to take the place of an Aloe capitata that fell victim to the ants. All summer our insect overlords have relegated us to squatter status on our own property. This summer it seems like they’ve really stepped up their association (“mutualism”) with their nasty symbiotic playmates, scale insects and mealybugs. Ants offer safe transit and escort the pests into the crevices and crowns of some plants. Not all, just mostly my favorites, it seems. The stemless aloes have been hit hard this summer. A perky Aloe capitata var. quartzicola went flaccid seemingly overnight. Upon investigation, the lower crown was stuffed with scale. Them! For weeks I enraged the ants by scraping off scale from the aloe’s leaves, pouring cinnamon onto the crown, digging in coffee around the base. The ants supposedly hate strong smells. The aloe seemed to partially recover but lost so many leaves that I dug it up to nurse along in a pot. Aloe cryptoflora has also succumbed, and a large fan aloe was weakened and killed by ants, though it wasn’t in great shape when I bought it.
Aloe ‘Rooikappie’ is now taking its chances after A. capitata var. quartzicola was dragged off the battlefield.
Aloe capitata var. quartzicola in better days. If I find one again it will live in a container.
The ants favorite victims are stemless aloes planted close to hardscape, but they also favor beschornerias. The hardscape of bricks laid dry, without mortar, on a layer of sand has provided perfect Ant Farm conditions. Agave ‘Cornelius’ seems impervious so far, but ants are herding scale on some agaves like the desmettianas.
Beschorneria ‘Flamingo Glow’ has had its lower leaves stripped away frequently due to infestations. B. albiflora is under attack too.
This former wine stopper holding the birdbath together sums it up: we’re barely treading water against the ants. A vinegar spray solution stops attacks indoors, and cinnamon spread on window sills has been an effective barrier. (The glass shade was in the house when we bought it, and the concrete base was part of the chimney flue.)
I can’t remember ever having mealybug problems with agaves. I’ve been frequently knocking them off ‘Dragon Toes.’
Agave vilmoriniana ‘Stained Glass’ still seems clean.
Since the yucca has bloomed and become multi-headed, it seems to be attracting ants and scale too.
The furcraea is clean and has mostly outgrown damage from hail earlier in the year.
Aloe elgonica still looks clean from scale.
Potted plants have to be watched too. This boophane is clean, but pots of cyrtanthus are targets for scale.
I admit to indulging in some self-pity shopping. I’ve been wanting to try Artemisia ‘David’s Choice.’ The ants helped clear the perfect spot to try three.
Euphorbia ‘Lime Wall.’ I’ve yet to have scale on euphorbias, but you never know.
No more talk of bugs. Xanthosoma ‘Lime Zinger’ loves August, so I love xanthosoma.
I was this close to composting these begonias but gave them a reprieve, daring them to grow in a very shallow container. I thought I wanted some hot color in August, but turns out, nope, not really. I had a bunch of rooted cuttings of Senecio medley-woodii which grow lanky in very little soil, so stuck them in with some rhipsalis to chill this begonia the hell out.
Happy plants grouped under the light shade of the fringe tree on the east side of the house.
This succulent is very confusing. With alba in the name, I’m thinking white flowers. No, Crassula alba var. parvisepala reportedly has stunning trusses of deep red flowers. This is mine in bloom. I guess we’re both confused.
I have to say that there’s been a splendid show of butterflies all summer. The June bugs fizzled out, which is fine by me. (So weird that image searches of the June bug bring up what I know as the fig beetle. My June bug is, I think, Phyllophaga crinita.) It’s also been a banner year for the flying fig beetles, Cotinis mutabilis. The grasshoppers surprisingly haven’t been too bad.
End of month views are collected by The Patient Gardener, with or without bug reports.
*But was dead when I returned after a week’s absence, the soil bone-dry. Another has already been installed elsewhere in the garden.
Trust me, fire ants are no kind of “solution” to the Argentinian colony. OTOH I can only imagine how the unwelcome newcomers’ shepherding of scale insects must inspire desperate proposals.
That two-tone Eucalyptus is just flat gorgeous.
Nell, I’m aware of the fearsome reputation of fire ants, and I suppose things could be worse. Summer is the active season for these ants, and by fall/winter they melt away…When I think of what people go through in tick/Lyme disease country, we’re on easy street here.
I live 400 miles from you, but I’ve seen many more ants this year than in previous year. Fortunately, they seem to be happy in the soil. The only bug problem I’ve had are mealybugs, but I fight them every year. They can go from zero to 100 in a matter of hours, it seems. I keep hitting them with a solution of 3 parts rubbing alcohol and 1 part water, with some Dr Bronner’s liquid castile soap for good measure.
I’m really sorry to hear you lost your Aloe capitata var. quartzicola. It was such a beauty. I wish I could send you a pup, but mine have been solitary. I’ll keep an eye out for you.
“Them” scares me every time I see it, even though I remember the plot-line well. We too experienced a couple of household ant invasions this summer. The little demons actually tunneled through the grout between the wooden doorstop and the entry tile, then marched en masse to the cat’s bowl in the kitchen. I tried a baking soda barrier but that held for only 2 days. Re-grouting finally stopped the invasion. I’ve had problems with ants farming aphids on a Manfreda and mealy bugs on an Agave desmettiana but, based on your report, I probably need to conduct a more thorough inspection.
@Gerhard, I’m thinking Ruth Bancroft or Berkeley Bot. might have the aloe…road trip!
@Kris, the bricks-on-sand might be to blame here. And the house isn’t concrete slab, it sits high on sills, another perfect nesting area. The ants also next in the concrete pillars on the porch.
“Them”…was that the one with Peter Graves ? Or was he the giant grasshoppers ? On ants: I attended an IPM class several years ago, the instructor was an emeritus from Davis and the topic of ants came up . He assured us we would never , ever get rid of ants. Not ever. I have far more ant problems in winter when they are trying to get out of he rain (if we have any) but your battle sounds dreadful !
Kathy, yes, it was Peter Graves. What a memory! The smelly stuff like cinnamon and coffee does seem to work. I wonder what it’s doing to my soil pH tho.
I haven’t mentioned it on my blog because I’ve been concentrating on how to do battle with the raccoons that have been laying waste to my garden, but I’ve also been doing battle with ants inside my house this summer. They found the cat’s food bowls while we were away on a trip to Portland, so I now have the bowls sitting on plates of water. I don’t mind them outside, but inside, not so much. I remember that movie vividly.
Garden looks fantastic given the running battles with insects! Interesting to hear you consider winter the quiet season for Argentine Ants; the first rains always drive them inside here in Berkeley. Insects haven’t really been my issue this year, (except for always pesky LBAM caterpillars), but they’re more annoying than serious trouble.
Roof rats are my issue this summer, enough said. I’m so thankful raccoons haven’t been active damagers for several years now. Client’s gardens, it’s the everpresent onslaught of gophers and voles, thank God for wire gopher baskets and resident hawks and gopher snakes.
Again, your garden is looking wonderful, just glad I don’t have to keep an eagle eye out for so much scale and ants around here.
I had no idea ants could put an end to Aloes… what a shame! We’ve had a complete ant infestation indoors this year. I too had to put the cat food in a bowl of water. That Euca and your white Grevillea are to die for!!!
Funny we both have blog post titles about Bugs today, very different Bugs though.
We’ve had a very active ant year. I keep telling Andrew how crazy it is but he doesn’t seem to grasp it. First of all there is a constant line of them marching across the patio, for months! And always in the same place. They are also living (or?) under several of my pots and there is a section of the front garden that I can’t water without having tons of them come pouring out of the soil. Crazy right?
I love that shallow planter with the begonias, what was it in its former life? Before it met you?
Beautiful photography! I have used an organic product of oregano/peppermint oil. It will move the ants from that location. I don’t think it exterminates, but it does vacate the premise. It’s never ending. I need to reiterate, your photos are amazing despite the invasion
Sorry to hear about another insect invader and that it’s ants! Interestingly, this has been a pretty tame year for ants here at my home. Usually we have problems a few times each summer, but I think we only had one “attack” early in the season. In the garden they cause no problems AFAIK. LOVE the concrete planters with the “rivets” btw!
@Alison, indoors has been quiet other than a few stragglers. They seemed to have turned their attention to the attic because a line leads from the ground straight up the side of the house. I don’t even want to know at this point…We did the bowls on water when we had the kitties too. So sorry those raccoon clowns caused you such grief this summer!
@David, a neighbor’s avocado tree brought in the rats. It was way too large for its spot so it was taken out, and the rats never returned. Sounds like you’ve hit on the perfect trifecta for handling gophers. Hawks are such a gift.
@Anna, I didn’t know either! This is the first summer this has happened. I’m wondering what this winter’s El Nino effect will be on the ants.
@Loree, I know you hate it when it freezes, but just think of all the bugs it’s eliminating. I must have found that metal bowl at the big box store. It’s been kicking around in my shed, so holes were drilled, and voila, shallow planter.
@Brian, thank you for your compliments. Both the eyes and the camera are challenged by some years! Thanks for the oregona/peppermint oil tip. With that and the cinamon the garden will smell like a spices bazaar. Yum!
@Alan, other than ants, insects aren’t much of a problem. I think the drought is exacerbating the situation. I’ve never seen it like this. I got a great deal on that pot, marked down because it was concrete. I guess the weight is a negative with pots getting lighter with all the new fabrications. There were three, but wish I had a dozen like it.
I haven’t had ant problems on my succulents…because I have 18 fruit trees upon which they work their evil. Pat Welsh has an excellent organic gardening book and blog pertinent to Southern California, though her solutions for ants would be applicable to all of us. She mentions using cornmeal which swells when ingested by ants,,thereby killing them. (And hopefully crumbs tracked into colonies for other ants to eat.) Also, a long term preventative is the liberal use of worm castings which contain chitinase , caustic to ants’ exoskeletons. Interestingly, a tree trunk barrier product, called Tanglefoot, is suddenly out of stock this summer, even online, further corroborating the Year of the Ant.
Laura, funny you should mention Pat Walsh because I’ve been looking around for my copy but must have loaned it out. I did see that corn meal solution online but just haven’t tried it yet. Sounds too good to be true! Worm castings would be a good thing to add to the soil anyway, so that would be a two-fer. That’s amazing that there’s been a run on Tanglefoot…Them!
Your garden looks beautiful despite the ants–they are a big problem here also–I have ant stakes everywhere. Some of them seem to be working, some not. RIP quartzicola. 🙁
The movie I remember (can’t remember the name, dang it!) was about the Cuban missile crisis from the point of view of a little boy who also went to movies. There was a movie producer involved in the plot–his movie-within-the-movie was about a radioactive man-ant hybrid, the name of the movie was “Mant”, and the memorable line was, “Come down, Bob! We have sugar!”
Hoov, I hate to say it, but I’m kind of glad you’re having a problem with ants too. I was beginning to think it was a private pestilence! So funny about that movie “Mant” — great title! And sounds vaguely familiar.
Ah, finally recalled: it was “Matinee”, directed by Joe Dante, 1993. There’s a fake trailer for “Mant!” if you search on it. Also, my Aloe cameronii reds up in the winter, with cold, not in the summer, with heat. Okay, I’m done.
Be very glad you don’t have fire ants. They are dreadful. But your ants don’t seem so great either. It really is an insect’s world. That said, I enjoyed your lovely garden photos as much as ever!