What to Do if Your Tree is Invested With Ants
If you have a tree that is infested with ants, then you are going to want to take the necessary steps to eradicate that problem. Ants frequently travel up and down the trunk of a tree and disappear into the cavity, where they nest. Due to those nesting opportunities and the relative comfort ants experience when settled inside a tree, if this isn’t handled as soon as possible, the number of ants in the tree is likely to continue to grow.
The big, black ants that predominantly hang out inside of the tree are called carpenter ants. These ants almost always attract attention, whether they are crawling on the floor in your house, entrenched in your flowers, tunneling into the ground, or, of course, going in and out of a tree trunk.
Carpenter ants love logs and stumps, but they also love to nest in trees, especially older ones that have a lot of wood that is dead and/or decayed. When nesting, carpenter ants use trees with wood that is already decayed because of the high amount of moisture found in those trees. The softness and brittle nature of the wood allow the carpenter ants the ability to easily set up and establish their colonies. The decay could have been caused by a variety of factors: environmental conditions, stress, disease, or even other insects doing damage to the limbs and branches, which severely weakened them. Whatever it is that causes the initial damage, it leads to wood decay, and once that sets in, the carpenter ants are able to move in and colonize.
It is important to remember that carpenter ants are not the ones who are destroying the tree initially, they are simply taking advantage of conditions that have been left for them by circumstance. In a sense, they are behaving like vultures, seizing an opportunity that they didn’t actually create. The carpenter ants may make the damage worse and help prevent the tree from gaining any further strength, but they are not the cause of the problem itself when it first occurs. Once the carpenter ants pounce, they nest by chewing tunnels through the wood. However, the carpenter ants cannot eat the wood, so instead, the wood gets cast aside and tossed away from the nest as piles of sawdust, which may contain a combination of discarded wood and dead insects.
So, why exactly is it important to rid the tree of these carpenter ants?
While they aren’t the ones doing the actual damage, they are able to play a role in stopping the tree from getting back to full strength. However, even more importantly, it is incredibly important to make sure these carpenter ants are kept out of other nearby structures where they can be incredibly disruptive, like a house.
It is essential, however, to avoid sealing tree cavities or plugging them to treat wounds because they are not necessary and will not do anything to stop decay or deter carpenter ants from colonizing.
It is also a bad idea to cut down the tree just to avoid problems the ants can cause because the carpenter ants can just go to a different tree on the property or one that is nearby. Unless you want to cut down every tree you have, the best option is to go through the proper process of eliminating the ants, rather than eliminating entire trees. Plus, if you cut down all of the trees just to eliminate the ants, you won’t actually eliminate them, as they will just be emboldened to go elsewhere, like the house you wanted to avoid them spreading to in the first place.
And, if carpenter ants do get into a building of some sort, they can infect virtually anything made of lumber, including window frames, deck boards, and door sills. However, in virtually all cases, the area is already very moist and as such, it has a pre-existing weakness that the carpenter ants, vulture-like opportunists that they are, can exploit.
Ways to Kill off Ants in Your Tree
1. Spraying ant powder all around the base of the tree is far and away the easiest way to deal with a tree infested with ants since it doesn’t take much effort to apply and is effective at killing the ants when they leave the tree to gather food.
The powder not only kills the ants who are touched by it, but also kills many of the other ants because they will eat their own dead and in doing so, absorb the poison themselves. While this is an easy process, it is important to remember to reapply after it rains, as the water will wipe out the powder and stop the ants from being killed.
2. We have found that ants typically live above the entrance hole. We assume this is the case so that any water that infiltrates the entrance hole can’t seep downward and flood the nest. If the entrance hole can be safely reached, activate a can of room defogger into the opening (the type that is meant to bug bomb a house for spiders and other bugs). If they are living above the hole, they will come flooding out by the thousands. Have a few aerosol cans of Raid or Ortho Ant Killer ready and spray the ants as they evacuate their ‘protected’ environment. Between those that are killed instantly and those that will feed off of the dead ant carcasses later, the problem should be able to be brought under control fairly quickly.
If you find that your infestation caused significant tree death and you want to evaluate if your tree is worth saving or needs to be removed before it causes an unsafe environment, contact us at Mr. Tree to make an appointment with one of our certified arborists.