Yesterday, when I was in my happy place sowing seeds in a nice warm sunny greenhouse, I saw some little tiny ants on my Agave plant.
They were traveling from a leaf, up along a spine on the tip of a leaf, onward to a column on my shelving for my seedlings, and traveling up under the seedling heating mat.
I thought, “Oh gosh. Here we go. I have to stop my happy sowing to address this issue.”
For the most part, ants don’t really harm much; meaning they don’t eat plants, thankfully. I suspect they were in search of moisture in the soil.
Sometimes ants will be on plants due to aphids. They like the aphid’s secreted honeydew, but that was not the case here. No aphids in sight, thankfully, and I have never seen aphids on agave plants anyways.
I treasure this agave in particular, because I’ve owned it for years and just re-potted it last summer, thus, I had to deal with it right away. It could not be avoided.
Last Summer’s Repotting
You see, last summer, I had finally moved it out of an urn it grew in for at least 8 years, separated the side baby plants (off-sets), and then re-potted it into a big blue plastic pot.
My husband, Steve, assisted me at breaking the urn (a sacrifice I had to make). I thought banging the urn with a hammer would do the trick but he had to get a chisel and hammer to do break the urn pot.
After we managed to get it out, separate the side babies, and all of that – I managed to get it into a new blue plastic pot without stabbing myself anywhere (including my arm pits).
It sat outside all summer and was moved into the greenhouse before fall time.
This has always been my typical routine, actually for many years, I just moved it into my bedroom because the slider doors are right there – and this plant is big and heavy!
But last year, I thought, time for you to join the others for winter in the greenhouse.
Now fast forward to yesterday, early April.
To see the ants trailing on it was disappointing because of all the work we did last summer.
But, I thought, I want to see if these ants have an ant farm in the soil. They did not, by the way, from what I could see when I took it apart.
Because it was a decent day, finally now in spring, I moved it out. Lugging it was not easy.
At first I thought, let me flush it with water. I’ve read also the pot may be inserted into a bucket of water with soapy solution to kill the ants, but you can imagine with the size of this beast, I did not do that.
I figured that flushing it with water from the garden hose may help, but I still saw ants a bit later rushing around confused, as I let it sit it out for a couple hours.
I thought, gosh, I will have to take this darn thing out and re-pot it if I want to avoid having these ants in the greenhouse. I forced myself to do this process.
I also had to clean my seedling heating mat, move all my seedlings aside for the moment, inspect the shelves, and clean that as well, then move the seedlings back.
Now here is the good news. I discovered the agave grew roots all the way to the base of that blue pot from the time I had re-potted it last summer (end of summer) to now.
Wow, the roots are healthy and really down to the bottom, as shown in the photo above of the upside down root ball.
The bad news was I had to break some of those roots to get the darn agave out. What a bummer after all that re-potting work accomplished before.
More bad news – and this is really bad, because of how many times I have said to be sure you make sufficient drainage holes in your pots. I discovered my blue pot did not have sufficient drain holes.
In fact, this rule is one of my 5 Must-Do’s of Container Gardening, but what did I see? That I did last summer?
I had only drilled 2 big drain holes in the center and some around the perimeter but those are way too small of a hole size, thus, the water collected at the base of this pot, and there was a lot of moisture held down there in the pot. I think this is why the ants found it.
I think because I was tired from a busy season on that day of doing the summer work on the plant and pots, I probably got lazy and didn’t drill enough holes. I remember I had to get that plant re-potted and forced myself to get the job done before summer was over.
Here it is in a new pot – a galvanized bucket with sufficient drain holes in the base, that I had on hand.
The white powdery stuff you see on there is diatomaceous earth. I dusted the top of the soil with it and some fell on the bottom of the leaves.
I am not going to water this plant for a while so there is no issue right now with the dust getting wet. It should kill any remaining ants still trying to locate their trail of buddies.
It is the first time I’ve used this dust product this way, and I heard through a friend this worked for her when she had issues with ants in her pots.
As far as I know, the dust will not harm the plant. It is not poisonous but caution must be used when handling.
I wore my bandanna scarf over my mouth and had my sunglasses covering my eye glasses, and wore gloves both for the dust and to avoid the spines pricking my hands.
I’ve also read this product is helpful for fungus gnats; which is why I had it on hand. I was in the midst of researching it and grabbed a bag of the dust power of it a few weeks ago, the type made for horticulture use, so I was lucky I had it on hand in my garage.
By the way, last year, when walking by my agave, I noticed something out of the corner of my eye.
A tree frog! It had been hanging out on it. A good memory, for sure.
I posted lots of photos of my agave on SmugMug recently.
Agave – Other Facts:
I believe this one is Kissho Kan. Actually, I’m 99% it is – I had bought a tray of them one year, many years ago, to sell at a plant and art show. I kept one for myself, of course.
Division is best from spring to summer, which I did, of the offsets, as shown on the urn photos above. The underground stems or stolons are where the off-sets are produced.
Agaves tolerate a minimum temp of 41-50 degrees F, which is why they do just fine in my low-temp greenhouse over the winter.
Most agave species die after flowering. They are monocarpic. If I ever see it push out a flower stalk, I’ll be posting many photos of that. And probably hold a ceremony. LOL.
The common name of agave is century plant. They are slow-growing plants hardy in zones 9-11 but for our zone 6, they must be overwintered inside the home or greehouse before fall arrives.
They prefer full sun and well-drained soils. I added some perlite to the new soil mix after the ant incident to increase the porosity of the soil.
They really don’t need much fertilizer, which I did not provide much to this plant over the course of 8 years, and look at it – it is a monster. But I do follow the other 5 Must Do’s, except as noted, goofed on the last re-potting of the drain holes.
The soil in the pot should be allowed to dry out between waterings. And in the winter, keep it dry, which I did but I happened to be hose happy due to spring arriving and started to give it water recently – thus the soil was moist for the ants.
They do well as houseplants, which I can attest to, since it was in my bedroom over most winters over the years, which the slider door faces south so it received enough light.
Over all, they are easy care plants, minus when you have to re-pot them or they get ants – which I hope doesn’t happen to your’s or happen again here.
Container Crazy CT
Broad Brook, CT
P.S. If you are in search of seeds during this COVID-19 time, I have seeds in stock for sale. Details are on www.WORKSHOPSCT.com. They are mailed upon ordering. Mostly tomato, hot peppers, parsley, basil, lettuce, and some misc other types.
Thank you for your photo essay, Kathy. Love how you document and comment with your step by step observations. I take joy in seeing like minded gardeners, exploring and celebrating all the little things that lead to successes, and sometimes failures. Thanks again, and stay healthy!
Sent from my iPad
As an avid gardener, yourself, Betty – I am sure you may related to when those issues with insects surface! Always a learning experience when it comes to plants, Cath
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Hi Cathy. I have the almost identical story to yours with my aloe. The tiny ants with no aphids baffled me. The water is a good explanation. I am curious how your plant is doing now. Thanks for the well written story and photos.
My Agave survived the ant issue and is doing well. I always keep my eye out for insects by doing weekly walk around inspections and it is a must do if you have a greenhouse. Always important to catch them before they spread or mass produce.
I repotted mine after reading your post and took several pups off it. It is back in the house for winter and looking great. The weekly bug check is good advice. Thanks again!
Loved reading thiis thank you
Hi Teagan, I’m happy you enjoyed the “read” about the ants. I am so happy the Agave continued on and I even collected side pups from it this year to grow more from the momma plant! Cathy T.