Remember leaf-cutter ants? Tiny, voracious, and too numerous to count. First, a word or two about the ants themselves. Leaf-cutters don’t eat the leaves. Instead, they garden with them, placing them in special chambers where they use them to raise the fungus they feed on. Those garden chambers can be 9 meters (30 feet) underground, and the nest can be 9 meters wide ,which makes it difficult to destroy. The ants often build a secondary nest further from the main colony, so this is also an issue. As for me, I once followed a trail of leaf-cutters across the back of the house, down a ravine, across a stream (they were using a downed branch as a bridge), up a hill, and across a field before losing the trail in tall weeds. Score one for the ants.
Our arsenal for controlling these pests includes chemical and non-chemical weapons. Myrex and Omitox, placed on their trails, will divert them from cutting leaves. Instead of leaves, they take the pellets back to the nest where it kills the fungus they feed on so that the nest dies. An alternative to leaf cutter control is MaxForce with hydramethynon which is applied directly to the ant mound several times and will kill the colony. When using any chemical method, remember to wear latex gloves and try not to leave any human scent on the product.
If you prefer a non-chemical attack, mix baby powder and cayenne pepper with some boric acid powder and pour it into the nest. The drawback is that you will need a lot of the mix and a number of applications before you solve the problem.
Then there are the more creative approaches that take into account the nature of an ant colony. The foraging ants lay down a chemical trail as they go to and from a food source. If the trail never gets put down, the tree is safe. So, to keep the ant from finding your tree, try this. Cut the top and bottom from a 2 liter soda bottle then cut a slit in the side so you can fit it around the trunk of a young tree. Tape it closed from the inside and then put a thick sticky substance on the plastic. The ants should get stuck, the trail never gets laid down, and the plant is safe. There are several variations on this method, including placing a circle of screening around the trunk or using a moat to prevent access to the plant. All of these methods take time and patience as they
Oh, and did I mention that sometimes these things work and sometimes they don’t? That, friends, is the nature of the leaf-cutter ant.