Ants infest many fruit trees, but ants on fig trees may be particularly troublesome since many species of figs have a hole through which these insects can easily enter and ruin the fruit.
To protect a fig tree from ants, you can:
- Remove limbs that touch other trees
- Get rid of honeydew insects with Neem oil
- Put barriers of coffee grounds, cinnamon, or diatomaceous earth
- Put sticky material around the tree trunk
- Plant ant repelling plants around the garden
- Use Terro liquid ant baits
To protect fig fruit from ants, you can:
- Bag individual figs in organza bags
- Pick the fruit several days before fully ripe and ripen it with apples or bananas
In this post, I will go through all these methods of getting rid of ants and preventing them from infesting fig trees.
Why Ants Attack Figs?
According to the scientific definition, a fig is not a fruit at all. It is actually a syconium, which is an unusual structure in which several small blooms are protected from the outside world.
Wasps fertilize some fig varieties by entering the chamber through a tiny hole known as the ostiole, or eye. Other insects, like ants, also enter the fruit through this aperture when it is ripe in order to have a free meal.
It is common for a drop of nectar to ooze out of the fig tree’s eye when the fruit is ready. Fertilization is less necessary in modern cultivars, so they often have closed eyes. Even so, ants are not deterred by this.
Ants seem to like nectar ooze and often crawl inside, where they continue feasting on the ripe parts of the fig.
Ants can be found on fig trees that aren’t producing any ripe fruit. You can find aphids and other soft-bodied bugs on the fig tree’s vulnerable limbs and under its leaves if you look closely. While carrying aphids from one plant to another, ants shield aphids from their natural predators.
Risks With having Ants Inside Ripe Figs
Ants crawling around a fig tree isn’t the biggest problem. However, there are serious risks involving the fruit.
Once they start crawling inside the fruit, there is no way of preventing diseases like fig souring.
Like any other insect, Ants carry fungi, bacteria, and viruses with them, spreading them from any infected area on the tree inside the fruit.
Almost all of the most common fig diseases can affect the fruit if carried by ants, even those that are known not to cause fruit damage. Ants, and other insects that crawl inside the fruit, can change the whole disease spread.
Another major problem is eating figs with ants inside because ants have formic acid in their organisms.
Any area of the human body that comes into touch with a strong formic acid solution can be severely burned. Drooling, trouble swallowing, and vomiting are all possible side effects of ingesting formic acid (there may be blood in the vomit).
How Do I Keep Ants off My Fig Tree?
People always say prevention is better than cure, which is true in this situation as much as any other. There is a number of ways to keep ants off your fig trees, and I will go through the list of my favorite ones.
Keep Honeydew Insects Like Aphids at Bay
Because the fig tree ants raise these insects for their honeydew, the first line of defense against ants should be to keep honeydew-secreting insects at bay.
Ants like aphids and harvest the honeydew they produce. Moreover, ants keep aphid’s enemies off the tree, making it easy for both to grow large colonies. Sort of like a symbiosis.
How do I get rid of aphids on my fig tree?
Removing aphids from fig trees will reduce the chances of ants growing large colonies. One of the ways to get rid of any honeydew insect is to use Neem oil.
In addition, Neem oil is great at killing ants, even more so because ants come to aphids all the time and get poisoned there easily.
Put Physical Barriers That Repel or Kill Ants
Barriers that proved the best for me are coffee grounds, cinnamon, diatomaceous earth on the ground around the tree, and sticky tape or substance on the tree trunk.
Coffee Grounds and Cinnamon
Coffee grounds and cinnamon seem to work against ants well. Coffee grounds attract ants, and cinnamon repels them. You can use them together to your advantage.
I sprinkle cinnamon in a smaller circle around the tree to repel as many ants as possible. Then I put piles of coffee ground outside that area to give ants a home other than my fig tree.
Instead of cinnamon, you can use almost anything spicy, especially if it contains menthol, like peppermint.
Diatomaceous earth is made of fossilized diatoms that are sharp and abrasive, cutting and hurting all kinds of insects. The particles can even act as traps for the thin legs of insects because there are lots of tiny holes on particle surfaces.
I’ve tried it several times by putting it all around the tree. It works great; however, rain and water wash it away easily.
Sticky Substance Around the Tree Trunk
I’ve used several sticky tapes. They work fine for some time, but I wouldn’t recommend them mainly because there is a much better alternative.
Tree Tanglefoot Insect Barrier is a sticky substance that catches any insect, even large beetles. I’ve been using it for years on all of my fruit trees, and I believe it is by far the best option. Insects have a hard time bypassing it, unlike sticky tapes, which lose their properties quickly.
Make sure to get Tanglefoot Co 3X50 Paper Tree Wrap as well. It’s used as a surface for Tanglefoot Insect Barrier substance, so you don’t need to put it directly onto the bark.
Wrap paper wraps tightly around the tree, apply a decent amount of sticky substance on it, and watch it do its magic.
Plant Ant Repelling Plants Around The Fig Tree
Ants are known to be repelled by odoriferous plants such as geraniums, chrysanthemums, and garlic. These plants can be used to create a protective ring around the tree.
These plants also attract parasitic wasps that control or even eliminate harmful aphids. Although, I don’t really love the idea of attracting wasps. It’s still a viable option to consider.
Use Terro Liquid Ant Baits
Go to Home Depot and pick up some Terro liquid ant baits. They are claimed to be completely risk-free in any situation. Plant them in containers or directly on the ground.
Small to medium-sized ant colonies will be exterminated in two days. They have worked well for me on multiple occasions, and I continue to use them in my house.
There were literally hundreds of small black ants going up and down my fig tree, but they were all gone in two days! While the product does not contain harmful borax, I would still be cautious not to pour any on the soil around the fig.
In both situations when I used them to prevent ants infesting my fig trees, I didn’t observe ants climbing the tree yet, nor did I have any formed fruit.
I wonder whether there is any concern about the ants bringing the deadly material into the figs and leaving behind leftovers that humans could wind up ingesting in the future.
Prune Fig Tree Branches in Contact With Other Trees
Ants tend to crawl from tree to tree when their branches are touching. No matter which prevention method against ants you use if they can simply climb over the next tree.
Fig trees like to be spaced out anyway, so this shouldn’t be a problem in the first place. If it is a problem, then the only solution is to prune those branches on either of the trees.
How To Get Rid of Ants Already on the Tree?
Getting rid of ants when they are already infesting the tree can be a challenge. Ants like fig fruit so much that nothing will attract them elsewhere.
Other than using, already mentioned, Neem oil, there is only one other option.
You can spray the tree with water every day. Even several times a day. Don’t use a single pressurized jet because you can damage the fruit with its blast.
Soaking the tree with water will make it uninhabitable for ants, and they might move elsewhere.
However, know that most fig varieties are easily spoiled when there is water soaking them all the time. They will start to swell and split open.
I don’t ever use this method unless I know my fig variety is split resistant in similar conditions like heavy rain.
How To Protect Fig Fruit From Ants While on the Tree?
The only effective method I’ve found to protect figs from ants while still on the tree is to wrap each fig in organza bags.
It’s easy to do if you have smaller trees with few fruits. Larger trees with many figs can be a pain to wrap individually, but when it’s the only thing to do, it’s better than nothing.
The alternative, which is usually frowned upon, is to pick figs before they are fully ripe.
Figs are usually left on the tree to mature since they stop producing ethylene gas. Ethylene gas makes them ripen. Once they are harvested, they won’t get ripe on their own.
The common misconception is that you can’t make them ripe of the tree.
There are ways to ripen them off the tree by using apples or bananas put in a basket with figs because they continue producing ethylene gas and release it into the air even when harvested. They will help figs ripen.
This method is fairly unknown in the US. However, often used in the Mediterannean to ripe figs and kiwi off the tree.
How To Get Rid of Ants Inside Fig Fruit?
I don’t really know any effective ways of getting rid of ants from inside the fig fruit other than dipping them in the water.
Putting figs in water will make ants crawl out and drown. For this to work, the eye on the bottom of the fig must be wide open. Otherwise, ants will drown while still inside.
If the eye is closed, you can open the eye on each fig individually with a knife and then dip them in water.
I still open each fig and inspect them before eating them to ensure no ants are stuck inside.
This method will spoil figs quickly because they absorb too much water, so make sure to eat them quickly or do it with smaller quantities at a time.