By: Susan Patterson, Master Gardener
Many fruit trees are invaded by ants, but ants on fig trees can be especially problematic because many types of figs have an opening through which these insects can readily enter and spoil the fruit. Learn more about controlling ants in fig trees in this article.
Reasons for Fig Tree Ants
Botanically speaking, fig is not exactly a fruit; it is a special structure called synconium, which protects a bunch of tiny flowers that are arranged within its cavity. There is a small opening called ostiole, or eye, through which wasps enter the chamber inside and fertilize the flowers. When the fig is ripe, other insects (including ants) also enter the fruit through this opening to take a free meal.
Figs need to be ripened on the tree because they stop sugar conversion once plucked. Fig tree ripening is often accompanied by the oozing out of a drop of sweet nectar through the eye. Modern cultivars have been developed to do away with fertilization and they have closed eyes. However, that does not keep ants off fig trees.
You may find ants in fig trees that are not bearing any fruits. If you observe closely, you’ll find colonies of aphids and other soft-bodied pests on the tender branches and under the leaves of the fig tree. The fig tree ants are farming these insects to harvest honeydew, so the first step in protecting fig trees from ants is to protect them from honeydew-secreting insects.
Ants often carry aphids from other plants that harbor them; they protect aphids from their natural enemies too. Measures to control ants in fig trees involve restricting their movement to and from the trees. Chemicals can effectively control aphids and ants, but they are better avoided in fruit trees. Any day, natural control measures are preferable to chemical control.
Controlling Ants in Fig Trees
Here are some eco-friendly and non-toxic tips to prevent ants from colonizing your fig tree and spoiling your fig crop:
- Clean the area around the fig tree of all debris – Keeping the a few feet around the tree spotlessly clean will help you observe ant movements so that you can take protective measures immediately.
- Spray the fig tree with water – Use a powerful water jet to dislodge aphids, whiteflies and mealybugs from the trees. Keep at it for several days in a row and ensure that the tree as well as the ground around remains wet. It may persuade the ants to look for another host for its farming operations. Neem oil will also help get rid of the honeydew secreting insects.
- Remove plants and trees that serve as hosts to honeydew insects and ants – Look for aphid infestation and ant colonies in your yard and destroy the host plants.
- Introduce mechanical barriers – Chalk powder or diatomaceous earth may be spread around the base of the fig tree to create a mechanical barrier. The latter can destroy ant colonies when ants carry the sharp pieces home.
- Install traps for ants – Mechanical traps for ants include sticky materials such as petroleum jelly or Tanglefoot. Tie a band of tape around the tree and smear the sticky material. You may have to observe the movement of the ants and replenish the sticky barrier once every week or so. Biological traps can be made with edible material that will kill the ants on ingestion. Powdered sugar mixed with boric acid powder or cornmeal can kill the ants that eat it.
- Plant a circle of ant-repelling plants around the fig tree – Odoriferous plants like geranium, chrysanthemum and garlic are known to repel ants. Make protective cordon around the tree with these plants.
With early intervention and constant diligence, you can keep ants away from the fig tree without resorting to chemical sprays.
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Leash an Ant Eater to the tree. That should work. Good luck with the ants. They are hard to control without pesticides.
I copied this from Belleclares website. Good luck.
>Ants like to climb fig trees when the "honey" comes out of the eye of certain varieties.
To control ants never spray the figtrees, but spray the area around the fig trees with liquid
diazinon (2 tablsepoons per gallon). Treat an area 6 foot around tree barrier. This can be
done with a watering can.
James, I haven't tried this but others have recommended the product line - see if this would be an option that's pesticide-free. I've thought of checking it out myself many times.
Here is a link that might be useful: Tanglefoot for ant control
I used tanglefoot for a cherry tree and there are no ants on it now. i havent needed to on the fig trees yet. i wrapped plastic around the tree and smeared the tanglefoot on the plastic. vaselline does the same thing but it doesnt last as long.
The tanglefoot really works IF:
1) You do NOT put it directly on the bark.
2) whatever you wrap the tree with (plastic, etc) does not have any gaps between it and the bark. Putting a thin piece urethane foam between bark and plastic can help fill uneven spots in the bark.
3) No part of the tree can touch anything else. The trunk should be the only contact point between the tree and anything else on the planet. IT can't touch the house, another tree, a tall weed, etc., or the ants will use the alternative path.
4) You stay vigiliant. Ants will use small objects (dirt, small twigs, etc) to build a bride across the tanglefoot. So, you need to rough up the surface of the tanglefoot every so often, or add more. If you are only doing this during the few weeks that the figs get ripe, one or two applications should suffice.
It also keeps ants from bringing other pests (scales, aphids, etc) into the tree.
My trees are young and have smooth bark. I cut plastic grocery bag into 4 inch wide strip, wrapped around twice, and tied a knot. I spread tanglefoot on the plastic.
Since using it on the cherry tree, there are no ants or aphids on the tree. Before using it, there were lots of ants and aphids.
What happens if the tanglefoot gets on the bark? Does it kill the tree?
It is not an instantaneous thing, and a little "spillage" is not the issue, but repeated applications directly on the bark will interact with the bark, and probably kill the tree eventually. It is not an instant thing, as if you had sprayed roundup on the tree.
I will go looking for the Tanglefoot products and use it.
Meanwhile, I ate my first fruit of the season today (I'll post a pic tomorrow). It was the same one the ants were crawling in and out. I did my best to ensure the ants had evacuated before I ate it.
Why do the ants protect the Hilda bugs?
Click to see complete answer. Furthermore, how do you protect figs from insects?
The best defense against borers is a good offense. Enclose the lower portion of the tree in netting to prevent the females from laying their eggs in the bark. Also, cover the top of the netting with foil coated with Vaseline. Treating bugs, such as dried fruit beetles or spider mites on figs, may require spraying.
One may also ask, do ants eat figs? Ants like to go in and eat the sweet meat of the fig. This is a common situation, naturally, and ants are contstantly running up and down the trunk and branches. You can harvest your figs more promptly, as soon as they are ripe.
One may also ask, how do I protect my fig tree from ants?
Controlling Ants in Fig Trees Spray the fig tree with water – Use a powerful water jet to dislodge aphids, whiteflies and mealybugs from the trees. Keep at it for several days in a row and ensure that the tree as well as the ground around remains wet.
What do the newly hatched male and female wasps do with the fig flowers?
She lays her eggs and lives the rest of her short life inside that tiny fig. Her eggs grow inside the fig flower and hatch several days later. The newly hatched wasps mate with other wasps that were born in the same fig. After mating, the males dig a hole in the fig that allows the females to fly out and find new figs.
Gophers eat the roots
Submitted by Donna Cannon on January 23, 2021 - 8:31pm
I'd lost three young fig trees before I realized their deaths were not my fault. One day I pulled on one with badly wilted leaves that had been fine the day before. It easily came out of the ground with a smooth rounded knob where the roots used to be!
How to remove a fig tree
Submitted by Susan on January 21, 2021 - 2:33pm
We need to remove a Celeste Fig tree that was planted too close to the house, unfortunately. Can anyone recommend the best way to do this? I’m thinking cut it down to about 12” and drill holes in the remaining trunk and put some type of root killer in the holes.
Planting next to house
Submitted by Raymond Andrews on October 30, 2020 - 4:20pm
I know of plenty of figs planted immediately next to house walls. I am in my 60s and have never heard of or noted damage to the fabric of a house. What is the fear of tree roots based on other than old wives tales?
The figs taste like they are fermented
Submitted by Silvia Gonzalez on September 9, 2020 - 1:35pm
I have been reading the questions by other fig owners and I do not see anybody having my problem. I have a fig tree, several years old, that yields a lot of fruit. However, when it is ripe or even before that, the figs taste fermented (kind of alcohol taste). I also have a problem with ants (they love my fig tree) could they be causing the fermentation? I think is a Brown Turkey because when I bought it the farmer said it was "Brown Fig Tree". I live in Miami, Florida. It rains a lot here in summer and I prune my tree but I am rather shy about it. I hope you can help me. Thanks.
Bad Fig Flavor
Submitted by The Editors on September 11, 2020 - 10:45am
The flavor of fig fruit can be affected by a few things. Two candidates are sour rot and endosepsis. Check whether the symptoms listed on the following pages match what you observe:
Planting out my cutting.
Submitted by Tracey Loslo on August 10, 2020 - 4:05pm
August 10, 2020
Powell River, BC, Canada
Sunshine Coast Zone 8B
- I have a healthy cutting I took in February of this year.
- Once rooted in May'ish I transplanted them to 1 litre pots.
- I removed all but one shoot when I potted it up to the 1 litre.
- It has now grown a good set of roots that are out to the perimeter of the pot just about to start circling in the pot.
- The hardwood stem/cutting height is 8"in.
- The new stem/shoot emerged 4.5"in up the stem of the hardwood stem/cutting.
- The new stem/shoot is 11"in high with 7 leaves plus the growing tip.
- 7"in of the new stem/shoot appears to be transitioning to hardwood
- Can I plant/bury the stem to where the new shoot has emerged from the parent/hardwood?
- Will the shoot, root if I let the underside tough soil?
And will the buried portion of the parent'hardwood grow roots?
REASON: I would like it to grow in tree form, with a single trunk for the first 6'ish feet.
I really appreciate your help! Thank you.
Submitted by Matt on July 1, 2020 - 9:35am
Good morning I got a problem every other day or so I have two or three fig leaves that are on the ground looks like something come straight off what do you think this would be thank you
Large fig crop twice year. Six years old over 10 feet tall
Submitted by Phyllis on May 2, 2020 - 7:21pm
Figs fully formed and large beautiful. Outside skin green and dark purple looking. Solid open up to white very dry seedy looking inside. Taken to several nurseries, don't know why
I have a 4 inch fig tree it haves some leaves
Submitted by Daniel Perez on February 18, 2020 - 10:45pm
I'm wondering if play sand from home depot will be fine for me to plant it there I have it indoors
Using sandbox sand
Submitted by The Editors on February 25, 2020 - 1:14pm
Sources tell us that “builder’s sand” or coarse sand is best. However, remember that sand is heavy. You could also use perlite, which is…lite.
Submitted by Grace on October 16, 2019 - 12:48pm
I have a fig tree that has recently lost all its leaves for the fall. It’s mid October and new leaves are coming out and several gigs. Why is this?
Submitted by John Urbanski on September 5, 2019 - 8:33pm
I have a new brown turkey variety fig tree. It's a great little tree & in its first year has already produced a bunch of figs. What color are the figs supposed to be before they are ripe? I always thought they would be purplish or brown, but one by one they seem to be getting soft & falling off the tree just as they are starting to turn from green some other color. They are also soft at this point too. Any advice, comments, etc., would be appreciated.
Browning Mission Fig leaves
Submitted by RICHARD DEMBY on August 27, 2019 - 6:38am
I have a 3 year old Mission Fig Tree here near Tampa Florida. The soil is well drained and moist most of the time right now in August. So not too much or too little water.
The tree has many green figs and throws out a couple of ripe ones every day or so. Looks great. However it also has many brown and curling leaves that snap off very easily. Any suggestions on this condition please?
Oyster shells around for trees
Submitted by Jill on August 6, 2019 - 9:21am
I live in eastern NC and have always seen oyster shells placed around the base of fig trees. What is the purpose of this practice? - calcium enrichment?
Submitted by The Editors on August 9, 2019 - 9:37am
Yes, you are correct. Oyster (or clam) shells are similar to eggshells they can provide an easy source of calcium to plants for normal cell processes, root growth, and fruiting.
We haven’t used oysters but crushed eggshells are common. However, as a soil amendment (versus a slug deterrent), they really need to be ground very finely for plant uptake. If you mix them with a weak acid, such as vinegar (3% acetic acid), the chemical reaction converts the calcium into an available form. You can apply as foliar spray during the reproductive stage of a plant’s growth cycle when setting fruit and vegetables are most vulnerable to blossom-end rot.
Submitted by Elizabeth Kremer on July 23, 2019 - 7:11pm
How tall can a fig tree grow in a year in texas heat?
Submitted by Brian Corbett on July 16, 2019 - 4:18pm
We have a 3 metre fig tree in full sun in south-west France. We are new to the area and hopefully will spend longer here as each year passes. The fig tree is mostly healthy and indeed has some fruit, but on one side there are some dead branches and others which appears to have few leaves on them. Some of the trunk has areas with little bark. All the advice tells you to remove dead and diseased wood in the dormant season, but we are not here at that time. Would it be reasonable to perform this action before we leave in early September? Is it advisable to paint the exposed wood after cutting? Thank you. Brian Corbett
Submitted by Cassie on November 12, 2018 - 8:22am
My fig trees have grown way to tall and the fruit is all at the top. Would it be beneficial to cut halfway down this winter/ early spring.
Fig Tree Pruning
Submitted by Catherine Boeckmann on November 14, 2018 - 10:28am
The best time to prune your fig trees is definitely in the winter (dormant season). When you prune a fig tree, you can indeed trim away half the tree (once it’s had its first winter outside). This allows the tree to focus on developing strong roots. After the second winter, cut everything except 5 or 6 strong new branches for the fruit to grow on. Removing any branches that are not growing out from your selected fruiting branches, as well as any dead or diseased wood. You find this video interesting: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xkN0fPx9Ens
Fruit either ripe or small shriveled dead.
Submitted by Janine on October 28, 2018 - 4:59am
Hello, I recently bought a home in Arizona that has a huge beautiful fig tree planted in the courtyard. There is gravel onto of the soil and pavers on one side. The tree fruits but they are all either green or dead looking brown hardened not good to taste. I love the tree and want to fix the problem. I notice when I water the tree it doesn’t seem to soak into the ground but rolls off and doesn’t water properly. Should I get rid of the gravel and plant grass? Remove the pavers? Any help you can give would be greatly appreciated! Thank you in advance. Janine
Submitted by The Editors on November 2, 2018 - 3:53pm
Your fig tree would likely benefit from the removal of the gravel and pavers, as it sounds like they’re preventing the tree from getting an adequate amount of water. Replace them with a light-colored bark mulch, which will hold moisture in the soil for longer.
Fig tree cuttings
Submitted by Enrico Masasso on October 23, 2018 - 1:40pm
When is it the best time to take cuttings. what sort of medium is best to plant in. I use hormone dust. Any suggestion you make would be appreciated. Thank you
Fig Tree Beetles
Submitted by James R Roberts on August 22, 2018 - 9:10am
I have these big green wind beetles, devouring my figs, help!
Fig Tree Beetles
Submitted by James R Roberts on August 22, 2018 - 9:11am
Should I eat
Submitted by Fred on August 9, 2018 - 7:33pm
We recently moved to a new (different) house that has what we and everyone else who’s seen it has presumed to be a fig tree in the back. The fruit started to grow and they’re just starting to get ripe. They look and smell just like figs. I know this comes off as paranoid, but is there any other type of tree and fruit that is close to a fig that would be dangerous to eat? Another words, how can I be sure they’re figs and are ok to eat not having planted the tree myself?
Submitted by The Editors on August 10, 2018 - 10:36am
Figs are fairly unique trees, so they should be easy to identify if you know what to look for! First look at the leaf: it should be quite large and have three to five lobes. Then look at the fruit: the color of the ripe fruit depends on the variety, but they may range from lime green to brown to purple. The stems of the fig fruit are fairly thick (not thin, like an apple or pear’s stem). Search in Google for images of fig leaves and see how yours compare. Finally, if you want to be absolutely sure, contact your local state Cooperative Extension Service, which should be able to ID the tree with a photo.
Ants in figs.
Submitted by Heather on August 3, 2018 - 9:22am
I live in D/FW area and have a brown turkey fig tree. Ants invade the fruit at the blossom end. Lately it has stopped, but I think that's because of a little lizard/gecko type thing. If the ants return, any suggestions on how to remedy the situation?
Fig Tree Protection Against Ants
Submitted by The Editors on August 8, 2018 - 8:45am
If the ants return, try sprinkling diatomaceous earth or broken eggshells around the base of the tree. It’s a simple solution and should cut up the ants as they pass through to climb the tree. We hope this helps!
Question about growing from cutting
Submitted by Michael on June 25, 2018 - 4:52pm
Hello! Thanks for the great site and article. My family brought a fig tree over from Italy back in the 1920s. That tree has been moved from house to house until ending up at my mother's house in NJ. She sold her house about a year and a half ago, and we were unable to take the tree with us unfortunately. However, I tried to propagate the tree with multiple fig cuttings. Most failed, but one has survived and is still going. However, the main trunk/stem of the cutting seems to have died a while ago and is not really growing. The surviving part of the main stem comes out about two inches from the dirt and is healthy, and there is one branch growing off that section. This sole branch is growing well, and is probably about two and a half feet long, currently sprouting new growth. It is in a 12 inch diameter pot. My question - is there hope for this tree to grow more than just this one branch? Also, should I do anything with it (bigger pot, plant outside, etc.) I'm afraid to move it outside permanently in case it doesn't work.
A twig of fig
Submitted by The Editors on June 27, 2018 - 4:47pm
We can always have hope, Michael, but sometimes a backup plan is needed, too. It’s impossible to know if the tree will grow another branch or if this branch will survive…but it does not sound promising—and I share that from experience. You might consider purchasing a new plant, one of some size, and continue the family legacy that way, nearly a century later.
City says huge trees have to go. Need help with front yard.
Ants!! - How do you get rid of them?
Indoor trees: placed into a ceramic pot or into a basket?
POLL: How often should pest control be done?
Yellow jacket traps work well. A fine netting would keep them off the fruit.
The plus for them is that they are bug eaters. The minus is that they are aggressive about stinging, so I get rid of yellow jacket nests. The other hornets I leave alone unless they are getting into the house or decide to get territorial about the fruit.
One option is to harvest after dark when they are in bed. So what if the neighbors doubt your sanity as you are out there with a flashlight picking figs?
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.
How to Get Rid of Ants From a Lemon Tree
Lemon trees (Citrus limon) make sweetly scented trees for yards in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 9 through 11, providing brightly colored fruits. While lemon trees don't need a lot of pampering throughout the year, they are attractive to the same sap-feeding pests that trouble other fruit trees. Ants are drawn to these sap-feeders, which exude a sticky, nutritious substance called honeydew as they feed. Ants will appear on infested trees en masse to farm the sap-feeders and protect them from their natural enemies. As the sap-feeding insect populations grow, more ants appear, multiplying the problem. Getting rid of ants in lemon trees requires you to attack both the ants and the sap-feeding insects simultaneously, using a variety of tactics.
Prune lemon trees back until they are no longer touching buildings, decks or any other structure that ants might be able to use as an alternative access to the tree's canopy. Remove any suckers from around the bottom of the tree to make applying the sticky barrier easier.
Apply masking tape in a band about 4 inches wide around the trunk of the affected lemon tree, 2 to 4 feet from the ground. Paint a sticky barrier at least 2 inches wide in the center of the masking tape band, being careful not to get any on the tree's trunk. Place sugar-based ant baits around the base of the tree and on either side of any ant trails you have seen.
Check the canopy carefully with a magnifying glass for signs of sap-feeding insects -- a positive identification will make eradicating these pests easier. Look for unusual, irregular bumps plump, pear-shaped insects cottony or mealy insects or castings or tiny moths that fly away when disturbed.
Prune out sections of the lemon's canopy that are heavily infested, and burn or bag the material immediately. Apply insecticidal soap for soft-bodied insect pests like aphids, mealybugs or whitefly larvae. Use horticultural oil to smother scale insect larvae. Wait to apply imidacloprid to lemon trees until after blooms are spent to protect bees.
Check the sticky band around your tree frequently, reapplying sticky material or replacing the band when it is clogged with ants. Refill baits at once a week to prevent them from running out. Wait to provide your tree with additional nutrients or extra watering unless it is showing obvious signs of stress, because a sudden growth spurt may increase the feeding and reproduction of any lingering sap-feeding insects in the canopy.
- Once ants are controlled and sap-feeding insect numbers knocked back, these troublesome pests can often be kept in check by natural predators as long as you don't use broad-spectrum insecticides in your garden.
Kristi Waterworth started her writing career in 1995 as a journalist for a local newspaper. From there, her meandering career path led to a 9 1/2 year stint in the real estate industry. Since 2010, she's written on a wide range of personal finance topics. Waterworth received a Bachelor of Arts in American history from Columbia College.