Hibiscus (Hibiscus spp.) serve as fragrant blooming hedges and eye-catching specimen plants in landscapes in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 4 through 11, depending on the species. Ants are a common visitor to hibiscus, but instead of admiring this plant’s beauty, they’re usually seeking honeydew-producing insects like aphids, mealybugs, scale insects and whiteflies.
Sap-Feeding Plant Pests
Aphids, mealybugs, scale and whiteflies are common pests of hibiscus, feeding directly from plant fluids while congregating on the undersides of leaves and on buds and tender, young branches. Mealybugs, scale and, to a lesser degree, aphids, may leave waxy or cottony filaments on plants at feeding and egg-laying sites. Because these pests are immobile or slow-moving, deposits can help you find their colonies. Whiteflies, on the other hand, are tiny, white pests that resemble moths when in flight. They are not strong fliers, though, and will settle back into their feeding sites shortly after being disturbed.
Ants and Honeydew
Most garden ants prefer sugary foods to all others — an infestation of sap-feeding pests is a boon to their colonies. Ants actively farm these pests, which produce a sweet substance called honeydew in abundance. Organic pest control efforts can be complicated by ants, which will move the sap-feeders to other parts of the plant and actively fight off their predators and parasites. Although ants won’t purposefully damage your plants, they often contribute to their decline caused by sap-feeding insects.
Ant control is vital to successful sap-feeding pest control, otherwise these tiny farmers will simply move the survivors to other plants in your yard. Single-trunked or potted hibiscus can be banded with a 2- to 3-inch wide sticky barrier applied to a 4-inch wide protective wrap made from heavy paper or masking tape to exclude ants entirely. Sugar-based ant baits placed on the ground around the base of the hibiscus or its pot provide the ants with an attractive alternative food source that will slowly eliminate the colony if you keep the bait stocked.
A Note on Sooty Molds
Sooty mold colonies sometimes form on plants where honeydew is so abundant the ants are unable to harvest it all. If your hibiscus has developed a black coating on it leaves, branches or trunks, it’s likely that it’s just sooty mold. When you eliminate the sap-feeders that are providing their food, these molds will dry up and fall off. You can speed up the dispersal of colonies after destroying sap-feeding pests by washing affected leaves with soapy water or simply removing the most blemished leaves from your hibiscus.
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