Ants on Japanese Maple: Why It Happens & What You Can Do

It may surprise you to know that ants are frequently found on Japanese maple trees. Although ants do not harm the tree directly, their presence can signal the existence of other pests that can potentially harm the tree.

Ants are typically attracted to Japanese maples due to the sweet honeydew secreted by aphids that infest the trees. The aphids feed on the tree sap and excrete a sugary substance that ants find appealing, and in exchange for the food source, the ants protect the aphids from predators.

In addition to the honeydew produced by aphids, ants are also attracted to the nectar produced by the flowers, leaking sap from injuries, and rotting wood.

Let’s take a closer look at these attractants to better understand why ants are invading and what you can do to remedy the situation.

Make sure you’re ready for all the most common pests and diseases that come with growing Japanese maples. Read my Japanese Maple Diseases and Pests guide.

What Attracts Ants to Japanese Maple Trees?

Ants are attracted to Japanese maple trees for a variety of reasons. Understanding what attracts ants to these trees can help gardeners take steps to prevent ant infestations and protect their trees.

Aphids

Aphids are small, soft-bodied insects that feed on the sap of plants. They produce a sweet, sticky substance called honeydew, which ants love to eat.

Ants will actually protect aphids from predators like ladybugs and parasitic wasps so that they can continue to feed on their honeydew.

Leaking Sap

If a tree is damaged or has a wound, it may start to leak sap. This sap can be a source of food for ants, and they will often swarm to the tree to feed on it.

Rotting Wood

If the roots of a tree start to rot, they can provide a home for ants. Ants will often tunnel through the rotting wood and use it as a nesting site.

Ant Species Likely To Be Found on Japanese Maples

Ants are a common sight on Japanese maple trees. They can be seen crawling up and down the branches or feeding on the sweet exudates produced by aphids and other sap-sucking insects.

Here are some of the ant species that are likely to be found on Japanese maples:

1. Argentine Ants

Argentine ants (Linepithema humile) are small, brown ants that are known for their aggressive behavior and large colonies.

They are attracted to the sweet honeydew produced by aphids and other insects and will often protect these insects from predators in exchange for their sugary secretions.

2. Pavement Ants

Pavement ants (Tetramorium caespitum) are small, brown ants that are commonly found in urban areas. They are attracted to a variety of foods, including sweets, meats, and greasy foods.

Pavement ants are not usually a problem on Japanese maples, but they can be a nuisance if they enter homes or buildings in search of food.

3. Odorous House Ants

Odorous house ants (Tapinoma sessile) are small, dark brown ants that are commonly found in homes and buildings. They are attracted to a variety of foods, including sweets and greasy foods and are common home invaders.

4. Carpenter Ants

Carpenter ants (Camponotus spp.) are large, black ants that are known for their ability to tunnel through wood. They are attracted to moist, decaying wood and can cause damage to buildings and structures if left unchecked.

Do Ants Damage Trees?

Ants are often seen crawling on trees, including Japanese maples. While they do not directly harm the tree, they can indirectly contribute to damage.

Ants are attracted to the excretion of sap-feeding insects, such as aphids, which can cause damage to the tree by sucking out the sap.

Therefore, if ants are present on a Japanese maple, it is likely that there are sap-feeding insects present as well.

A group of ants farming a large collection of aphids on a plant.

Ants can also indirectly contribute to damage by creating tunnels in the wood of the tree for nests. However, this is typically only a concern with carpenter ants, which are larger and more destructive than other ant species.

If a Japanese maple is infested with carpenter ants, it is likely that the tree is already weakened or damaged.

Can Ants Kill a Japanese Maple?

Ants alone cannot kill a Japanese maple. However, if the tree is already weakened or damaged, ants can contribute to its decline.

For example, if the tree is infested with sap-feeding insects, the ants attracted to the excretion can further stress the tree.

Additionally, if carpenter ants are present and have created tunnels in the wood, this can weaken the tree’s structure and make it more susceptible to breakage during storms or other events.

How To Get Rid of Ants on Japanese Maple Tree

Ants on a Japanese maple tree can be a nuisance, but they do not directly harm the tree. However, they may attract other pests that can cause damage to the tree.

Here are some ways to get rid of ants on a Japanese maple tree:

1. Create a Barrier

Before applying any treatment, create a barrier around the tree to prevent ants from climbing up the trunk.

You can use a 4-inch-wide band of masking tape or a ready-to-use adhesive barrier 2 to 4 feet above the ground. This will prevent ants from climbing up the tree and reaching the leaves.

2. Use a Natural Repellent

There are several natural repellents that you can use to get rid of ants on a Japanese maple tree. Here are some options:

  • Diatomaceous earth: Sprinkle diatomaceous earth (find it here) around the base of the tree. This will create a barrier that ants cannot cross.
  • Cinnamon: Sprinkle cinnamon around the base of the tree. This will repel ants and prevent them from climbing up the tree.
  • Vinegar: Mix equal parts of vinegar and water in a spray bottle. Spray the solution on the base of the tree and around the leaves. This will repel ants and other pests.

3. Use an Insecticide

If natural remedies do not work, you can use an insecticide to get rid of ants on a Japanese maple tree. Here are some options:

  • Ant bait: Place ant bait around the base of the tree. The ants will take the bait back to their nest, which will eventually kill the entire colony.
  • Insecticidal soap: Spray insecticidal soap on the tree. This will kill the ants on contact.
  • Horticultural oil: Spray horticultural oil on the tree. This will suffocate the ants and prevent them from climbing up the tree.

*It is important to note that using insecticides can harm beneficial insects and other wildlife. Use them sparingly and only as a last resort.

How To Prevent Ants on Japanese Maple Trees

Ants can be a nuisance on Japanese maple trees as they often herd aphids and other sap-feeding insects to the tree, which can cause damage to the leaves and branches.

Here are some natural pest control methods to prevent ants on Japanese maple trees:

1. Remove Attractants

Ants are attracted to sweet, sugary substances, so it’s important to remove any attractants from around the tree. This includes fallen fruit, honeydew secretions from aphids, and any other sugary substances.

2. Use Natural Ant Control Methods

There are several natural ant control methods that can help prevent ants on Japanese maple trees. Some effective methods include:

  • Diatomaceous earth: Sprinkle a thin layer of diatomaceous earth around the base of the tree. The sharp particles will damage their exoskeletons.
  • Essential oils: Ants are repelled by certain essential oils, such as peppermint, cinnamon, and tea tree oil. Mix a few drops with water in a spray bottle, and spray around the base of the tree.
  • Vinegar: Mix equal parts vinegar and water in a spray bottle and spray around the base of the tree.

3. Address Carpenter Ant Infestations

If you suspect a carpenter ant infestation on your Japanese maple tree, it’s important to address it as soon as possible.

Carpenter ants can cause significant damage to the tree’s structure as they burrow into the wood to create their nests.

One way to prevent carpenter ant infestations is to keep the tree healthy and well-maintained. A stressed or weakened tree is more susceptible to infestations.

4. Manage Aphids

As mentioned earlier, ants often herd aphids to Japanese maple trees. Managing aphid populations can help prevent ant infestations. Some effective aphid management methods include:

  • Blast aphids off the tree with a strong stream of water.
  • Use insecticidal soaps or horticultural oils to kill aphids.
  • Encourage natural predators of aphids, such as ladybugs and parasitic wasps.

Related Questions:

Do Japanese Maples Bloom?

Yes, Japanese maples can bloom; however, their flowers are not as showy as other trees. Some Japanese maples may produce small, inconspicuous flowers in the spring.

The flowers are usually reddish or purple and are followed by winged seeds called samaras. The samaras are a characteristic feature of Japanese maples and can be used to identify the tree.

Why Is My Japanese Maple Leaking Sap?

Some insects, such as aphids, scale insects, and mealybugs, can pierce the bark of the tree and feed on the sap. This can cause the tree to produce excess sap, which can leak out of the wounds.

Another possible cause of sap leakage is physical damage to the tree. If the tree has been injured by pruning, wind, or other factors, it may produce sap as a defense mechanism.

In some cases, the sap may also be a sign of disease, such as verticillium wilt or canker.

Conclusion

Ants on Japanese maple can be a nuisance for gardeners, but they are not necessarily harmful to the tree.

In fact, ants can be beneficial by eating other pests like aphids and mealybugs. However, if the infestation is severe, it can cause damage to the tree.

Note that ants are not the only pests that can affect Japanese maple trees. Other common pests include aphids, scale insects, and borers.

Gardeners should monitor their trees regularly for signs of infestation and take action promptly to prevent damage.

Here are a few other articles you should check out: