Ants in the garden can be a good or bad thing; they have advantages and disadvantages, but sometimes, you need to get the ants out of your garden.
Ants are generally an insect that we aren’t happy to see. When I found ants in my kitchen, I freaked out – that’s a big problem. So, when you find ants in the garden, chances are you’ll want to find a way to get rid of them as quickly as possible.
Surprisingly, ants aren’t always a bad thing in your garden.
They serve some important purposes, so you don’t always want to jump straight to killing all the ants. However, when their numbers get out of control, it’s time to break out the big guns and get something done about them.
Here’s what you need to know about ants in your garden and how to stop them from taking over and coming into your house.
Garden Ants You Might Find
You might find two different types of garden ants around your plants:
- Red Ant – Myrmica rubra
- Black Ant – Lasius niger
Both of these are common garden ants.
You might not realize it, but ants have their own ecosystem with a queen and workers; they’re sort of like the ground version of bees. If you have ants in your garden, you should understand more about their system.
The queen ant overwinters in the soil and emerges in the soil, and then she searches for a place to build a new nest and lay her eggs. If you compare a queen ant with worker ants, you would notice she is longer and fatter.
Once the queen ant finds the place to lay her eggs, she lays them and feeds them for three to four weeks before pupating in the soil.
All working ants are females; they come out of the nest after a few weeks to help feed the queen and other larvae. Then, the worker ants go out in the world and find food to bring it back to the colony.
Here is something crazy.
A colony of ants varies from only 500 ants to thousands. Ants multiply rapidly, so if you aren’t careful, they take over your garden quickly.
6 Reasons You Want Ants in the Garden
It’s easy to assume that ants are problematic in the garden; I know we don’t want ants in our house.
Despite having a bad reputation, these insects work hard in the garden and offer several benefits, so you don’t always need to freak out when you see a few wandering around your plants.
Here are a few benefits of ants in the garden.
1. Aerate The Soil
Ants act similar to earthworms and help to aerate the soil around your plants. More aeration is good because it allows more water, oxygen, and nutrients to reach the plant roots. That leads to healthier, stronger plants.
2. Help Pollinate Your Plants
Everyone assumes that bees and other flying insects are the only pollinators, but ants are excellent pollinators. They also carry pollen from bloom to bloom, looking for nectar.
3. Control Other Garden Pests
Ants are often considered beneficial insects because they naturally control other garden pests that you don’t want around your plants. They eat the young and interrupt their feeding cycles.
For example, if caterpillars find your garden, ants can attack them in large numbers.
4. They Don’t Harm Your Vegetable Plants
Unlike other insects, ants don’t strip off the foliage from your plants, and they won’t cause any harm to the fruits on your plants.
5. Indicate an Aphid Problem
Typically, if you have ants in the garden, it indicates that you have an aphid problem.
Aphids are one of the most common garden pests, and they like to suck out the plant juices while secreting a sweet, sugary substance called honeydew. Ants LOVE honeydew, so if you see ants in the garden, chances are they’re visiting for the honeydew.
You might have a bigger problem than some ants showing up for a meal for the colony.
6. Speed Up Decomposition
Another reason ants benefit the garden is that they speed up the decomposition of organic matter, like leaves, straws, and other insects. So, they’ll help fertilize the plants in your garden with the nutrients from the decomposing matter.
3 Problems Ants Cause in Gardens
Now that you know ants can help your garden, you should also know why they’re such a problem at times.
Here are the disadvantages of ants in the garden.
1. Ants Cause Pest Populations to Increase
Ants love sugary substances. Chances are you’ve noticed that when spilling soda outside, ants come in a hurry.
Aphids produce honeydew, a sugar substance, and ants farm aphids, protecting these bugs from predators so they can take honeydew from them.
Ants are smarter than you realize because they know that protecting the aphids provides them with a continuous food source. So they carry the honeydew back to their queen and share it with the rest of the colony.
2. Ants Are Destructive
Some ants are destructive; that’s why you don’t want carpenter ants in your home. They chew through all kinds of things, especially wood. So, they also can destroy structures in your garden, like raised beds.
3. Some Ants Cause Pain
Have you ever touched on a fire ant? These little ants sting when provoked, and they hurt. They produce venom that leaves a painful welt on your skin that lasts for days.
So, if your garden has a colony of fire ants, it will be a painful experience for everyone.
How to Get Rid of Ants in the Garden
While ants have benefits, large numbers lead to problems, so you’ll want to try to get rid of them.
However, let’s get something clear – ants are one of the oldest living creatures on earth today. They lived during the time of the dinosaurs; they survived the mass extinction.
The truth is that getting rid of ants entirely in your garden is NOT going to happen. Instead, your goal is to control the numbers and keep their population at a reasonable amount.
Also, scientists believe there are over 10,000 different ant species globally, so not all treatments will work the same.
That being said, there are ways to get rid of ants in the garden or greatly decrease their numbers.
1. Keep Aphids Away
We know that aphids are one of the biggest drivers for ants in the garden as they search for a sugar food source. Aphids produce plenty of honeydew, so if you keep these pests out of your garden, it reduces the risk of ants becoming a serious problem for you.
2. Destroy the Ant Colony
Getting rid of the ant colony is one of the most effective measures that you can take, but how do you destroy an ant colony?
Many ways, my darlings!
If you’re lucky enough to find the ants’ home (easier said than done), try boiling a large pot of water and dump it over the anthill. Now, remember, anthills are meant to withstand rain, so you might need to do this a few times.
Another trick is to sprinkle cornmeal or baby powder on the ant mounds. This supposedly destroys the colony.
Of course, you can take the physical laborious route and dig up the soil as deeply as possible to remove the queen from the colony.
3. Introduce Beneficial Nematodes
Ants are technically a beneficial insect, but when they aren’t so helpful anymore, introducing beneficial nematodes to your garden is one way to get rid of them.
Beneficial nematodes are tiny worms that enter the body of the ants, excreting bacteria into their digestive tract. It only takes 24-48 hours for the ants to die after this.
4. Invite Birds to Your Garden
Birds love ants as delicious little snacks. Try hanging birdhouses and bird feeders around your garden. They’ll pick up ants when they see them.
5. Use Aspartame
Aspartame is an artificial sweetener, and this is supposedly fatal to ants. Honestly, I’ve yet to try this method myself, but that’s because I don’t use artificial sweeteners at my home.
It’s believed that these sweeteners cause their senses to malfunction, overstimulating their brain cells and leading to death.
6. Orange Repels Ants
You might love the smell of oranges – I sure do – but citrus is not a friend for ants. Try spraying around your garden with an orange peel spray, or make your own by soaking citrus peels in vinegar.
The awesome thing about using oranges to repel ants is that they aren’t harmful to your plants at all, nor will they cause any side effects in the soil. When ants come in contact with the citrus spray, it removes their waxy coating and leads to suffocation.
7. Try Diatomaceous Earth
It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of diatomaceous earth; we use it around our homestead all the time. I used it when I found carpenter ants in my house a few years ago, and it took them away within a few days.
So, if you find ants in your garden, diatomaceous earth will work wonders.
Sprinkle it near the ant colony or around the plants that the ants infest the most. It takes several weeks for this method to be truly effective, and it needs to stay dry to work. You might need to make a few applications.
8. Sprinkle Cinnamon Around Your Plants
Cinnamon and cayenne pepper are two spices that ants seem to dislike strongly. It’s more likely due to their strong scent or taste, but whatever the reason, these spices work to repel ants. However, it won’t kill them.
Try putting a thick line of cinnamon around your plants that the ants are bothering, or sprinkle large quantities on an anthill. You can do the same thing with cayenne pepper!
9. Make a Dawn Dish Soap Spray
I love Dawn; it works for so many things, like the time my rooster jumped into a barrel with oil sludge at the bottom. I felt like one of those oil spill commercials, but I scrubbed a rooster instead of ducks.
Anyway, mixing Dawn dish soap and water in a spray bottle is an effective way to get rid of ants. It kills them and destroys the pheromone trail they leave behind.
10. Apply Borax Around Your Plants
Another trick to get rid of ants in the garden is to make borax and sugar poison traps; boric acid works as well.
The easiest trap to make is mixing some borax with jelly in a bowl. This attracts the ants, and once they digest the jelly, they’ll die, but not before taking it back to share with the colony.
The only downside to using this method is that borax and boric acid are toxic to humans and many animals. If you have curious pets (like my silly golden retriever), I would stay away from this. You don’t want to harm Fido accidentally.
11. Brewed Coffee Grounds
Here is a trick that some organic gardeners gave me – use brewed coffee grounds.
Instead of tossing your used coffee grounds into the trash, use them to get rid of ants in your garden.
Now, coffee grounds aren’t toxic to ants, but the goal is to repel them based on the smell. When ants come across the coffee grounds, they’ll head the other way, so if you sprinkle them around the plants and garden beds, it should keep ants out.
Finding ants in the garden is never fun, but in most cases, it’s not too concerning and shouldn’t cause a panic. Use these simple tricks to reduce the ants in your garden, but remember, the chances of getting rid of ants in the garden entirely are slim.