10 Ways to Get Rid of Ants with Natural Remedies
QUESTION: Do Ants Eat Plant Roots?
ANSWER: No – ants do not eat plant roots. If you discover ants around the roots of your plants, it is more likely they have established their home around the safety of your plants. An ants diet primarily focuses on insects and garden pests that live in the Soil or on your plant rather than healthy roots. There are pros and cons of ants living around your plants’ roots, which we will explore later in this article.
Welcome to the Garden Bench Top, where we will investigate why ants are loitering around the roots of your plants. We’ll discuss:
- the benefits of having ants in your garden,
- the problems that may arise with the presence of ants, and
- organic ways to get rid of ants without using chemicals that could harm your plants.
Are Ants in the Garden and Potted Plants Good or Bad?
It is a never-ending debate amongst gardeners whether ants are good or bad in the garden.
Some people welcome the sight of these little workers marching around their garden because they help to maintain the integrity of the garden. At the same time, others find them a big turn-off and will do everything in their power to get rid of the colonies.
Why are Ants in Your Garden?
Whether you like them or not, ants belong to the local fauna in your garden and have a role to play in nature’s cycle.
The best way to look at ants is as a clean-up crew member for your garden. They are opportunistic scavengers who hunt for tender parts of plants, seedlings, and weakened plants. They will also happily help themselves to ripened sweet fruits and love to drink the nectar of flowers and insects, like aphids – more on that later.
Benefits of Ants Around Your Plants
As much as ants may irk you, they deliver many benefits to plant life. Let’s look at some of the positive aspects of ants around your garden.
- Control Pest Populations – ants prey on the eggs and larvae of common pests that destroy your garden as part of their diet. Examples of problems that ants actively hunt include caterpillars, moths as well as soil-dwelling insects. In doing so, ants help to keep the pest populations in check and prevent them from reaching infestation proportions.
- Aerates Soil – as ants build their homes around your plants, they aerate the Soil by creating tunnels. This can benefit your plant’s root systems, as roots require oxygen to process the nutrients from the Soil into energy. However, the tunnels built by the ants can also negatively impact the Soil, which we’ll discuss in the drawbacks section below.
- Natural Pollinators – as we mentioned earlier, ants like to feed on the sweet nectar of flowers. While they are busy collecting nectar and visiting each flower, they become involuntary pollinators. As you may know, pollination is a critical part of the plant lifecycle. Without it, plants would go extinct, and we wouldn’t have fruits or vegetables. So anything that helps with pollination is a welcome addition to our garden.
Drawbacks of Ants Around Your Plants
Unfortunately, not all things about ants in the garden are good. Let’s explore the drawbacks that ants bring into the garden.
- Cultivate Certain Pests – although ants help to control specific garden pest populations, they can also encourage and cultivate other pests, like aphids and mealybugs. The reason why ants give aphids special treatment isn’t that they both start with the letter A. Rather, the aphids produce a sweet sticky substance as a by-product of their sap feeding, called honeydew. And ants, with their sweet-tooth cravings, love the honeydew as much as they love nectar. So, unfortunately for us, ants encourage aphid populations which can have damaging consequences for your plants.
- Dry Soil – the ant tunnels may help to aerate the Soil. However, as the number of tunnels increases, the soil properties begin to degrade, causing issues for your plants. If there are too many air pockets in the Soil, it loses its water retaining qualities. This means instead of water soaking into the Soil, and it runs straight through. Leaving the roots of your plant dehydrated and unable to absorb nutrients and minerals from the Soil.
- Ant Species – not all ants are equal. Some species, like fire ants or leaf cutters, can be a nuisance for gardeners. Fire ant bites are very painful and irritate the skin with a burning or itchy sensation. They tend to attack in hordes that can quickly overwhelm an unaware gardener. Leaf cutters, on the other hand, won’t harm you. Instead, they will strip the leaves from your beautiful plants to build their vast homes. Quickly devastating gardens within a day.
Natural Ways to Get Rid of Ants
Now that we have covered the good and bad aspects of ants in your garden, it is up to you whether you are for or against these little insects.
If the thought of thousands of creepy crawly cleaners is enough to keep you up at night, we have several organic ways to keep them away from your plants.
Beneficial Nematodes (Plant Safe)
Admittedly, beneficial nematodes sound like something out of a science fiction movie. But they are microscopic roundworms that live in the Soil. They naturally feed on ant larvae in the Soil and are an excellent form of control.
‘Did you say roundworms?!‘ we understand some people may be grossed out by the thought of roundworms wriggling about in their pot plants. However, the good news is that you cannot see the nematodes, which are harmless to people and pets.
You can find beneficial nematode products online (like Amazon) or at your local nursery. Each has instructions for applying to indoor plants, and we recommend following their guidelines.
Check out how to apply nematodes with this short video by Betsy Begonia on Youtube.
Diatomaceous Earth (Plant Safe)
Diatomaceous earth is a naturally occurring silica produced from fossilized plankton. It looks like a white powder, which you sprinkle onto ant nests or any visible ant trails. It is one of the safest and most practical methods for ant control. As soon as any ant touches the diatomaceous earth, its exoskeleton becomes damaged, and the powder absorbs the moisture from the ant until it dies.
Neem Oil (Plant Safe)
Neem oil is a non-toxic, natural treatment that will kill ants in your garden and prevent them from returning.
It is a natural pesticide originating from the seeds of the neem tree. It is safe to use on your edible veggies and fruit trees. Azadirachtin is the active component in neem oil that kills and repels ants. This interferes with the ant’s hormone system, disabling growth and egg-laying. It also interrupts the ant’s ability to feed.
You can source neem oil at your local nursery or online stores like Amazon.
You can read more about how neem oil is an effective pesticide for ants HERE.
Essential Oils (Plant Safe)
While we are on the topic of oils, essential oils are another valuable form of ant control. Natural oils like peppermint, tea tree oil, clove oil, and any citrus oil act as natural pesticides to keep ants away from your plants. They contain lethal compounds, such as d-limonene, which are toxic to ants and kill them upon contact.
Citrus oils also eliminate the scent trail markings ants leave for their clan to follow to new food sources.
Boiling Water (NOT Plant Safe)
Another practical form of ant control is boiling water. Simply pouring boiling water on ant nests will quickly eliminate them. To ensure this method is effective, you need to be liberal with the water you pour on the nests to ensure the boiling water reaches every part of their nest.
We like this method because it is cost-effective and can be readily sourced from your kitchen.
Please note, this method is NOT plant safe and will damage your plant’s roots if they are in proximity of the boiling water.
White Vinegar (Plant Safe with Caution)
Another effective form of ant control that can easily be found in your kitchen pantry is white vinegar. White vinegar can be poured into ant hills and along ant trails with its high acidity content. The vinegar acts as a natural pesticide and will kill any ant it comes into contact with. It is important to note that adding white vinegar to your Soil will increase its acidity and decrease the pH level.
We do have to caution you not to use concentrated white vinegar directly on your plants. The high acidity can damage the leaves, causing them to become stressed.
You can, however, use a diluted form of white vinegar on your plants to repel ants. Fill a misting bottle with a 1:1 white vinegar and water solution and spray on the ant trails.
Spent Coffee Grounds (Plant Safe)
Used coffee grounds are a known pesticide that helps to keep ants away from your plants. Once you have finished your coffee, do not throw those used coffee grounds out. Instead, sprinkle them around the base of your plants.
Used coffee grinds will also keep slugs and snails away as a bonus!
Liquid soap and water (Plant Safe)
Mix one part of dishwashing soap with equal parts of water and pour over the visible ant nest in the garden. You can apply it directly to ants crawling on plants with a spray bottle. Essentially, they drown in the water as the soap breaks down the surface tension.
Orange or Lemon Peels (Plant Safe)
Comparable to how citrus essential oils work as a natural pesticide, the peels of oranges and lemons can also be used as an effective ant deterrent. The d-limonene compounds are toxic to ants and will kill them when ingested.
Cornstarch (Plant Safe)
Not usually considered part of the arsenal for ant extermination, cornstarch can be quite an effective form of pest control.
Combine two tablespoons of cornstarch, one tablespoon of sugar, and 15 ml of water and apply it to common areas that the ants frequent. The sugar lures the ants, and once the mixture is ingested, it forms a solid mass that kills them.
Cornstarch also acts as an excellent natural fertilizer, comprising 10% nitrogen, a fundamental building block of plant growth.
Do Ants Eat Plant Roots – Closing Comments
Discovering ants in your garden is not always bad news. They help to keep other common garden pest populations under control, they can assist flowers with the pollination process, and they can help to aerate the Soil.
That said, they can encourage other sap-sucking pests like aphids and mealy bugs to populate plants due to their reciprocal relationship of protection for food. Plus, they can cause the Soil in your garden to lose its water retaining properties.
If you choose to eliminate the ants from your garden, we have provided a comprehensive list of plant-safe, and non-plant save methods for exterminating them.