Ants in a garden aren’t usually a concern, but sometimes they can be a major nuisance, or a sign of larger problems. In this article, I’ll talk about the pros and cons, whether or not they will harm your plants, and give you tips for how to kill ants in the garden if they do become a problem.
It’s normal to see ants in the garden. But sometimes their populations can get so large, that it becomes a cause of concern for new gardeners.
While there are plenty of annoying species, like fire ants or leaf cutters, there are a lot of others that are totally harmless, and even helpful.
Ants can serve many beneficial functions, from pollinating to aerating the soil. But a large population can be an indicator of other problems.
In this post, I’m going to show you how to assess the ants in your yard to determine whether they are friends or foes.
I’ll guide you through all the common issues with large colonies, and show you how to manage their numbers if it becomes necessary.
Here’s what you’ll find in this guide about managing ants in a garden…
Are Ants Good Or Bad For The Garden?
Ants are generally considered one of the good bugs, but the verdict is still out for some gardeners.
These prevalent little critters don’t normally cause problems on their own, and most species won’t eat or harm your plants.
But sometimes they can become a nuisance. So, below I will discuss both the benefits and disadvantages of having ants in a garden.
Benefits Of Having Ants In The Garden
While your initial reaction to seeing ants in your garden might “ick” or “oh no!”, they aren’t all bad.
They’re an integral part of any functioning ecosystem, and can actually help your plants! Here are the benefits to having ants in a garden:
- Pollinators: Many types of ants pollinate flowers as they go about their food gathering, just like bees and butterflies.
- Pest predators: Carnivorous varieties of ants will eat harmful pests like aphids and grubs. So, like ladybugs, you might want to encourage them to stick around.
- Soil aeration: Their tunnels help aerate the soil, allowing oxygen to reach the roots, and making it easier for plants to send out tender new ones.
- Enriching the soil: Many species eat fungus. As the organic matter they “farm” breaks down, it releases nutrients into the soil.
Disadvantages Of Garden Ants
While most of the time ants won’t be a problem, some species can directly or indirectly harm plants. Here are some disadvantages of having ants in a garden:
- Sap farming: Ants can carry mealybugs, aphids, and other sap sucking insects to plants, and protect them from predators. The ants will feed off of the sweet bi-product produced when the pest insects feed.
- Tunneling: When ant colonies get very large, their tunneling can harm or weaken root systems.
- Fire ants: One of the only ant species that is a direct problem for humans. Fire ants can be a major nuisance for gardeners, and their bites are quite painful.
- Leaf cutter ants: Fortunately for me, these don’t live in my climate, but in warmer places they can cause a lot of damage. Gardeners facing an infestation of leaf cutters should definitely act quickly to get rid of them.
- Ant hills: The biggest issue I have with the ants in my garden are the hills that pop up between my decorative pavers. They are normally just annoying to look at, but large populations can cause damage by displacing or burying rocks and pavers.
Will Ants Hurt My Plants?
There are thousands of different species in the world. And for the most part, garden ants will not bother or hurt your plants (or you!).
But if you have a lot of sweet or black ants crawling around, check to make sure the plants they frequent aren’t infested with sap sucking bugs.
On the other hand, if you have leaf cutters, then they can cause a lot of damage. When they cut up and remove pieces of the leaves, they are not only making the plants look bad, they’re leaving big wounds.
Any cut is a place for all kinds of disease and other pests to gain entry. Plants with leaf damage are particularly prone to fungus and other diseases that can kill them.
How To Get Rid Of Ants In Garden Beds
I don’t kill the ants in my gardens, because they don’t cause any problems. However, if you have a major infestation, or a species of harmful ants, you may want to get rid of them.
Below I will give you some tips for how to get rid of ants in a garden, if they do end up becoming a nuisance for you.
Related Post: How To Control Garden Pests Naturally
Organic Control Methods
I will always advocate for natural and organic methods of pest control. Not only is it healthier for us, it’s better for your garden, and so much more effective in the long run! Below are some natural ways to get rid of ants in a garden.
Diatomaceous Earth (DE)
Diatomaceous earth is made from ground up shells of microscopic creatures. When ants come in contact with the fine powder, it gets under their hard shell, and cuts up their soft bodies.
DE works best when sprinkled right on the ants, rather than just spreading it around. Direct applications will also help to prevent harm to beneficial insects.
Insecticidal Soap Spray
Organic insecticidal soap is also great for targeted insect elimination. When sprayed directly on ants, a soapy solution can kill them, or stun and disorient them.
Lightly spraying or wiping down a plant with insecticidal soap will also get rid of the more harmful pests that attract the ants.
You can make your own spray from 1 tsp of mild liquid soap, combined with 1 liter of water. Just be sure to test your mixture on a single leaf before applying to the whole plant.
If you have a chronic ant problem in a garden or containers, beneficial nematodes might be the right choice for you. They are microscopic organisms that kill the larval stage.
This method does require some forward planning, and it may take a couple of years before the ant population is under control.
Just remember to apply the nematodes to your potted plants as well as the rest of the yard. Learn how to use beneficial nematodes here.
Though commonly sold as a household cleaning product, borax is a naturally occurring boron salt, rather than a synthetic chemical. It’s toxic to ants when they eat it, and can wipe out the colony.
Combine borax with sugar and water to make a paste. You can create your own bait traps by smearing a thin layer on a small plastic lid. Place these baits near the paths ants are traveling, or right next to the nest.
While all-natural, borax can be harmful to pets and people. So don’t use it if you have animals or small children running around the yard.
Another organic way to get rid of ants in a garden or planters is to use non-toxic pellets (this product says it’s for slugs, but it works to kill ants and other pests too). They will eat the pellets, and then die a few days later.
You can sprinkle the pellets around the nests, or on the soil in their path. Wet the pellets to activate them, and reapply after heavy rain.
How To Stop Ants Nesting In Plant Pots
Ants like to nest in places that are dry, and easy to tunnel through. Loose soil in outdoor containers is a prime target.
When dirt falls out of a dry pots drainage holes, it presents the perfect area for a colony to start building a nest.
The simplest way to prevent ants from nesting in potted plants is to keep the soil moist. If it ever dries out completely, you can soak the whole pot in water, and let it drain.
Another option is to ring the base of the container with a thin line of diatomaceous earth, or try sprinkling a fine layer on top of the soil.
You could also try putting your DIY borax ant traps next to or right inside your potted plants to eliminate the ants.
FAQs About Ants In A Garden
Still have questions about ants in a garden? Here are the answers to a few of the most common ones. If you can’t find an answer to your question here, ask it in the comments below.
Why are there so many ants in my garden?
While it’s normal to have ants in a garden, sometimes they can be a sign of bigger problems. Ants are attracted to the sweet sap that is expelled from plants when pests like aphids feed on them.
So, if you have an abnormal amount of ants in your beds or pots, you may want to follow them to see where they’re going. You may just discover they’re attracted to a harmful pest infestation.
Do ants eat plant roots?
No, garden ants do not eat plant roots. They often tunnel or build their nests in and around the roots because the soil is generally looser there, but they don’t eat them.
Do ants eat plants?
Though most garden ants will not eat your plants, sometimes they will, depending on the species. Most of the time, the ones crawling on the leaves are feeding on the sweet sap produced by other pest damage.
Leaf cutter ants are one of the few varieties that will directly harm your plants. If facing an infestation, it’s best to quickly control the population before the damage gets too bad.
While a nuisance, and sometimes gross, ants in a garden are mostly beneficial or harmless. As long as the overall pest population is kept in check, and you don’t have leaf cutters or fire ants, there is no reason to worry about a few ants crawling around.
More About Garden Pest Control
- How To Release Ladybugs Into Your Garden
- How To Protect Grapes From Birds & Insects
- Using Eggshells as Organic Pest Control
- How To Use Japanese Beetle Traps
Share your tips about ants in a garden in the comments below.