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How To Get Rid Of Ants In The Garden

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Ants in the garden – good or bad? Friend or foe? How do you get rid of ants in the garden? There are a lot of mixed discussions about this.

Ants can benefit the garden, but they also have disadvantages. Decide if you need to get rid of them.

This year when I was killing cover crops in the raised beds to get ready for spring gardening, I discovered rather large ant hills in them.

After a closer look, fortunately, they are only simple native garden ants (Lasius niger). I’m so glad they are not the notorious “fire ant” that is not native and extremely hard to deal with.

ant hill in the garden in a raised bed

But these little guys still pack a punch when they bite to defend themselves. And since they are in organic raised beds, it makes it rather difficult to get rid of them.

So how can you get rid of them naturally? I did some research, and this is what I found out.

About Garden Ants

There are two main types of garden ants, the red ant (Myrmica rubra) and a tiny black ant (Lasius niger) Both these are common garden ants or lawn ants.

The queen ant over-winters and emerges in the spring. She will fly from neighboring gardens, searching for a place to build a nest and lay her eggs.

Her body is significantly longer and fatter than the worker ants. She will lay her eggs and feed the brood for three to four weeks before pupating in the soil.

All adult workers are female. They will emerge from the nest after a couple of weeks to maintain the nest and feed the queen and other larvae.

The workers go out to find food, and when they find it, they leave a trail of chemicals called pheromones back to the nest for other ants to follow.

The larvae are white, legless grubs that are roughly 5mm long. Each colony of ants can vary in size from a mere 500 to many thousands. They multiply rapidly, and if you are not careful, your garden can become overrun with ants.

Between August and September, mating will take place during the flight. After mating, the male dies, and the female will return to the soil to over-winter to awake and begin a new cycle the next spring.

Black ants and aphids on a stem in the garden.

FAQs

Do ants cause damage in the garden? Are they bad for the garden? How do I get rid of ants naturally?

There was a huge list of questions, so I’ve compiled this information, and you decide if ants are good for your garden or not.

7 Benefits of Ants in the Garden

Of course, it really depends on who you are talking to as to whether ants are beneficial to the garden. Here are some benefits for ants in the garden.

  1. They are similar to earthworms by helping aerate the soil. They dig lots of tunnels that help to carry water, oxygen, and nutrients to plant roots.
  2. Ants are also good pollinators. They carry pollen from bloom to bloom, looking for sweet nectar.
  3. They help to naturally control garden pests by eating their young or interrupting their feeding cycle.
  4. Ants kill off caterpillars by attacking them in large numbers.
  5. Ants don’t strip vegetation leaves, unlike many other garden insects. No harm to vegetables is caused by ants.
  6. They are also good indicators of an aphid problem. Since aphids secrete sweet sugar, ants will naturally be attracted to them. You can easily “spot” ants in the garden when aphids are tiny and sometimes hard to spot.
  7. Ants also help to speed the decomposition of organic matter, such as leaves, straw, and even other dead insects. This helps to fertilize plants.

Disadvantages

  1. They are attracted to aphids. (two-fold) Since they are attracted to the sweet secretions of aphids, ants tend to protect them. So they will protect the aphids and allow them to multiply quickly.
  2. Ants will help to increase other garden pests populations, such as the whitefly, scale, and mealybug. All of these produce sweet secretions making them friends with the common garden ant.
  3. Ants themselves multiply in number rapidly!

How to Get Rid of Ants In The Garden

When you google how to get rid of ants in the garden, you’ll find all kinds of suggestions. Since this is my first time ever dealing with this, I’m in the market to try various ways to see what happens.

Here are some suggestions I’ve found:

Organic No-Chemical Methods to Rid Ants

  1. Observe ants when you find them out foraging and follow them back to the nest. When you find where they are going, if not obvious, dig up the soil as deep as possible to make sure to remove the queen.
  2. Introduce beneficial nematodes – these are tiny “worms” that enter the body of the ants and excrete bacteria into the digestive tract killing the ants in 24-48 hours.
  3. Encourage insectivorous birds by hanging birdhouses and feeders near the garden.
  4. Early in the morning, place a metal can over the hill. As it heats up in the sun, the ants will carry their eggs to the surface and up in the can. Later in the evening, slide a cardboard or solid surface under the can to capture the eggs. Dispose of them by feeding them to the chickens or killing them.
red garden ant in garden with aphids

Natural Ways to Get Rid of Ants

These are really simple homemade non-toxic ways.

Combat Ants with Aspartame

Brand name of aspartame – Equal and NutraSweet. The little blue and pink packets are found on the table in many restaurants. Sprinkle this around on the hill.

It’s toxic to ants and causes their senses to malfunction. It overstimulates their brain cells and causes them to die.

Orange Guard

You can actually purchase an orange peel spray or make your own DIY Citrus Spray. Citrus peels contain a natural extract, d-Limonene, which is not harmful to the environment or the soil. This is a food-grade product, so it is safe for vegetable gardens.

This immediately strips away the waxed coating on ants, causing them to suffocate.

Diatomaceous Earth

This is a natural product made from crushed fossilized hard-shelled algae called diatoms. They are ground into a fine powder. The shells, even in powder form, have sharp edges that penetrate the body of the ant, causing it to die from dehydration, which will take about 2 weeks.

Diatomaceous Earth is not harmful to humans, plants, or even pets. Be sure when you purchase to get the “food grade.”

Cinnamon

Cinnamon is known to REPEL ants but not kill them. Remember, ants are attracted to sweet things, and cinnamon is not on that list.

If you use it, make a thick line around the plant that is being bothered or sprinkle it on the ant hill heavily. This deters the workers that are out from returning to the hive.

This works best for plants in containers, but it can still be used in raised beds gardens.

Dawn Dish Soap Spray

Mix dawn soap and water and put them into a spray bottle. Spray liberally over the affected plant. This idea works well with plants in containers, but it will work in the garden too.

This not only kills the ant, but it also kills the pheromone trail.

NOTE: Use this spray on plants during low temperatures. Don’t spray during hot sunny days. It will burn the plant leaves.

ant in the garden with aphids killing a black fly

Borax – Will it Hurt Plants?

I’m going to leave this option totally up to you. I have found many references to using borax to eliminate ants in the garden. There are lots and lots of recipes available when googling.

Even though Borax is made from the natural boric compound, it has low toxicity to both humans and pets. It seems to be a really popular product for getting rid of ants, though.

Ants love sweet things, so mix borax with a one-to-one white sugar to camouflage the flavor. Sprinkle on ant hills, and they eat it as well as carry it back to the nest for the others. This is highly toxic to ants and can wipe out a whole colony in just 2-3 days.

I’m not sure if I will try this one. Our raised bed gardens are totally organic, and I’ve worked really hard and made many sacrifices to keep it this way.

So now you have to decide. Are ants in the garden friends or foes? Should they stay, or should they go?

As I said, I’m glad they are not the fire ants that are so destructive and super hard to get rid of.

I’ve only planted onions, lettuce, and broccoli so far this year and have been bitten on more than one occasion. So I’ll be pursuing getting rid of them in my garden beds.

I’ll let you know what I try and how well it works. Stay tuned…….

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8 thoughts on “How To Get Rid Of Ants In The Garden”

  1. We moved to a new house about 4 months ago. It has a small garden which has a lot of plants in pots. I am absolutely infested with ants and have used some granules which I bought from the garden centre. These appeared to work but about a week later, the ants were back. There is a wall along the edge of the garden and they are coming out of that and also from a small stone wall in the garden, as well as the ant hills in the garden itself. Unfortunately they are now coming into the house and my husbands foot was covered in ants when he was sitting on the sofa last night. As there are so many of them and I also have trails of little black ants scurrying across the tiled areas, I just do not know what to do to get rid of them. I need to be careful what I use as we have a dog and don´t want to risk her health or ours for that matter. Any suggestions would be most appreciated. I have notices that when I take the dog for a walk nearby, the area is also covered in ants. So I think we are living on one enormous ant hill. !!!!

    1. Wow, Trish! I’m so sorry; it does sound like you have an infestation. But, at this point, they are not your friend, and you don’t need them in the house. Are you sure these are not the horrible fire ants? If it is fire ants, honestly, I’ve found nothing organic that will offend them, which is a whole other conversation.

      But, if it is the native tiny garden ants, you have your job cut out, but you can get them at least controlled. Unfortunately, it is not as fast as having them treated with chemicals or poison, and you’ll need to stay on top of them. It’s time to wage war! Ants have thousands of eggs in their underground nests. These eggs have to be destroyed, as well as the Queen.

      Here’s what I’d recommend: I’d begin with a combination of borax, sugar, and cornmeal sprinkled heavily all around. They will carry the sweet granules back to the nest, and it will help to kill what’s inside. They eat it, it swells inside them, and they cannot burp; therefore, death is inevitable. Keep this spread around consistently for a week or two. Then, if it rains, it will need to be replaced. It will not work when wet.

      If you are looking for a “non-organic way,” there is a powder that works well. Our local co-op is big on using it. But again, it’s not natural or organic, and sometimes, to get things under control, we have to make some rather tough decisions. The name of it is Bengal UltraDust 2X. It is powerful; the directions are on the container. We have used it out in the pastures a couple of times. It is a powder and does not spread. Fire ant hills can get over knee-high here very quickly, and we can’t have that; they are just too dangerous.

      One of these two options is where I would begin. I’d love to know what you do and how it works out. I wish you much luck.

      Dianne

  2. Marguerite Garton

    I have sprayed soil with white vinegar mixed with salt and a squeeze of washing up liquid but to no avail, still have ants

  3. Hey Dianne,i don’t know what they were,but the ants i had in my garden were red with a black abdomen.One day i found hoards aphids on my tomatoes.I deep watered the garden,twice.When i went to the garden the next day,i found the vast majority of the aphids were gone,and It was the ants that were picking them off,so i left the ants alone.Now that is what i call beneficial insects.

  4. Todd Hughes Murray

    The idea of #5, that ants won’t harm the vegetables, not true. I went out to my garden earlier this evening only to find a couple tomatoes, still on the vine, covered with ants and eating the tomato away.

    1. Hi Phylicia,

      I use both the DE and the Borax mixed with sugar. Neither are not instant as an insecticide is, it takes 2-3 days for them to go. But they do work.

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