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Ants are not always a problem in the garden, but without some control, they can become an inconvenience or bother. Actually, it can be a sign of a bigger problem. This article will discuss both the benefits and disadvantages of having ants in a garden.
What is the best way to get rid of them? Are they overrunning your garden? It’s important to assess your situation to decide if it’s necessary to take action and get rid of them before they become a problem.
If you decide to, there are a few things you need to consider. First, whether the ants are doing more harm than good, they can be beneficial for a garden, but only you can decide.
But once you decide that ant control is necessary, there are a few options to try to get rid of them naturally. This article will tell you how.
After a closer look, fortunately, they were 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 eliminate, especially in an organic garden.
But black ants still pack a punch when they bite to defend themselves. And since they are in my 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.
All About Garden 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.
Are Ants Harmful to A Garden?
Ants are normally not considered a nuisance, but they can become one. Even though they are normally not a serious concern, they can be a sign of a bigger problem.
Benefits of Black Garden Ants
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.
- They are similar to earthworms and help aerate garden soil. Ants dig lots of tunnels that help to carry water, oxygen, and nutrients to plant roots.
- Ants are also good for carrying pollination from bloom to bloom, looking for sweet nectar much like bees do.
- They help to naturally control garden pests by eating their young or interrupting their feeding cycle.
- Ants kill off caterpillars and other garden pests by attacking them in large numbers.
- Ants don’t strip vegetation leaves, unlike many other garden insects. They cause no harm to vegetable or flowering plants.
- They are also good indicators of a bigger problem – aphids. Aphids secrete sweet sugar, and ants will naturally be attracted to this. Ants are easy to spot in the garden when aphids are tiny and sometimes hard to see. So if you see ants look closely, you may have aphids.
- Black ants also help to speed the decomposition of organic matter, such as leaves, straw, and even other dead insects. This helps to fertilize plants.
- They attract natural predators to the garden, such as birds, frogs, and spiders.
Disadvantages of Ants in A Garden
Even with all the benefits of ants being great for the ecosystem and home garden, too much of a good thing can also be bad.
- They are attracted to aphids. (two-fold) Since they are attracted to the sweet secretions of aphids, they tend to protect aphids. The protection can allow aphids to multiply.
- Ants help to increase other garden pests populations, such as the whitefly, scale, and mealybug. All of these pests produce sweet secretions making them friends with the common black garden ant.
- Ants themselves multiply in number rapidly and can become a big problem!
- Weaken root systems. Their tunneling can get large and cause plant roots to loosen and die.
- Some ants sting and cause painful blisters.
How to Get Rid of Ants In The Garden
When you google how to get rid of ants in the garden, you’ll find many suggestions. Since this is my first time ever dealing with them, 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
- 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.
- 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.
- Encourage insectivorous birds by hanging birdhouses and feeders near the garden.
- 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 into 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.
Natural Ways to Get Rid of Ants
These are really simple homemade non-toxic ways without killing plants.
Pour boiling hot water over the nest, eliminating the colony. If you have a large nest, it may take a couple of times to eliminate them completely.
Combat Ants with Aspartame (Artificial Sweetener)
It’s toxic to ants and causes their senses to malfunction. It overstimulates their brain cells and causes them to die. Though this may not be precise, it is an option that is worth trying.
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. And it’s not harmful to plants.
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.”
Sprinkle it on top and around the ant hill. They will crawl through it, get it on themself and carry it underground to the nest.
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 a vegetable garden.
Mix dawn soap and water and put them into a spray bottle. Spray liberally over the affected plant. This idea works also works well with plants in containers, but it can easily be used on garden plants with a garden sprayer.
Insecticidal soap not only kills the ant, but it also kills the pheromone trail.
TIP: Use this spray on plants during low temperatures. Don’t spray on hot sunny days. It will burn the plant leaves.
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.
Ants love sweet things, so mix borax with a one-to-one white sugar to camouflage the flavor. Sprinkle on the hills. They eat it and 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 organic, and I’ve worked 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 (red ants) that are so destructive, harmful to humans, and hard to eliminate.
I’ll let you know what I try and how well it works. Stay tuned…….
More Garden Pest Articles
- How to Control Tomato Horn Worms
- 5 Ways to Naturally Control Cabbage Worms
- How to Get Rid of Squash Vine Borers
- How to Kill Tomato Fruitworms
Frequently Ask Questions
Will Vinegar Kill Ants in the Garden?
Vinegar will kill ants on contact, but it does not help with the ones that are underground in the colony. Also, vinegar is an astringent. It’s commonly used as a natural cleaner, and it will burn plant leaves. Vinegar should only be used when it is needed away from plants.
Should You Kill Ants in Your Garden?
Overall, ants can benefit the garden as long they are controlled. They do multiple rapidly, so keeping a close eye on them is recommended. But they can help with the aeration of the soil and guide you to garden pests such as aphids and whiteflies.
Update since I initially wrote this post in 2019. After trying the suggestions above, I found Diatomaceous earth works best for me. I felt safe using it on the garden beds, and it was easy to apply on the soil and didn’t get all over the plants.
It washed away with rain, but I reapplied it as soon as the soil dried. Within 5-6 days, the black ant colony was gone.
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Dianne Hadorn is the owner of Hidden Springs Homestead nestled in the hills of East Tennessee. She is a Master Gardener and enjoys helping others learn how to grow and preserve their own food and sharing tips for living a more self-sufficient lifestyle.