The ants in your garden aerate the soil, eat the eggs and larvae of insect pests, and pollinate certain flowers. This social insect has many good qualities, but in large numbers they may be unwelcome guests in your garden. There’s no need to use chemical pesticides to rid your garden of ants because you can get their numbers down to a manageable level using natural and non-toxic methods.
Ants have a sweet tooth, so to speak, so they are drawn to fruits and flowers rich in nectar, peonies being a great favorite. Many a peony grower has cut spectacular bouquets of colorful blooms only to find ants tucked among the petals. Sticky traps placed along the plant stems will capture the ants and keep them from your harvest.
Ants and aphids are a troublesome duo. Aphids excrete a sweet, sticky substance called honeydew, which ants find tasty. To protect their source of this sweet treat, ants attack the enemies of the aphids, including ladybugs and other beneficial insects. To get rid of the ants you first have to get rid of the aphids. (Aphids can do serious harm to your crops, so even without the ants you’ll want to address this pest.) You can control aphids by attracting large numbers of their natural predators. Buy beneficial insects (especially ladybugs) and release them in the garden. The flowers of Queen Anne’s lace, sweet alyssum, parsley and dill attract other good bugs like hover flies and lacewings.
As much as ants like sweet smell, they dislike other smells. Use their distaste of mint, camphor, tansy, cloves, and hot peppers to keep them away from vulnerable plants. Try different combinations, mash them together and spread them in problem areas, or soak cotton balls in essential oils and place them around the garden.
Most ants found in temperate areas are annoying and unpleasant, but fire ants are another story. If fire ants have ever bitten you, you know why you have to get rid of them. Their bites are painful and stinging. And these small ants don’t just bother people, they can actually kill lizards, frogs, spiders, and birds. Getting rid of fire ants isn’t easy—you have to keep at it. Try covering the ant mound with a bucket and pour boiling water around the bucket. Wait one minute, then knock the bucket over with a stick and pour more boiling water into the bucket to kill the escaping ants. You will probably have to do this more than once to kill the ants and keep them out of your garden.
Another approach to killing ants is with homemade bug sprays. You can find interesting potions though online organic gardening forums. Just be sure your home remedy doesn’t harm beneficial insects or garden plants.
Want to learn more about controlling ants in your garden?
Before you decide to treat the ants in your garden, make sure you know what kind of ants they are. The following websites can help with ant identification and provide more resources for controlling garden pests naturally:
Find out which ants you have in your own yard with Ant Identification from the University of Nebraska.
Resource Guide for Organic Insect and Disease Management from Cornell University.
Learn 10 easy home remedies for organic ant control.
Lynne Lamstein gardens in Maine and Florida and is currently working on a sustainable landscape. She has a degree in ornamental horticulture from Temple University.