Ants in flower pot

Why are Ants in my Plants, Pots and Soil?

Do you ever see ants running up the stems or along branches and leaves? What about your pot plants? Do you notice them in your potting mix? Or in your lawn making little mounds that blunt your mower blades?

Perhaps you’re wondering WHY they are there and WHAT they are doing? Are they causing damage or are they just annoying? If you want to know the answers and how to get rid of them naturally, read on.

The answer is simple. Ants are extremely smart insects and ALWAYS have a good motive for inhabiting your plants, pots or soil. The two most likely reasons are for:

  1. Food
  2. Shelter

Seems reasonable enough, doesn’t it? We all need a roof over our heads and something to eat! Believe me, ants won’t expend energy doing anything unless there’s something in it for them.

If you see little black ants ON your plants, it’s likely because they have found a source of food. Ants are often a clue you have a bigger problem. Don’t shoot the messenger! They are just the ‘couriers’ delivering you a message. They’ll take you straight to it. By being more observant, you’ll understand what they’re doing and why. Assuming they are harming your plant may be a BIG mistake because you only have part of the picture!

Most likely, if you look closely and follow their trail like a good detective, you’ll find it ends in sap-sucking insects like aphids, scale, mites, whiteflies or mealybugs. These pest insects are what you should be really looking for! Ants are your ‘tour guide’ and can detect the presence of these pests with their antennae. Smart hey?

So, instead of treating them as the enemy to be killed, learn to value their presence. Why? Because they have alerted you to the problem you really need to deal with! Micro gardening is about looking at details; learning to understand who, what, where and why things happen and ‘joining the dots.’

The Link between Ants, Pests and Disease

Common garden ants are attracted to these sap-sucking insects for a very good reason. They have ‘sweet tooths’ and know these pests leave behind a sugary reward that no self-respecting ant can resist!

These pest insects suck the sugary juices out of your plant, taking what they need for growth. At the same time, they are weakening your plant. If there are a lot of aphids present for example, your plant can suffer considerable damage in a relatively short time. Young leaves and flower buds are particularly vulnerable.

As these pest insects feed, they release a sweet ‘honeydew’ substance that sticks to your plant’s leaves or stems. Ants take this sugary syrup dessert as ‘payment’ for providing ‘bodyguard security protection services’ for these pests. Ants fiercely fend off any beneficial predators like ladybirds or hoverflies, that might turn up to feed on this free insect banquet. Of course, ants are going to defend their food pantry!

Ants protecting and guarding young aphids

It’s a pretty sweet ‘win-win’ arrangement for the ants and the pests, but not for you! If this is your problem, you need to remove the pest insects and the ants will disappear and find food elsewhere. If there are only a few aphids or scale and the problem is very minor, it’s likely your beneficial insects will keep the numbers under control. However, if there are lots of pest insects present, it’s a different story.

If you ignore this issue, you may end up with more problems like black sooty mould. The honeydew provides the perfect environment for mould spores to grow and spread over the plant leaves. This black layer can slow or stop photosynthesis, so the plant can’t make enough energy to grow. This in turn, weakens your plant and can retard growth, flower and fruit production. A snowball effect!

This citrus leaf has a heavy infestation of black sooty mould blocking sunlight

So be thankful the ants are on your plants – they are giving you the heads up!

How to Keep Ants away from Plants Naturally

If you remove sap-sucking insects like aphids, scale and mealybugs from your plants, the ants will leave. If the food source disappears, so will they! These are some natural options.

1. A sharp spray of the hose should dislodge the sap suckers. You may need to repeat this several days in a row. This strategy may be enough to remove the majority and send them elsewhere. Or you can try hand picking if there’s only a few.

2. Encourage more natural predator insects. For example, ladybirds and hoverflies in greater numbers than ants, will help consume the pest insects.

Ladybird predator insect in a balanced food fight with one ant protecting many mature black aphids

Plant nectar and pollen-rich flowers in your garden to attract beneficial insects. They will be ‘in residence’ ready to come to your aid when needed.

3. Use an organic horticultural oil spray to smother the pest insects. This kills them naturally without harming the ants or other beneficials. I use EcoOil or EcoNeem only when absolutely necessary. Be patient. Sometimes you need to wait a few days for nature to get the balance right. Avoid petroleum-based horticultural oils. These are based on chemicals and not safe for use in an organic garden.

How to Stop Ants on Trees

If you can prevent ants from crawling up the trunk or stem of a tree or shrub, they can’t play bodyguards to pest insects. So how do you stop them in their tracks? There are organic sticky but safe solutions such as fruit tree grease bands, tree wraps and barrier glues. These may be an option in your situation.

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Ants in Pots and your Soil

In your garden, ants are part of the overall ecosystem. They search for food; occasionally pollinate some plants; eat the eggs of some insects; distribute seeds; and are also a food source for larger insects, birds, lizards and frogs. They play many roles!

However, if you see ants in your potting mix or lawn, they’re likely there for another reason. They need a ‘house’, so the ant colony is making a nest to lay eggs and raise their families. Fair enough. If you watch them, they’re quite industrious and pretty good parents. They’ve chosen a dry, sheltered spot as home.

Anthill nest site in dry soil

In the garden or lawn, ant tunnels can actually help aerate your soil, improving drainage and soil structure. However, soil disturbance can encourage weed seeds to germinate and the mounds can blunt mower blades.

Ants can indirectly cause other problems. When they build their nests underneath plants, the soil they bring to the surface as mounds, may bury smaller plants. Large colonies of ants can bring a lot of soil to the surface.

The bigger issue is that your plant roots may be disturbed and lose valuable moisture around the root zone. This is your next clue. Their presence may indicate those plants NEED WATERING.

Do you have Hydrophobic Potting Mix?

In pots, ants are a BIG problem because it’s very common to lose potting mix out the bottom. Their tunnels in the potting mix also create air pockets that can cause water to run straight through instead of soaking in slowly to benefit your plant.

Do a simple test. Count the seconds when watering, to see how quickly the water runs out the bottom. If it’s only a few seconds, you know your potting mix has dried out and needs to be thoroughly re-wet.

Do a watering test to see if your potting mix is absorbing moisture

Again, the presence of ants is simply a clue you have another problem and they are just taking advantage of it. Ant tunnels in pots usually means one thing. Your soil mix is dry. VERY DRY. Same in your lawn.

This may be an indication of a bigger issue – your potting mix could be hydrophobic. If the water is running through quickly, it has started to repel moisture. While re-wetting your potting mix is a short-term fix, you need to address this, or the same issue will keep happening. This problem is extremely common with bagged or commercial potting mixes. They start to repel water after time.

Hydrophobic soil or potting mix repels moisture

What’s the solution to hydrophobic soil? You can either:

  1. Revitalize and refresh your old potting mix.
  2. Repot with new potting mix or make your own moisture-holding recipe.

How to Remove Ants from Pots

Ants won’t nest in moist potting mix or wet soil. Fix that, and you’ll see them move house.

So, to remove ants that are nesting, simply make sure your pots or lawn are watered more often. Self-watering pots, a sprinkler, regular watering and a moisture-holding potting mix can all help deter ants.

To stop ants moving into pots, there’s an easy fix. Cut some fine flyscreen mesh to size and line your pot at the bottom before adding potting mix, so they can’t enter from the base. Sneaky!

You can also try sprinkling cayenne pepper or cinnamon on your pot mulch or rims to help deter them.

For small pots, you can add them to a bucket of water and submerge until air bubbles stop coming to the surface. Then remove. This should temporarily re-wet the potting mix and buy you time until you fix the problem properly.

If you can’t remove the potting mix easily or the pot or plant is too large, you may need to drench or soak the pot to re-moisten the soil and send them packing. A layer of mulch is essential to retain moisture in your pots.

Ants eat decayed organic matter helping to improve soil structure, aeration and drainage

Ants in your Compost

If you see ants in your compost, they may be recycling nutrients by eating decaying insects, helping your composting process. Or by now, you should have figured out the other reason they could be there. Because it’s too dry! Add water and you’ll see them leave.

So, if you have common garden ants in your plants, hopefully now you’ll put your ‘detective’ hat on, go follow the clues and solve the problem with ease!

  • Imitate Nature for Higher Yields & Less Pests
  • Easy DIY Potting Mix Recipe
  • Revitalising & Re-using Old Potting Mix
  • How to Make Potting Mix at Home Guide

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Got Ants in Your Plants? Here’s What You Need to Know

Severus Snape in Harry Potter. Walter White in Breaking Bad. Tyrion Lannister in Game of Thrones.

What do all these characters have in common?

They’re morally grey — it’s hard to tell whether they’re good guys or bad guys because their contradictory actions seem to suggest both.

Just like great stories, gardens have morally grey characters. And one of these is the ant.

So if you’ve ever wondered whether the presence of ants among your plants is positive or negative, the unsatisfying answer is “yes.”

The ant is both friend and foe, dear gardener.

Keep reading to learn about the effects of this ambiguous arthropod, as well as how to control it, should you so choose.

In the garden, ants provide natural pest control and other benefits.

How Ants Can Help Your Garden

Here are a few reasons ants can be nice to have around.

Ants Control Pests Naturally

Like ladybeetles, green lacewings, and other beneficial bugs, ants often help control pests (they actually support some pests, too — more on that later) by eating their eggs and young or disturbing them during feeding.

Ants are such an effective biological control agent, in fact, that some growers introduce them on purpose as part of an Integrated Pest Management strategy.

And this isn’t a new idea, either. Accounts of farmers using ants to control pests date back to 300 A.D.

Ants Improve Pollination Rates

As pollinator populations decrease, many gardeners struggle to achieve consistent, hearty harvests from fruiting crops. (Sound familiar? Try hand pollination.)

But ants can assist! By marching from flower to flower in search of food, ants often act as unintentional pollinators.

Ants Support a Healthy Ecosystem

In traditional gardening, ants aerate the soil — digging tunnels that carry water, oxygen, and nutrients to plant roots. And they also speed the decomposition of organic material, such as leaves and dead insects, thereby fertilizing plants.

Tower Garden doesn’t use soil (and is more efficient as a result). But ants can still benefit the overall growing environment. Because in addition to feasting on pests, ants themselves serve as lunch for larger organisms, such as lizards, frogs, and birds — animals that also help prevent pest problems.

Ants often farm aphids, much like the way humans farm cows.

How Ants Can Hurt Your Garden

A few ants in your garden isn’t usually cause for concern. But if you find a concentration of them, consider the following.

Ants Increase Pest Populations

What do ants like?

If you’ve ever spilled a soda or bag of candy on the sidewalk, you probably know the answer. Sugar.

And guess what aphids (as well as mealybugs, scale, whiteflies, and other sap-sucking pests) naturally produce?

Yep. Sugar, in the form of a sticky liquid secretion (yuck, right?) called “honeydew.”

Here’s the interesting part: Much like humans farm cows, ants farm aphids — protecting these bad bugs from predators so they can “milk” honeydew from them.

They’ll then carry the honeydew back to the nest to share with the queen and other workers. And sometimes ants move aphids to their nest or better plants.

The scientific term for this relationship, if you’re curious, is mutualistic symbiosis.

Ants Cause Pain and Property Damage

Some problems ants may cause concern your garden experience more than your garden itself. And there are two types of ant, in particular, that tend to be troublemakers.

Perhaps the most infamous ant species, fire ants will sting when provoked. And their venom produces a painful welt that lasts for several days.

Needless to say, if your plants are swarming with fire ants, harvesting could be an unpleasant experience.

Though they can’t sting like fire ants, carpenter ants can bite (with powerful jaws) and then spray formic acid — which creates a burning sensation — into the wound. So… a carpenter ant bite isn’t a fun experience.

But the biggest issue with this common ant species is its nesting habits. Carpenter ants build their homes in wood. And they aren’t very picky about what type of wood — your home’s structure is just as attractive as a decaying stump.

If ants become a problem, there are several ways to control them.

How to Control Ants in Your Garden

If you’ve decided ants don’t belong in your garden, there’s something you should know: Ants are among earth’s oldest living creatures. They actually existed alongside the dinosaurs.

Which means they survived a mass extinction event.

Which means they’re pretty good at adapting to survive.

Which means controlling them in your garden could be challenging.

Plus, there are more than 10,000 species of ant in the world. (And those are just the ones we know about!) So different ants might not respond to treatments the same way.

That said, here are six ways gardeners commonly control ants:

  • Get rid of aphids and other sap-sucking pests. This will prevent ants from hanging around to harvest honeydew.
  • Distribute artificial sweetener near the ants. Reportedly, this is fatal to ants (which might make you reconsider adding the stuff to your coffee).
  • Sprinkle ground cinnamon or cayenne pepper around your plants. This may help repel, but not injure, ants.
  • Place food-grade diatomaceous earth by trails and nests. Made from fossilized hard-shelled algae called diatoms, this fine powder dehydrates ants — as well as slugs and cockroaches. But it’s completely safe for humans. (Note: It may take a few weeks to kill ants, and it must stay dry to be effective.)
  • Set a borax (or boric acid) and sugar poison trap. A quick internet search will return dozens of DIY recipes for borax- and boric acid-based pest poisons. But use these carefully — though borax and boric acid are natural compounds, they are toxic to humans and animals.
  • Pour boiling water on the anthill. This technique works only if you know where the ants’ nest is, of course. And bear in mind, ants build their homes to withstand rain and flooding. So it may take several attempts before you kill the queen (and wipe out the colony).

Ants play a number of roles in the garden — some good, some bad.

So, Are Ants Friend or Foe?

What have you decided — must the ants go, or will you allow them to be you (closely monitored) garden guests?

I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

Ants In Flower Pots: How To Get Rid Of Ants In Pots

Ants are one of the most prevalent insects in and around your home, so it isn’t surprising that they find their way into your potted plants. They come seeking food, water and shelter, and, if the conditions are right, they may decide to stay. Let’s find out more about these annoying insects and how to get rid of ants in pots.

Ants in Plant Containers

Infestations of honeydew-producing insects, such as aphids, soft scales, mealybugs and whiteflies may explain why you’re finding ants in potting soil. Honeydew is a sweet, sticky substance that the insects secrete as they feed, and ants think it’s a banquet. In fact, they will go to great lengths to protect honeydew-producing insects from predators to keep a

supply of this tasty food handy.

Get rid of the insects that produce honeydew before killing ants in containers to keep the ants from returning. If you catch infestations of these insects early, you can treat them with insecticidal soap. Spray the plant thoroughly, and pay particular attention to the undersides of the leaves where they like to hide and lay eggs. It may take more than one treatment to get them under control.

The way you care for your plants can also be a source of ant problems. You may see ants in flower pots when you’ve been using home remedies that include sugar or honey. Pick up leaves that fall onto the potting soil and provide a cozy hiding place for ants.

How to Get Rid of Ants in Pots

If you find ants in your indoor plants, take them outside immediately so the ants don’t become established inside your home. To get rid of the ants nesting in container plants, you’ll need a bucket or tub larger and deeper than your flower pot and concentrated insecticidal soap, available at any garden supply store. Here is a simple procedure that will eliminate the ants once and for all:

  • Place the plant container inside a bucket or tub.
  • Make a solution using one or two tablespoons of insecticidal soap per quart of water.
  • Fill the bucket or tub until the solution barely covers the surface of the potting soil.
  • Let the plant soak for 20 minutes.

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