Opening your back door to care for your potted plants only to find an army of ants crawling through the soil is enough to make any gardener crazy. These persistent little pests seem to invade our containers every year, which is annoying. Getting ants to move out and leave your potted plants alone can be challenging, but it’s not impossible. Follow these tips to rid your containers of ants for good.
Why Ants Are Drawn to Container Gardens ?
Ants love potted plants for several reasons related to the nature of growing plants in containers:
The Soil Stays Moist
Frequent watering keeps container soil damp, which ants need to excavate their underground tunnels and chambers. Out in the garden, soil dries out more between rains. But in a pot, the soil provides an ideal humid environment.
Sap Provides Food
Many potted plants exude sap or have sap-sucking insects like aphids present. Ants consume the sweet, sticky honeydew secreted by aphids and scale. This is an excellent source of carbohydrates for them.
Organic Matter Attracts Ants
Potting soil contains rich organic material to help plants grow. This plant debris appeals to ants searching for food. Garden soil has lower organic content.
The confined space of a container with drainage holes provides ready-made shelter for ants. They can enter the pot through openings in the bottom or top and quickly excavate a nest in the soft potting mix.
Influence of ants in flower pots on plants
- Root damage: Ants can damage a plant’s root system when they dig their nests in the soil.
- Damage to leaves and stems: Certain ant species may chew through the leaves and stems of plants, especially when searching for food.
- Spreading germs: Ants may carry germs on their body surfaces, which may cause plant diseases, causing plant damage or even death.
- Interference with root aeration: Ant nests may create a dense soil structure in the pot that blocks root aeration.
- Attracts other harmful insects: Food and water sources in ant nests may attract other harmful insects such as aphids and ant aphids.
Getting Rid of Ants In Potted Plants
Eliminating an ant infestation requires diligence and persistence. Use a combination of methods to send them packing:
Pour Boiling Water on Ant Hills
Once you spot where ants are entering the soil and building tunnels, pour boiling hot water directly onto these areas. This instantly kills them on contact and makes the environment inhospitable. Be sure to completely saturate ant hills.
Use Sticky Traps Around Pots
Place commercially available sticky traps around the containers to catch foraging worker ants. Alternatively, wrap a band of double sided tape around the inside rim to trap them. This reduces their numbers so they move on.
Sprinkle Ant-Repellent Substances
Sprinkle chili powder, cinnamon, coffee grounds, or dried peppermint around pots and on soil. These natural substances deter ants with their strong scents and textures. They can also repel aphids. Reapply after watering.
Apply Chemical Ant Baits or Sprays
For heavy infestations, baits containing boric acid or liquid insecticides labeled for outdoor containers can control stubborn ants. Use caution and precisely follow directions on the products. Avoid applying in hot weather or directly onto plant leaves and stems.
Deterring Ants From Returning
Prevention is the best long-term solution for keeping ants away from your container plants. Follow these tips to make the environment less inviting:
Choose Sterile Potting Media
Potting mixes containing compost or other organic matter appeal to ants looking for food. Select a commercial sterile mix instead, or make your own with peat moss, perlite and vermiculite only.
Remove Other Pest Insects
Control aphids, scales, mealybugs and other sap feeding insects so ants aren’t attracted to their sweet honeydew secretions. Check undersides of leaves and stems for any pests.
Keep Patio Areas Clean
Quickly sweep up any pet food, sugar or crumbs on pavement near containers. Eliminate all food sources ants could exploit. Store potted plant fertilizer indoors when not in use.
With persistence and consistency using these methods, you can reclaim your container garden from ants. Pay close attention and don’t give them an opportunity to move back in. Taking preventative measures discourages future occurrences so you can enjoy ant-free plants all season.