Getting Antsy: Ants in the Garden

George and Becky Lohmiller

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Ant hill

Ants are among the most successful of insects, outnumbering all other individual animals combined. They have been around since the days of the dinosaurs and inhabit just about every corner of Earth.

Ant Colonies

Ants live in colonies made up almost entirely of non-mating female workers whose job is to gather food, build the nest, and look after the egg-laying queen and her young. At certain times, winged males and females are produced by the queen for the purpose of mating with ants from other colonies. After mating, the male ants die, and the mated queens fly off, shed their wings, and start new colonies.

The Benefits of Ants

Although some species, like the carpenter ant and the stinging fire ant, are considered pests, generally ants are beneficial. Most ants nest in the ground, digging a labyrinth of tunnels that allow air and moisture to get to the roots of plants. The leaves and insects brought into the nest decay and fertilize the surrounding plants. Many ants are predators and feed on insects that attack lawns and gardens, and in the process of gathering food, they often pollinate flowers and distribute seeds.

What Ants Indicate

A sudden convergence of ants in the garden, or a line of ants moving up and down a tree, usually indicates the presence of aphids, mealybugs, or other sap-sucking insects that attack plants. These insects produce a substance called honeydew:

  • The ants stroke the insects with their antennas, causing the insects to excrete the sweet liquid.
  • The ants swallow it and store it in a special holding stomach called the crop.
  • The honeydew is brought back to the nest and shared with the queen and other workers.
  • Some ants even keep aphids in their nest as a farmer would keep a cow, giving them food and shelter in exchange for honeydew.

Did you know?

In some cultures, ants are considered delicacies. The honey-pot ants that live in our southwestern deserts gather large amounts of nectar and store it in the swollen bodies of specialized worker ants called repletes. Native Americans have snacked on these sweet ants for centuries, making them possibly the first ones ever brought to a picnic on purpose.


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Will baking soda or cinnamon

Will baking soda or cinnamon work to get rid of ants around growing vegetables?

Cinnamon is commonly listed

Cinnamon is commonly listed as a home remedy to repel (not kill) ants, with mixed results. Some do use it in the garden as a barrier, but you'd need to replenish every time the soil got wet. Apparently, cinnamon, when sprinkled across ant trails, is thought to confuse them so that they can not sense their own trails. Cinnamon does not appear to work for fire ants--it attracts them, according to one study (see link below):
A home remedy to kill ants that is commonly mentioned on the internet is to mix 1 part baking soda and 1 part powdered sugar, and set it in a jar lid where ants are. They'll take it to the nest (being attracted to the sugar), and die when they injest the baking soda. It may take several days to see an effect. However, some scientists say that there is no study that proves that this works. The best way to know is to try it out in your garden.
Good luck!

I have heard conflicting

I have heard conflicting comments about the efficacy of grits to kill ants. Many,including "The Bug Guys" on Public Radio, have said that ants do not consume solids and that this remedy is a myth.

I tried grits on an infestation of ants in my garden shed and it didn't phase them.

You are correct that grits do

You are correct that grits do not work for getting rid of ants.

Help! I have mean old ants

Help! I have mean old ants eating up my garden! I know most ants are beneficial and blah blah.. Well, These are burrowing in all the root systems of my plants and I find 5 or 6 at a time in the flowers of my tomatoes or peppers. I pulled a tomato off today that was riddled with holes and ants came out of the holes! What is with these ants?! I've tried: "Come & get it", a salt looking spinocide.. I've tried mint tea, neem oil, jalepeno water, orange oil and an organic insect pest spray. All it did was irritate them. :( I need to rid of them in and around the root systems of vegetable plants.

I have been told equal or

I have been told equal or nutasweet sprinkled around the hills will get rid of them.

How to control carpenter

How to control carpenter ants? They are very dangerous and refusing to leave my property!!!!!!! :(

To control carpenter ants,

To control carpenter ants, make sure you've sealed off entry points to your home and trim back any nearby trees, shrubs, and plants. Do not put any mulch or wood near your home which could be used for nesting. Repair any clogged pipes or gutters. Seal all food containers. Observe ants to find nests--esp after sunset. Try putting out nontoxic baits such as sugar milk (equal parts of sugar and milk) to find nests. Then you can apply an insecticide directly into the nest. Sprays with pyrethroids and dusts containing disodium octaborate tetrahydrate or desiccants are effective control products. Diatomaceous earth is a desiccant that you can find in stores. For more extreme measures, you'll need to consult a professional who has license for serious sprays.

Have you tried black pepper?

Have you tried black pepper?