The anthills ruin the whole garden view and the ants in the garden themselves can do a lot of damage to your plants. However, experts recommend thinking twice before getting rid of ants in your garden.
Ants are good for plants and gardens in general. They aerate the soil, redistribute nutrients, and are part of the garden food chain, but not every ant species are good to have in the garden.
To get rid of ants in your garden, first locate their nest, which is the source of the infestation. Then, spread a generous amount of diatomaceous earth, cayenne pepper, cinnamon, or coffee grounds around the area where you have seen a large number of ants. Doing so will not kill them, but it will discourage them from coming back to the area.
Now let’s see what ants are bad for plants in your garden, and in later sections, we have dived a bit deeper into the positive impact ants have on your garden. Let’s start!
What Ants Are Bad for Plants in Your Garden?
In most cases, ants are good for your garden. However, certain species can cause inconveniences or even harm.
- Native fire ants, for example, can bite and sting, so you would certainly want to get rid of those if you want to have a fun and relaxing time in the garden why caring for your plants.
- Nonnative red imported fire ants can become an even bigger problem. At the moment, these insects don’t have any natural competitors anywhere except for South America. So, these annoying ants cause a significant decline in the native ant populations (the good guys) and also cause damage to plants.
- Even though carpenter ants will do minor damage (or none) to your plants, these insects live in rotting wood and can become a real problem if your house is infested. This is why it is recommended to get rid of them.
Related: How Many Types of Ants Are There: Ant Identification Chart
Reasons Why Ants Are Good for Plants in Your Garden
Ants Aerate the Soil
Even though anthills might not look appealing, they are an indication of the fact that ants are aerating the soil. They turn over a lot of soil (in fact, as much as earthworms do) and that is incredibly beneficial for the soil and its fertility.
Ants also end up bringing a lot of small pebbles and various particles to the surface. Moreover, these tunnels also help more moisture get to the roots of the plants, which is a great bonus.
Ants Will Help You Fertilize the Soil
Ants like to collect things like dead insects and different leaves. All these things are usually brought into the nest, where they start decaying, making an excellent fertilizer for your soil. At the same time, all ants feed on different types of waste, acting as decomposers.
Ants Act as Seed Dispensers
The insects collect a wide range of seeds and take them to their nests. Usually, many seeds have a ‘fat layer’ around them. Ants eat the layer and then get rid of the actual seed. In such a way, the seed is ‘planted’ in the soil and gets saved from various predators. Moreover, it is left in a nutrient-rich environment.
Ants are ‘gardeners’ that especially love most violets, trout lilies, bleeding hearts, and a lot of woodland spring wildflowers. Plenty of flowers have adjusted the timing of fruiting and flowering to take advantage of the high ant activity (and that time is early in the year).
The Ants Protect Your Garden From Herbivores
Ants like the nectar they can find on plant stems (however, they are not attracted to the nectar found in the actual flowers). This fact makes the ants unique plant protectors. The ants will ‘patrol’ the plants they like and disturb some herbivores along the way.
For example, ants may attack seed-eating insects or interrupt the egg-laying, feeding or molting of herbivores. At times, the ants can simply ‘push’ other insects off the plant.
In a nutshell, ants protect plants and are rewarded with food. Some plants have unique structures that can become a shelter for ants.
Ants Can Help With Adding More Butterflies and Birds to Your Garden
Even though ants may attack other insects at times (and even eat their bodies), some creatures might benefit from these ant habits. Some caterpillars produce a sweet substance (honeydew) to attract ants. In such a case, the ants can become caterpillar protectors.
They might ‘farm’ the caterpillar and carry it into the nest. As a result, the caterpillar can complete its development in peace while the ants get yummy honeydew. The more caterpillars are saved, the more butterflies there will be in your garden. The birds will get attracted to your garden as soon as the insect activity rises.
Insects Are Part of Food Webs
We have already mentioned that a lot of ants are predators. They feed on many other insects that might attack your garden and lawn. However, ants can also become food for many other creatures. Insects, birds, and mammals eat ants. That’s why they are an incredibly important part of various food webs.
Related: What Do Ants Eat? | Ant Feeding Habits
The Cons of Having Ants in Garden
Ants Can Give Shelter to Mealybugs and Aphids
We have already figured out that ants can sometimes ‘farm’ other insects to access honeydew. However, ants can also protect pests from predators. So you might end up with different unwanted insects in your garden.
You Might Not Like the Anthills
Anthills don’t cause any damage and are not bad for your garden, but let’s be honest, they don’t look aesthetically pleasing. Some anthills might even pop up between decorative pavers.
A Very Large Ant Population Can Harm the Root Systems of Your Plants
No one would mind a few ants running around in their garden. But sometimes, the growth of the colony might get out of control. If too many ants exist, their tunnels might end up harming your plants’ root systems.
However, even in such a case, using a pesticide is not the best option, as you might also harm your beloved plants. Some gardeners recommend boiling or soapy water for anthills. This simple recipe will help you control the ant population.
Some Garden Ants Are Not Good at All
We have already mentioned that the majority of ants are practically harmless. However, certain types might cause problems. Like fire or carpenter ants, for example. So, figure out exactly what ants are running in your garden before deciding whether you want to get rid of them or simply leave them alone.
How to Get Rid of Ants in Garden?
There are different ways in which you can get rid of ants in your garden. These methods can be chemical, mechanical and sanitary.
For example, one of the mechanical methods is to apply a very sticky barrier (Tanglefoot) to a collar of fabric or heavy paper and wrap stems or trunks with it. If you leave a single access point, the ants will get stuck to it and die.
- Works for gypsy moths, cankerworms, weevils, ants, caterpillars,...
- Long-lasting and weatherproof
- Ready-to-use in several sizes
- Also available in an easy-to-use kit
- This sticky solution provides a protective barrier for trees
This works best for trees, but also always trim down the branches to leave them only that one access point.
You can always use ant baits with slow-acting insecticides, there are many on the market, and they will not directly harm your plants in the garden.
- Metal Ant Killer Bait: Attracts and kills many different species...
- Food Lure Ant Bait: The child-resistant metal bait stations use 4...
- How it Works: Worker ants carry and share the bait with the rest...
- Quick Results: Starts killing worker ants within 24 hours; you...
- Usage: Homeplus Ant Killer AB baits are great for getting rid of...
Natural Home Remedy – Hot Water
The most straightforward method to get rid of the ant hills is just pouring hot water directly into the anthill, and you will get rid of the ants.
Make sure to think twice before attempting to kill the insects, as you might as well get rid of the ‘good’ lads that contribute to the ecosystem in many ways.
Related: How to Get Rid of Ants | Safe and Effective Methods
What Can the Sudden Appearance of Ants in Garden Indicate?
You never seemed to have ants in your garden, and suddenly, a bunch of these fellows is running around and annoying you?
The sudden change can indicate that mealybugs, aphids, and other insects are attacking your plants. Have you spotted a line of ants running up and down the tree, for example? Because aphids and mealybugs produce honeydew (a substance that ants adore), they become a target for the ants.
Once the ants stroke the aphids, for example, they will excrete the honeydew. The ants will then swallow the substance and store it in their crop (a special place in their stomach). After that, the ants bring the honeydew back to the nest a feed the workers and the queen.
Like some types of caterpillars, ants can keep aphids in their nests and give them shelter in exchange for honeydew.
In such a case, the ants shouldn’t become your target as they act only as an indication of a bigger problem. Mealybugs or aphids are the things that you would want to deal with if you want your garden to remain healthy.
Thankfully, the majority of ants are good for your garden. They aerate the soil, protect your garden from herbivores, act as seed dispensers, and are an important part of food webs. However, do remember that there are types of ants that can be harmful not only to your garden but also to your house.
List of Sources
Ants Are Ecologically Beneficial, Iowa State University
Jessica Tay Ying Ling, Ants Can Feed Plants, Arizona State University School of Life Sciences
Williamson J., Controlling Fire Ants in the Vegetable Garden, Clemson University
Cremer, S., Ugelvig, L. V., Drijfhout, F. P., Schlick-Steiner, B. C., Steiner, F. M., Seifert, B., … Boomsma, J. J. (2008), The evolution of invasiveness in garden ants, Department of Biology, University of Copenhagen
Farji-Brener A., Werenkraut V., The effects of ant nests on soil fertility and plant performance: a meta‐analysis, Journal of Animal Ecology, British Ecological Society