The chances are high that you will experience negative emotions towards ants, in case you encounter the insects in your garden. The ugly anthills ruin the whole garden view and the ants in garden themselves don’t look too friendly. However, experts recommend thinking twice before getting rid of ants in your garden.
So, are ants good for plants in your garden? Yes, ants are good for plants and gardens in general. A lot of ants play a very important role in keeping your garden healthy. They aerate the soil, redistribute nutrients and are part of the garden food chain but not every type of ants are good to have in the garden.
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 that 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, there are certain species that 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 any 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 little damage (or none) to your plants, these insects live in rotting wood and can become a real problem, if your house gets infested with them. This is why it recommended to get rid of them.
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, so that’s a great bonus as well.
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 and that makes a great 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, a lot of 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 heart, and a lot of woodland spring wildflowers. In fact, it looks like 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 really like the nectar that they can find it on plant stems (however, they are not attracted to the nectar found in the actual flowers). This fact makes the ants amazing plant protectors. The ants will ‘patrol’ the plants that 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 the plants and are rewarded with food. In fact, some plants have special structures that can become a shelter for ants.
Ants Can Help With Adding More Butterflies and Birds in Your Garden
Even though ants may attack other insects at times (and even eat their bodies), there are creatures that might benefit from these ant habits. Some caterpillars produce a sweet substance (honeydew) in order to attract ants. In such a case, the ants can become caterpillar protectors.
They might choose to ‘farm’ the caterpillar and carry it into the nest. As a result, the caterpillar gets a chance to 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 a wide range of other insects that might attack your garden and lawn. However, the ants themselves can also become food for a lot of other creatures. Insects, birds, and mammals eat ants. That’s why they are an incredibly important part of various food webs.
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, in order to have access to honeydew. However, ants can also protect the pests from predators. So you might end up with different unwanted insects in your garden.
You Might Not Like the Anthills
Anthills don’t really cause any damage and they 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 really mind a few ants running around in their garden. But sometimes the growth of the colony might get out of control. If there are too many ants, then their tunnels might end up harming the root systems of your plants.
However, even in such a case using a pesticide is not the best option, as you might harm your beloved plants as well. 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, there are certain types that might cause problems. Like fire or carpenter ants, for example. So, make sure to 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 method is that you can apply a very sticky barrier (Tanglefoot) to a collar of fabric or heavy paper and wrap stems or trunks with it. In case you manage to 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
- 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 in order to leave them only that one access point.
You can always use ant baits with slow-acting insecticides, there are many of them on the market and they will not directly be harmful to your plants in the garden.
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Natural Home Remedy – Hot Water
The most simple method to get rid of the ant hills is just pouring hot water directly to the ant hill and you will directly 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.
What Can Sudden Appearance of Ants in Garden Indicate?
You never seemed to have ants in your garden and then suddenly there is a whole bunch of these fellows running around and annoying you?
Well, such a sudden change can indicate the presence of mealybugs, aphids, and other insects that are attacking your plants. Have you spotted a line of ants that are running up and down the tree, for example? Due to the fact that 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, that ants bring the honeydew back to the nest a feed the workers and the queen.
Just like with 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.
Are ants good for your garden? Thankfully, the majority of ants really 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 for your garden but also for your house. Moreover, too many ants can cause some problems as well. So, what you would want to do is always keep an eye on the insects that live in your garden. Best of luck!
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