With the exception of Antarctica, ants have colonised every landmass on earth. There are more than 30 species of ant in the UK alone.
Ants are eusocial insects, related to bees and wasps. This means that they live in a highly organised society, cooperatively taking care of their young, overlapping generations within a colony of adults and dividing labour into reproductive and non-reproductive groups.
Ants are resourceful little insects and they’re partial to a flowerpot home. Ants’ nests can contain hundreds, sometimes thousands of ants, mainly consisting of worker females and one or two queen ants. You can often spot the nests from the small piles of excavated earth that the ants leave on the ground.
Do ants harm plants in pots?
Ants can be beneficial to gardens and are an important part of the garden ecosystem. Tunnelling ants turn over as much soil as earthworms, helping to aerate the ground. They also help to control pests by feeding on their eggs and young and can unintentionally improve pollination by scurrying from flower to flower in search of nectar.
Although ants aren’t directly destructive insects, if they nest in plant pots, they can disturb the plant’s roots, leading to plant damage. They also like to ‘farm’ aphids to feed on the honeydew that aphids excrete and will protect them from predators to do so.
There’s no doubt that ants are impressive, and extremely tough, having been around since the mid-cretaceous period. Considering that they survived where the T-rex didn’t, eradicating them from your garden may not be the simplest task!
Why are ants nesting in my plant pot?
There are several reasons for ants setting up home in a plant pot. A pot provides warmth and shelter, but it can also be a great source of food if the plant is the victim of an aphid invasion.
Ants don’t like moist soil, so if your plant is in a sunny spot and infrequently watered, it will make a perfect base for a colony of ants. Old compost can also become so dry that it doesn’t retain any water, it simply flows through the pot and out of the bottom.
How to stop ants nesting in plant pots
Plant pots are attractive potential homes for ants and luckily, there are a number of ways that you can stop them from setting up a forever home in one of yours.
The most effective way to stop ants in their tracks is to use traps or bait.
If you prefer a more natural deterrent, try sprinkling coffee grounds, spices like cinnamon and pepper, or citrus rind on the soil around your plants. If ants have already invaded your pots, read on to discover how to effectively remove them.
6 Ways to remove an ants’ nest from a flower pot
There are a few tricks to removing ants from your plants, let’s look at the most effective:
1. Apply a soap solution
Spraying on a soap solution is a great way to evict your tiny tenants without the use of harmful pesticides. Add a teaspoon of washing up liquid to a pint of warm water and spray liberally on and around the plant in the evening. You can add peppermint oil for extra effectiveness as it’s a natural insect repellant. In the morning you can spray the plant with fresh water to remove any soap residue. You may need to apply the solution a few times.
You can also pour an insecticidal solution onto the plant, letting it soak right through.
2. Remove aphids
You can also try attracting aphid-eating bugs like ladybirds, hoverflies and lacewings to your garden by planting irresistible borage, dill, marigolds, mint, rosemary and thyme.
3. Add diatomaceous earth
Diatomaceous earth is a natural substance that’s non-toxic to people, pets and birds but toxic to ants, earwigs, slugs and beetles. It consists of tiny algae skeletons that have fossilized over millions of years and it’s rich in silica.
You can sprinkle the powder on the surface of affected pots or mix one cup of diatomaceous earth with 4 pints of water and spray it over the plants. It will coat the plant’s leaves and soil with a powdery residue that sticks to the ant’s feet.
4. Replace the soil
Another effective and easy way to remove an ants’ nest from your plant pot is to remove the plant and replace the soil. Carefully remove the plant from the pot and remove as much soil as you can, using water to remove the final traces. It’s a good idea to move the plant away from its intended location while you do this as there will be ants everywhere!
Remove all remaining soil from the pot and give it a wash before adding fresh soil. You can also mix potting soil with diatomaceous earth at a ratio of 20:80 earth to soil to prevent further infestation. Replace the plant and water with an insecticidal soap solution.
5. Battle them with baking soda
Did you know that bicarbonate of soda, also known as baking soda, can be an effective ant killer? Baking soda reacts with the acid in the ants’ tiny stomachs and this chemical reaction will prove fatal. It is, however, a fairly slow-acting treatment and you won’t’ see noticeable results for days, possibly even weeks. Ants will actively avoid baking soda and it can be used as an effective deterrent.
You may have heard that some ants don’t like sugar, preferring protein instead. So-called grease ants or protein ants aren’t found in the UK and, in fact, most ants aren’t especially fussy eaters and will be attracted to the sugar in traps.
To make a baking soda trap, you’ll need to disguise the bicarb by mixing it with something sweet.
To make a solution: mix 3 teaspoons of sugar to 3 teaspoons of bicarbonate of soda. Add the bicarb-sugar mix to small lids or containers which you can place in the affected plant pots. The ants will feed on the powder and take pieces down to feed the colony. It might take a few days to work on all the ants in the colony and it’s not the most effective method for removing ants but, if you have an ant problem, and a tub of baking soda handy, it’s worth a try!
6. Use natural repellants
Ants love honeydew but they can’t stand citrus, peppermint, coffee or cinnamon. Try applying any of these around the base of the plant to keep ants at bay. You can also mix your own anti-ant solution.
Concoct an orange solution by boiling the rinds of 6 oranges in water for 15 minutes, When cooled, blend the water and rinds and pour the solution over the plant.
Pouring boiling water into the plant will kill any ants you can see but it’s unlikely to reach all the ants and most will just scurry out of the way, it can also damage your plant so isn’t an advisable solution.
It may be tempting to blast ants with a pesticide spray but these are so harmful to the environment, we don’t advocate their use. They’re also often unsuitable for use on or near plants and aren’t especially effective.
Introducing natural enemies, using pesticide-free solutions and re-potting your plant if the ants’ nest is an issue should be the first line of defence.
Don’t forget, these tiny insects have survived extreme climate change, can carry 3 times their body weight and can communicate with each other through clever chemical release. Maybe it’s time to see these brilli-ant creatures in a new light.