Are Ants in the Garden a Bad Thing?

Are Ants in Garden a Bad Thing

Ants in your garden can be good or bad depending on the context and kind of ants. They aerate the soil by digging tunnels, act as natural predators against garden pests, and even help decompose organic matter.

On the flip side, they make large colonies in soil that can damage root systems. Some species can even harm plants by sucking their juices.

For a more in-depth explanation of whether ants are friends or foes, read on! We’ve even thrown in a helpful guide on how to control ants in your garden. 

Benefits of Ants in Raised Garden Beds

1. Soil Aeration

Soil Aeration
Image: The Seed Collection

Ants like to excavate and tunnel into the soil, creating several small but greatly beneficial passageways that help improve the soil’s aeration. This helps introduce oxygen deeper into the soil, which is key for healthy root respiration.

Aside from that, these channels also help improve drainage by giving excess water an exit route. Without this, you risk your soil becoming waterlogged and eventually suffocating the roots of your plants.

Overall, these burrows make it easier for your plant’s roots to access water, air, and nutrients.

2. Soil Turnover

Soil Turnover
Image: BBC

Just as it sounds, ants do a great job at mixing all of the different soil layers. Thanks to their tunneling, they bring up nutrients from the deeper layers to the surface, helping to distribute nutrients more evenly.

Aside from that, their activity also helps aggregate the soil, loosening it up and making it easier for roots to penetrate. This helps reduce compaction and improves the soil’s overall structure.

So, having your soil constantly moving, even by a little, gives a hand at making it more fertile and loose.

3. Decomposition of Organic Matter

Decomposition of Organic Matter
Image: WIRED

Did you know that many ant species are omnivorous? This means that they can eat virtually any kind of plant or animal, whether it is fungi or dead insects.

Since they’re known to forage for organic matter, they help break them down into smaller pieces that have a larger surface area for micro bacteria to decompose. 

Over time, this also helps with nutrient recycling because organic matter travels from their nests to various parts of the garden.

4. Pest Control

Pest Control
Image: Science in the Classroom

Ants are also great natural predators as they can protect your garden from pests such as caterpillars. As territorial bugs, they will guard their nests from slugs, snails, and other creatures trying to attack them. 

They’re also known to eat larvae, helping to control the pest population. Since they actively hunt for food, they’re instinctively drawn to the presence of pests nearby. 

With ants around, you have a natural pest detection system. However, you have to keep your ant population in check, too, as they can become invasive in unmanageable numbers.

5. Pollination

Pollination
Image: Learn About Nature

While not your go-to pollinators, ants can spread pollen as they stick to their bodies and transfer to other flowers while they’re collecting nectar and other sources of food. 

The same goes for seeds as ants will often gather these to bring to their nests. As they travel around, these seeds are dispersed all over the garden. 

So while not actively pollinating or as efficient as bees, they’re still considered secondary pollinators by helping out by even a little bit.

6: Garden Health Indicators

Garden Health Indicators
Image: Pollinators

In case you didn’t know, ants are pretty accurate indicators of your garden’s health. A thriving ant population tells you that your ecosystem is in good shape as they indicate your garden has ample species diversity and supply of resources.

Having said that, if you notice a decline in your ant population size or changes in their behavior this could also mean that there are environmental stressors that are affecting their welfare and, possibly, other critters and plants.

Nevertheless, you may want to observe if your ant population size is too aggressive or invasive as this could disrupt the balance.

Ways Ants Can Harm Your Garden

Ways Ants Can Harm Your Garden
Image: Avon Pest Control

Having a healthy number of ants in your garden shouldn’t be a cause for concern. However, they can become a nuisance when they aren’t behaving right and become invasive.

1. Increase Aphid Population

Increase Aphid Population
Image: Medium

Contrary to popular belief, ants don’t attack aphids. In fact, they have a  symbiotic relationship because these sap-sucking pests secrete honeydew, a sugary substance that ants just can’t get enough of.

With a constant supply of this sweet treat, there’s no way ants will get rid of aphids. This will lead the aphid population to skyrocket as they continue to feed on the sap of your plants and transmit diseases.

A large aphid population will mean that you cannot solely rely on natural rest control. While using pesticide is effective, this could be detrimental to the health of nearby plant life.

2. Weaken Plant Roots

Weaken Plant Roots
Image: CID Bio-Science

When ants tunnel aggressively, they can disturb root growth and development, especially in younger plants that don’t have established roots yet. If not stopped early, they could even excavate right through roots.

Aside from that, they can build nests in the soil which can hinder roots from absorbing nutrients, oxygen, and water. This could also affect the plant’s structural stability, making it prone to toppling over or uprooting during stormy or windy weather.

3. Seed Damage

Seed Damage
Image: Science

As natural foragers, ants will eat nearly anything in its path and that includes the seeds you’ve been planting, especially small and fleshy ones that have nutrient-rich appendages called elaiosomes. 

Without any intervention, this could lead to fewer plants that will germinate and grow. So if you’ve been wondering why the seeds you planted a couple of weeks ago never sprouted, this could be the answer you’ve been searching for. 

4. Competition with Other Insects

Competition with Other Insects
Image: Pinterest

As opportunistic feeders, ants will take on any chance to prey on small, unsuspecting critters in your garden. Naturally competitive creatures, ants will target any insect, such as beetles, spiders, and ladybugs, among others.

Without these beneficial creatures in your garden, it could disrupt the ecological balance of your garden. Aside from that, without any protection, your garden is susceptible to pests like aphids and lacewings.

5. Too Much Tunneling 

Too Much Tunneling 
Image: Pinterest

While excessive tunneling may not sound that bad given that ants are aerating the soil, too much excavation can make your soil too loose, which can compromise its structural integrity.

As a result, your plant’s roots could face difficulties trying to anchor itself into the soil.

On top of that, it can also cause the soil to dry up as the water evaporates faster than it can pass through the soil. The lack of moisture and nutrients can cause your plant to lose its vigor.

6. Property Damage

Property Damage
Image: Gold Coast Pest Services

Generally, ants aren’t destructive creatures, but there are certain species, like army and leafcutter ants, that are known to destroy vegetative crops. Meanwhile, carpenter ants are known to tunnel into wood, destroying infrastructure and furniture. 

On top of that, ants can ruin your garden’s landscape by creating mounds that disrupt the root system of your plants along with the local ecosystem. If already out of hand, DIY methods won’t work so you’ll have to hire professional pest control.

While not all ant species are harmful, it’s still recommended to control their population to avoid large colonies that will eventually become an invasive nuisance.

How to Control Ants in Your Garden

How to Control Ants in Your Garden
Image: ABC

If you’ve got an ant infestation that’s gotten too out of hand, there are several DIY methods you can do before calling in the professionals. Here’s our informative step-by-step guide!

1. Create Physical Barriers

Create Physical Barriers
Image: Kiwicare
DifficultyEasy | ●●○○○
SpeedFast
Things You NeedDouble-sided tape, petroleum jelly, or food-grade diatomaceous earth

One of the easiest ways to keep ants out of your garden is to block off any entrances with double-sided tape or petroleum jelly. To be extra safe, you can create barriers around specific pots and plants that the ants are attracted to.

For extra measure, we suggest using food-grade diatomaceous earth as this damages the ants’ exoskeleton. This will make certain that they won’t set foot in your garden again.

What To Do:
Find out where your ants are coming from.Observe which entryway in your garden the ants are coming from. 
Apply a generous amount of double-sided tape, petroleum jelly, or food-grade diatomaceous earth.
Monitor to see if there are less ants in your garden.If you notice a decline in ant visitors, then it means that your project is a success. Otherwise, you may need to repeat Step #2.  
Repeat as needed, especially after rain. 

2. Remove Attractants

Remove Attractants
Image: The Attic Pest Authority
DifficultyEasy | ●●○○○
SpeedAverage
Things You NeedCleaning supplies

Ants are always on the hunt for the next food source they can bring back to their nest. In fact, they have a strong sense of smell that can detect even the smallest sliver of food. 

So if your garden has a ton of spilled sweet beverages, crumbs, and grease residue, then it’s no surprise that the ants there are in heaven.

Thus, the only way to get rid of them is to remove the source, which means cleaning. While this isn’t everyone’s favorite chore on the list, sometimes you just have to do what you got to do.

What To Do:
Remove all of the furniture and pots in your garden to give you a clean slate to work on.
Start by removing all of the large pieces of debris.
Then, sweep up the smaller pieces of dirt.
Using a pressure washer or hose and brush, clean the floor of your garden.
Use plant-friendly soap and water for spots that have grease residue.
Thoroughly rinse the area with water.
Put all your items back.

3. Apply Neem Oil at Entry Points

Apply Neem Oil at Entry Points
Image: Positive Bloom
DifficultyEasy | ●●○○○
SpeedFast
Things You NeedNeem oil
Water
Spray bottle

Neem is a popular horticultural oil in the gardening world thanks to its natural repelling properties. Its strong scent disrupts the pheromone trails of ants, which they need to communicate and navigate.

On top of that, neem oil contains azadirachtin, a compound that’s known to interfere with the reproductive function of ants. 

For its full effect, you can spray neem directly onto ants as they’re toxicity can interfere with their nervous system and eventually kill them.

What To Do:
Find out where your ants are coming from.Observe which entryway in your garden the ants are coming from. Look for all of their trails, too.
Create your neem and water mixture and transfer into a spray bottle.
Generously spray your mixture onto their trails, cracks in the walls, gaps in structures, and around pots.
Monitor to see if there are less ants in your garden.If you notice a decline in ant visitors, then it means that your project is a success. Otherwise, you may need to repeat Step #3.  
Repeat as needed, especially after rain. 

4. Spray a Soap and Water Mix on Ant Trails

Spray a Soap and Water Mix on Ant Trails
Image: The Pest Informer
DifficultyEasy | ●●○○○
SpeedFast
Things You NeedLiquid dish soap
Water
Spray bottle
Bucket 

If you’re looking for a tried and tested ant killer with items that you already have on hand, then this method’s for you.

While seemingly harmless, dish soap and water combined can actually suffocate ants. Similar to neem oil, the soapy mixture prevents ants from breaking in oxygen by plugging their exoskeleton spiracles.

Though, keep in mind that the soapy solution isn’t an instant killer. It’ll take a while to knock down the ants’ natural defense mechanism, but it’ll work nevertheless.

What To Do:
In a bucket, mix 1 to 2 teaspoons of liquid dish soap with a gallon of warm water.
Transfer into a spray bottle.
Find out where your ants are coming from.Observe which entryway in your garden the ants are coming from. Look for all of their trails, too.
Spray directly onto the pathways and ants’ bodies.
Monitor to see if there are less ants in your garden.If you notice a decline in ant visitors, then it means that your project is a success. Otherwise, you may need to repeat Step #4.  
Repeat as needed, especially after rain. 

5. Spray a Vinegar and Water Solution on Ant Trails

Spray a Vinegar and Water Solution on Ant Trails
Image: lacienciadelcafe.com
DifficultyEasy | ●●○○○
SpeedFast
Things You NeedWhite vinegar
Water
Spray bottle
Bucket 

The key to ensuring that this method works is to use white vinegar because this contains acetic acid, which is the star ingredient for repelling ants. 

Vinegar’s chemical compounds disrupt the pheromones that ants leave in their trails, playing with their ability to communicate and navigate.

Apart from that, vinegar’s strong smell masks the scent of food sources in your garden, making them less likely to go around and forage on your property.

What To Do:
In a bucket, mix a 1:1 ratio of white vinegar and water.
After diluting, transfer the mixture into a spray bottle.
Find out where your ants are coming from.Observe which entryway in your garden the ants are coming from. Look for all of their trails, too.
Spray directly onto the pathways and ants’ bodies.
Monitor to see if there are less ants in your garden.If you notice a decline in ant visitors, then it means that your project is a success. Otherwise, you may need to repeat Step #4.  
Repeat as needed, especially after rain. 

6. Use Ant Bait

Use Ant Bait
Image: Maggie’s Farm Products
DifficultyEasy | ●●○○○
SpeedSlow
Things You NeedAnt bait

The way ant bait works is by, well, baiting ants into bringing it back to their colony to share with the queen and other members. 

Keep in mind that this is a slow-acting method that will eliminate members of the colony gradually. Hence, it’s important to be patient, provide a continuous supply of bait, and allow it to do its job.

It’s vital that you don’t kill any of the foraging ants as they’re key to ensuring that the bait gets to the colony.

What To Do
Identify what kind of ant species you’re dealing with.Finding out beforehand what kind of ant species you have determines what type of bait you’ll need. 
Clean the area. Ensure that the area is spick and span, clear of any other food source that will entice the ants to choose that instead of the bait.
Wear disposable gloves when handling the bait.It’s important to wear gloves because your scent could transfer onto the bait.
Put the bait in areas that are near any plant activity.The best places to put bait are along crevices, holes, dark spaces, and any entry and exit points. Be cautious that these gel baits aren’t in the way
It’s vital that any area that you’re putting bait in is inaccessible to pets and children.

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