Ant Killer Tactics – How to Get Rid of Ants in the Garden

Last update: 4 weeks ago

8 min read

ant killer tactics

Ants. Love them or hate them, it is undeniable that they are amazing creatures. With large, complex societies, fungus-farming techniques and an empire which almost spans the entire globe, it is a blessing that they are so small and have not yet developed an overwhelming collective intelligence.

During the summer months, you may have noticed convoys of ants going to and fro in your garden. Some may have even made it into your home in search of sugar or anything else they can get their mandibles on. Like most garden pests, ants will generally do their own thing without bothering anyone else. In case they are becoming a nuisance, it is time to start asking how to get rid of ants in the garden.

What is a colony of ants?

If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battlesSun Tzu, The Art of War

This quote may be a little over-dramatic, but it does help to know a little about the pest you wish to remove.

A colony of ants, sometimes referred to as an ant society, is made up of thousands upon thousands of individual ants under the leadership of one queen. Other than the queen, there are also workers, soldiers and drones. Most species of ant build massive underground nests. These structures are incredibly complex and contain nursery rooms, farming rooms, food storage areas and even tunnels to control the airflow inside the nest.

We usually only see a few entrance mounds and small piles of fine dirt. But this is just the tip of the iceberg. Researchers in Brazil unearthed an abandoned ant nest, which covered an area of 500 sq ft and was measured to a depth of 26 ft. While nests of this size are uncommon, it does illustrate the fact that ant nests are much larger than we may initially think.

Ants and your garden

Some of the more ecologically-minded among you may be wondering if ants are beneficial to your garden or if they really cause damage to your plants.

Ants can be somewhat beneficial to your garden. Since they are predators, they hunt other insects that live in your lawn and can aid pollination while they are foraging. However, ants like to build nests around the root system of plants, which can stunt growth and leave plants more vulnerable to disease.

Quite a few species of ant also eat honeydew, which is excreted by aphids as they feast on plants. Ants have been known to protect aphids from other predators, such as ladybirds, to maintain a reliable food source. Increased aphid activity in your garden, especially when they have bodyguards, can be disastrous for plant life as they can advance unhindered through your garden, sucking out all of the tasty plant juice.

How to get rid of ants in the garden

Before morphing into Rambo and unleashing righteous fury upon the unsuspecting ants in your garden, please ask yourself the following questions:

  • Are they in an isolated area of my garden?
  • Are they a threat to me or to my family?
  • Are they a threat to my home?

There is no need to kill things just for the sake of killing them.

Now that the moralising is taken care of, let’s move on to turning you into the world’s greatest ant killer.

Looking to get rid of the little buggers inside your house? Check out Fantastic Pest Control’s article on getting rid of ants in house.

Natural methods

When it comes to ant infestations, it’s never about simply sporadically spraying their seemingly endless trails with an ant killer weapon of your choice. Na-ah, to eradicate the entire ant threat in your garden, you have to go straight for the source. The following methods have been proven to eliminate ants both outside and inside the ant nest:

  • Boiling water. The most widely known natural ant extermination method is using boiling water. Simply locate as many entrances to the nest as possible and pour boiling water inside. You may have to do this repeatedly until all of the ants are dead.
  • Dish washing liquid and oil. This method has quite a high success rate as the dish washing liquid and oil soak into the ant exoskeletons and suffocates them. All you need to do is mix half a teaspoon of liquid dish soap with one and a half teaspoons of cooking oil (olive oil and canola oil work best) with some water. Once the mixture is ready, pour some into a spray bottle to take care of ants outside the nest and then pour the rest directly into the nest.
  • Boric acid and sugar. This is possibly the most effective home remedy for getting rid of ants. Mix boric acid with sugar until it turns into a paste and then place small amounts of the paste around the entrances to the ant nest. Ants love sweet things and so they will be drawn to the paste, they will eat some and carry the rest back to the nest for the queen. Shortly after eating the sweet paste, the queen and other ants will begin to die due to the boric acid.
  • White vinegar. Pouring around 1 litre of white vinegar directly into the nest can work wonders. It is not harmful to the ground or your plants, but it will kill the ants on contact.
  • Nematodes. These microscopic worms are the natural nemesis of ants. The tiny worms will hunt and devour the ants whereas the ants will most likely search for a new nest as they cannot tolerate having their natural predator nearby.
  • Diatomaceous earth (DE). Diatomaceous earth (food-grade, mind that!) is effective against a variety of critters, both at home and in the garden. You’d better sprinkle the ants’ path or around the plants you don’t want the ants to get to. DE works well if the soil is dry. The wetter the surface is, the more time it will take to do its magic.
  • Insect-repelling plants. Various plants, especially the ones that contain essential oils, give off certain smell that puts off lots of unwanted insects, including plants. We have an article that features several plants that repel ants – check it out here.

Most natural methods don’t work immediately. It’s because of what they are – natural, meaning, the active ingredients in them are not as lethal for ants as what professional poisons will be. Therefore, if you feel the times are more dire, you can turn to the below commercial ant treatments.

Professional methods

  • Ant killer gel. Most garden centres sell an ant poison which comes in gel form. This works in the same way as boric acid and sugar. The ants are drawn to the sweet gel which is then carried into the nest for the queen to feast upon. Despite being a form of poison, the gel poses no threat to your garden or plants.
  • Ant killer poison. Powder poisons are best used against ants found indoors or near your home as they can affect plants and alter the soil due to their toxicity. If you choose to use powder poison, make sure to take some precautions beforehand, such as blocking off the poisoned area to keep pets and small children away. Spread it on a calm day as the wind may carry the poison to neighbouring gardens. Another point to keep in mind is that ants can slowly build up a resistance to the poison.
  • Professional extermination. If none of the above methods have worked and the ants have invaded your home, it may be time to consider hiring a professional to take care of the invasion.

So there we have it, your guide on how to get rid of ants in the garden. As you can see, there are many ways of killing the ants and decimating their nest, but we would urge you to seriously consider whether or not the ants are truly pests or just a mild nuisance before taking action. Otherwise, happy ant hunting!

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Did we miss anything? Do you have any tips for getting rid of ants in the garden? Let us know in the comments below or give us a shout on social media!

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14 CommentsLeave a comment

  • There are thousands of species of ants that pose different threats to humans. Some are just looking for the food. Some are looking to bite you, nasty little things. Ant bite can have different effect on different people. Some people might feel a little itching for a moment, on some it might last longer. Ant bite can also result in vomiting. You might not know how to get rid of ants but we do.

    • Thank you for your comment, Bilal, indeed, you have to be careful with ant bites there.

  • If you use any posion how soon after can you plant?
    I have a flower bed by my front porch that has two big any hills. I bought some posion to kill them today and used it this evening but I was hoping to start planting flowers but how long should I wait and Is it even safe to plant anything in the same soil now?

    • Hello Dominique,

      In most of the cases, it depends on the poison itself. There are organic-based ones that do not do any harm to plants, however, it’s important to check the instructions on the package.

      Hopefully, if what you used has a low toxicity rating, such as silica-gel based or borate-based poison. Lower toxicity means it will be even more effective since ants will not die before carrying the poison in their nest. Some of the most common low toxic poisons include sodium borate, sodium octaborate, sodium tetraborate, boric acid, borax and disodium octaborate tetrahyde. Those pose very low risk for environment and are safe around people, pets and plants.

      On the other hand, pyrethrins and pyrethrum based poisons still pose a low risk for humans, but much higher for the environment because they dry out the water supply.

      In other words – check the labels. If it says garden-safe – then it’s perfectly okay to plant.

      If the pesticide affects the soil water runoff, we recommend enriching it through composting, mulching and organic fertilisers – check the methods here.

      Let us know how it’s working out!

    • Hello Mrs Underwood,

      Actually, ants are mainly attracted to honeydew inducing insects, that might happen to have set base in your potted plants. What’s more, ants will treat this as a free feast, come often and guard those little gnats – aphids, mealybugs, whiteflies or soft scales, at all costs. However, you can use insecticidal soap to treat the plant. Sprinkle it carefully, especially on the under side of their leaves, as the buggers prefer to lay eggs there. You may have to repeat the process several times so that it’s effective.

      Another prevention method is to immediately take the potted plants outside or away from your indoor house, because that will simply spread the infestation inside your home. You can also remove any fallen leaves on the soil – they actually provide a nice cosy hiding place for ants. Check if you also treat your plants with sugar or honey-based products, those are magnet for ants.

      Hopefully with these tips you’ll have your pots ant-free. Let us know if it works out!

  • My front and back garden is invaded by them. I have a number of rose bushes and they are covered plus a big Apple tree, also covered. Going to take alot of work get rid of them….

    • Good luck Edith! Try to see if there is a way to keep living in harmony with them, for as long as they don’t do any damage to you, reside in an isolated area or enter your house, ants are fine to keep in the garden – it’s just their natural habitat. However, when it comes to ants on trees, you should be aware of several issues:

      There are just a couple of reasons why ants are attracted to trees. They are either searching for food, like honeydew left by aphids or mealy bugs, or the tree started to decay and there are holes where ants reside. Therefore, ants actually serve as a warning sign that something is wrong with the tree or there are additional pests.

      Here’s how to get rid of ants on trees quickly:

      • Sprinkle the tree with peppermint oil water-based solution. You need 30 drops max per one gallon.
      • Arrange ant baits at the base of the tree trunk.
      • Get rid of insects that feed on tree sap and produce honeydew by spraying with insecticidal soap solution.

      We mentioned above that ants don’t harm the trees, but there are exceptions. Here, we want to mention red fire ants and carpenter ants. Hopefully, that’s not the case for you, but here’s the gist of how to deal with those:

      • Red ants damage younger trees and can bite you painfully. Dome-like mounds at the tree trunk base mean that red ants reside there and you should not under any circumstances come in contact with the mound. Immediately go with an insecticide solution or another method described above in the article.
      • Carpenter ants eat away rotten trees in order to burrow their tunnels. They literally use the tree for their home, instead of a mound. If you see sawdust piles on the ground around your tree, that’s a sure sign of carpenter ants. In such a case, you can check with a tree surgeon to inspect the tree health and determine whether it needs to be taken down, since it’s rotten and might fall.

      And when it comes to roses, simply follow the procedures above. As we already mentioned oftentimes ants are attracted by honeydew producing insects so dealing with them generally keeps ants off your greenery.

      Hope it helps!

  • Hi, we have just recently bought a property and trying to resurrect a garden rockery in the back garden but in turning the soil we have discovered lots of ants. We see them on the path, on the lawn and throughout the soil.

    How can you source the nest? Don’t know where to start!
    Is there something you can treat the soil with, without causing harm to the soil or plants?

    Thanks

  • Sir, thank you for the info re weeds. & ants. You can save pounds & pounds by using ordinary house hold chemicals . I will next e-mail you when I need help with pruning my Buddleia bush, now nearly a small tree.

    Thank you once again,

    A.Hartley

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