Of all the garden pests you could find in your garden, the tiny ant is among the worst. Not for the same reasons you might dislike slugs or squirrels because ants don’t necessarily cause damage in the same way.
One thing is for sure that where there is one ant, there are thousands if not hundreds of thousands more!
Watching these little creatures scurry around is enough to make anyone feel a little itchy and uncomfortable and if you find them in your garden you might find they are more than an annoyance if they take a fancy to make their nest in your bbq and alfresco dining area.
There is no need to worry, in this article we are going to give you the definitive guide to ants and how to deal with an ant problem in your garden.
The links above will allow you to skip to the relevant section in this article but feel free to scroll through the entire guide:
How to Identify Ants
Before you try to get rid of ants, it’s a good idea to confirm you have an ant problem and what ant it is you’re dealing with.
Ants are an incredibly large and varied species. There are over 12000 all across the world and they vary in size in colour. Unbelievably, in the UK alone, there are over 50 species that live in all kinds of places.
Even then we don’t need to worry about most of these varieties. In this article we will focus on the species of ant that live in your garden or that might cause you a problem.
There are three main types of ants to talk about and two of these can be commonly found in your garden:
The Black Ant
The black ant (also known as Lasius Niger) is by far the type of ant you will be used to seeing the most. They might be called the black garden ant but their bodies are actually a dark brown in colour.
These ants live in huge colonies and can make their home in the ground, under your patio, in cracks in walls, in tree stumps and in almost any location you can think of in the garden. One nest might have tens of thousands of ants in the colony which is in part why you see so many of them.
You may also have multiple colonies in your garden to deal with. They are also one of the more aggressive types of ants in the UK but this aggression is aimed at other ants rather than other creatures. They can eat all types of food but they have a particular love for sugary human treats.
The Red Ant
The next common variety of ant you might find in your garden is the red ant (also called Myrmica Ruginodis). These are a little less common to come across because they tend to live in smaller colonies of only a few hundred ants.
They tend to prefer wooded areas but can make homes under rocks and in small mounds on your lawn. The biggest problems with these ants are that they have a nasty sting. It isn’t dangerous to most people but it will still hurt enough for you to notice. Not fantastic if they have made their home in your lawn where your children play.
The Carpenter Ant
Another type of ant to worry about is the carpenter ant. These may not be commonly found in your garden but they are worth a mention because if you do end up with an infestation then this can wreak havoc in your home.
Carpenter ants are black in colour and they like to make their homes in damp wood and this is where the problem occurs. They can nest in wooden buildings like sheds and from here migrate into your home.
If you are wondering why ants are only a problem in the summer it’s because they actually become dormant throughout the colder months and then as soon as the weather heats up they wake up and become a hive of activity until autumn comes around again.
How to Get Rid Of Ants
When it comes to getting rid of ants there are a lot of options. Ants are persistent and you may have to try out a few options until you find the one that works. This is especially true if these pesky ants have made their way into your home.
When there is easy access to food they will certainly try their hardest to keep on coming back. It can take a while to get rid of them so you need to be patient and be persistent. Keep treating the problem until the ants have disappeared.
Here are 8 of the best options for getting rid of your ant problem:
This is the go-to solution to get rid of ants. The most common type of ant poison is ant powder or granules. You can use these in the house but more importantly, you can use them in the garden too. Sprinkle the powder straight onto the nests to kill the ants at the source or sprinkle it in the places they are making their trails.
If they have invaded your home then you can also sprinkle the powder across doorways and around cracks in walls where they are making their way in. You do need to be careful if you have young children or pets as the poison could also be harmful to them. Make sure you read the packaging and follow any warnings when you use ant powder.
Avoid Ant Powder!
Please think twice about using ant powder as it can be harmful to beneficial bugs such as bees!
Another type of poison you can use is an ant spray. Spray the areas the ants tend to walk and they will pick up the poison onto their feet and take it back into the nest. This means you are also killing the nest as well as the ants causing you a problem.
Ant Traps or Bait Stations
These are a fantastic way to kill off the entire nest. These ant traps don’t trap the ants inside but they do attract them to it with the promise of highly sugary foods. The ants collect the food and then take it back to the nest.
The food contains ant poison and once it has entered the nest it can kill off the whole colony.
If you prefer a more natural approach then invest in some diatomaceous earth. If you get human grade then it is suitable for human and animal consumption so even if you have children or pets then it shouldn’t cause too much of a problem.
Diatomaceous earth works by absorbing the oils the ant has in its skeleton. This dries them out and dehydrates them. Whilst this is a relatively safe method you still need to take care because it is incredibly drying and considered an irritant if it gets on your skin or you breathe it in.
Detergent and Soap
Spray the areas ants have been travelling with either a glass cleaner or liquid detergent. This eliminates the pheromone trails that ants leave behind so the ants can’t follow it and keep coming back.
This one seems to work although it doesn’t do anything to kill off the nest so there is no guarantee the ants won’t find their way back again.
Another natural option to try is pepper. Try black or cayenne pepper and sprinkle it over the nest or around the areas you want to deter the ants. Ants hate the scent of pepper and it irritates them so they will avoid these areas.
This Won’t KILL Ants
This option won’t kill the ants but if you are only looking to deter them then this should be enough.
There are a variety of essential oils you can try to get rid of ants in the garden. Ants dislike anything with too strong an aroma. Mix a few drops into a spray bottle with some water and spray the areas you want to get rid of the ants. Try these oils:
- Peppermint Oil
Peppermint oil orks as a repellent and the bonus is that it can work with other pests too.
- Tea Tree Oil
Tee tree can both repel and kill ants making it a fantastic option. Be careful if you have pets because it can also be harmful to other animals.
- Citrus and Eucalyptus Scents
But citrus and eucalyptus are natural insect repellents. It isn’t just ants that dislike this oil. You can repel wasps, mosquitoes and all sorts of pests.
- Cinnamon Leaf Oil
This is a less common essential oil but it contains trans-cinnamaldehyde which can kill ants effectively.
If you don’t have essential oils to hand then you can use a drop of white vinegar. It works in a very similar way. All you need to do is dab a little onto a cloth and wipe the areas where ants are following their trails.
This hides the scent of their pheromone trail and can also kill any ants you directly touch with the vinegar.
If you can track the ants back to their nest you should be able to spot the hole in the ground they leave and enter the nest from. Pour some boiling water directly into the hole to kill off a large proportion of the colony quickly and in one go.
Whilst this may work in the short term you may find it doesn’t work forever. Ants have very large colonies and you can’t ever be sure to get the water through the whole nest. So if you use this method spend some time getting as many ant holes as you can.
How to Prevent Ants
As with many types of garden pest, you can often have more success with preventing the problem in the first place rather than trying and get rid of ants once they have taken hold in your garden.
There are a number of preventative measures you can take to avoid having an ant problem in future.
Avoid Leaving Food Out
Ants, especially black ants, love sweet human treats. Leaving crumbs on the floor after having a BBQ or even a cake in the garden will attract ants. Worker ants will sniff out any morsels you’ve left for them and before you know it, their colony will have set up camp in your garden.
After eating outside, make sure you sweep the area of any crumbs to avoid attracting ants.
Ants love aphids. Ants do not actually eat aphids but they milk them for the honeydew that they excrete. This honeydew is sweet tasting to ants and ants certainly have a sweet tooth.
If you have an aphid problem then you’re also going to end up with an ant problem. If your aphid problem is minor, then removing them from your plants by hand is one way of preventing ants in the first place. You can also remove aphids from problem plants with a blast of a water/soap solution.
Plant Ant-Repelling Plants
When discouraging ants, you need to play with their sense of smell. Ants use scents to communicate. If you can mask their scent with strong-smelling plants then this can encourage them to move along to another area – and hopefully another garden. Some strong-smell plants include:
If you’re going to plant mint in the garden, it may work to deter ants but it will also take over your garden if you plant it in the ground. Instead, make sure you plant it in pots to avoid it taking over.
The benefits of planting lavender are bountiful. It will deter pests. It will attract beneficial bugs. It looks great. It smells fantastic. What more could you want?
Catnip is incredibly strong-scented which is why it can play with an ant’s sense of smell. However, if you are also dealing with other annoying animals in the garden such as cats then this is best avoided as they will be attracted to it.
When it comes to getting rid of ants, it’s much like getting rid of any pest: Prevention is the best approach to start with. Ants will go where there is a source of food so ensuring your garden doesn’t contain any food is a great start.
If you do have an ant problem then there are a range of deterrents you can try – many of which are natural. Essential oils, black pepper and soap can all work to get rid of them. If those don’t work then you may have to try ant powder or ant traps instead.