If you have an ant infestation in your vegetable garden, then you know how annoying they can be. If you’re like most people, you’re probably wondering how to get rid of the ants, and fast. I did a little research to find out the best ways to do just that.
So, how do you get rid of ants in your vegetable garden? Cornmeal is a completely safe, tried and true method, but it takes some time to kill ants with this method. Diatomaceous earth is an alternative way to quickly kill ants, but it can also harm beneficial insects in your garden.
In fact, there are many methods you can use to get rid of ants in your vegetable garden. Which method you use will depend on how quickly you want the ants gone and whether you have pets or children around.
Let’s start with an explanation of why ants are harmful to your garden. Then, we’ll look at some of the types of ants you might see in your garden. At the end, we’ll go over the methods to get rid of ants in your vegetable garden. Feel free to skip to that part now if you want.
Why Are Ants Harmful to Your Vegetable Garden?
Ants can cause damage to your vegetable garden in a few different ways – some of them direct and some indirect.
You might be wondering what aphids are and what they have to do with ants and gardens. Aphids are little green insects that feed on the sap inside plants.
Aphids will quickly reproduce, and enough of them can kill a plant. The aphids will then spread to other nearby plants in your garden to continue feeding and reproducing.
Aphids secrete a sweet solution, which ants find irresistible. Ants will actually farm aphids in order to get access to more of this sweet secretion.
The aphids produce the secretion for the ants, and in return, the ants protect the aphids from predators. This is a symbiotic relationship between the ants and aphids, but it is a disaster for you and your vegetable garden!
For more information, check out my article on how to get rid of aphids.
Aphids aren’t the only ones that can eat plants in your garden. Sometimes, ants will eat the seeds, roots, or leaves of some of your plants. They are more likely to go after young, tender plants – right after you plant them, when they are most vulnerable to damage.
Ants love sugar, so anything sweet is a big target for them, including berries and fruits like apples, pears, or peaches.
Stepping on an ant hill and being attacked by ants is not only painful, but also humiliating. Not that I know this from experience or anything … ahem.
Anyway, if you bother the ants by stepping on their anthill or invading their “turf”, they will crawl up your body and try to bite you. I find that ants usually go for the neck – pretty ruthless if you ask me.
As you can imagine, trying to garden while being bitten by ants is not fun. I would say an ant bite is a lot more painful than a mosquito bite, and a lot harder to ignore while working.
Types of Ants You Might See in Your Vegetable Garden
There are many different types of ants you might see in your garden, but here are a few of the more common ones.
Black Garden Ant
These ants are probably the most common. They tend to farm aphids, which will make it harder for your plants to survive. I have also been attacked by these ones after stepping on or close to their mounds (anthills), so be careful if they show up in your garden.
These ants like to chew through wood, and this can be a real problem for many gardeners and homeowners. They can make quick work of any wooden structure, including raised beds, greenhouses, trellises, sheds, or even houses! They can also weaken trees on your property.
Red Fire Ant
These ants probably have the most painful bite out of the three mentioned here. After biting, you will get an itchy, stinging, burning sensation where you were bitten. Steer clear of them!
How to Get Rid of Ants in Your Vegetable Garden
At this point, you know why ants are bad for your garden, and which ones you are likely to see. It’s time to roll up our sleeves and get to work on removing them from the garden! Here are all the methods I could find to get rid of ants in your vegetable garden.
Using cornmeal to get rid of ants in a garden is a well-known method. All you need to do is sprinkle the cornmeal around your garden – ideally near the anthills, if you can find them.
The ants will take the cornmeal back home and eat it. However, they cannot digest the cornmeal, and so they will slowly starve over time.
The best part is that cornmeal is perfectly safe for pets or children. If you are worried about using chemicals in your yard, then this is the anti-ant solution for you.
The only drawback to using cornmeal is that it is slow to work. The ants will still be in your garden for a while as they start to eat the cornmeal. Also, you may need to apply the cornmeal repeatedly, especially if the rain washes it away.
This method works much more quickly than cornmeal. Instead of waiting for ants to starve, diatomaceous earth will kill them by dehydration.
Diatomaceous earth is a white powder, which you can find online or at a garden center. The powder is “sharp”, and when ants walk over it, they will get tiny cuts on their bodies.
The ants will then lose water through these cuts, eventually dying of dehydration.
You can apply diatomaceous earth directly on and around ant mounds, so that ants are forced to walk over it when leaving or returning to their home.
If you cannot find any ant mounds, then you can apply diatomaceous earth in circles around your plants, but this is time-consuming in a large garden.
One downside to this method is that diatomaceous earth has the same effect on other insects in your garden, including beneficial ones that keep your plants safe from pests.
Finally, be careful not to breathe in borax or any other powders mentioned here, since they can hurt your lungs.
Borax & Sugar
If you are a “cut off the head of the serpent” kind of person, then this is the solution for you! Borax is a white powder, available online or at garden centers. It contains boron, which is a necessary plant nutrient.
The idea is to mix borax together with something sweet – perhaps sugar or honey. Then, leave the mixture somewhere close to the ants, where they can find it.
The workers will take the mixture back to the queen, who will eat it along with the rest of the colony. Unfortunately for the ants, the borax will kill them by disrupting their digestion.
One downside of a borax and sugar mixture is that other beneficial insects, such as pollinators, may be drawn to it and killed. Another downside is that rain will wash it away, and you may need to reapply the solution.
It is also possible to have too much of a nutrient in your soil, so excessive boron from borax can actually harm your plants. Be careful not to put too much borax close to your plants, or a heavy rain could spell disaster for them!
If you are a “scorched earth” type of person, then this is the solution for you! Simply boil water in a kettle or pot, and pour it into any ant mound you can find.
The ants will not like this, so if you are dealing with fire ants, be sure to get clear after pouring the water. Even if they don’t die right away, they will probably be injured badly enough that they won’t last long.
Some people also claim that ground cinnamon will repel ants, although it may not kill them. This method may be better used as an extra precaution to form a barrier to protect your most prized garden plants.
One benefit of using cinnamon is that it is not harmful to pets or children. However, one downside of this method is that rain will wash away the cinnamon, meaning you will have to reapply your barrier.
Cinnamon is also relatively expensive, compared to some of the other solutions on this list.
Coffee grounds are similar to cinnamon in that they are better used to form a barrier around individual plants, since the ants may not want to cross over it.
Coffee grounds are also a safe alternative to chemicals, and they are much cheaper than cinnamon. If you drink coffee anyway, then you have nothing to lose by giving it a try!
I’m not quite sure how this one works, but I will say this: I have chickens, and they will eat almost anything, except citrus (orange, lemon, and grapefruit) peels. Perhaps whatever bothers the chickens also bothers the ants.
If you boil some water with orange peels and spray it around your plants, the ants may not want to go near them. The only drawback is that rain might wash away the citrus oil.
You can also make a solution with hot peppers instead of orange peel, and spray it around your plants to keep ants away. As before, rain means you will need to reapply your solution.
A vinegar solution would work the same way as an orange peel or hot pepper solution. This is a nice, cheap way to fight ants if you have vinegar lying around.
Beneficial nematodes are tiny creatures that look like worms. They are parasites to many common garden pests, including ants. Adding them to your garden can help to keep the ant population at bay.
The best part is that there are no chemicals involved, and no danger to pets or children.
Ladybugs are another alternative method to keep ants at bay. How, you might ask? Well, remember how ants will sometimes farm aphids in your garden? (if not, read the part above where I discussed that!).
Well, ladybugs feed on aphids, so if you release ladybugs into your garden, they will have a field day. Since the ladybugs fly, the ants will have a hard time protecting the aphids.
With fewer aphids in the garden, the ants might lose interest and go bother someone else.
Plants That Repel Ants
There are also plants you can cultivate that will repel ants. I have heard that mint, onions, and marigolds will work, although there are surely others that ants might not like (hot peppers come to mind!)
If you are strategic about your planting, some of your crops may be able to protect others from ants.
Well, there you have it – all of the methods I could find. Hopefully, this article gave you some good ideas on how to get rid of ants in your vegetable garden.
If you have trouble with insects in your garden and want to take an organic approach to combat them, you can learn more about carnivorous plants in my article here.
If you have any questions, leave them in the comments below. Also, if you find that one of these methods is helpful, let me know that as well!