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Natural Way to Keep Ants off Plants

Ants are a normal and almost certain aspect of gardening, how do we keep them at bay without harsh chemical applications?

It seems inevitable: We plant our gardens, spring and summer settle in and things seem to be going swell…until we begin to notice those telltale mounds with trails of pesky ants beginning to take over. It often feels as though one day they were not there, the next our gardens and the lovely produce we have worked so hard to grow, is covered in ants.

There is a fine line between a few beneficial ants, and an army covering everything in sight. While it is almost impossible to deter 100% of the ants determined to move in, it is important to remember that in some ways, ants are somewhat beneficial to the garden, as they help aerate the soil.

When the scales tips from a few small ant hills to a full blown urban development, it is time to look at natural ways to get rid of the vast majority in order to protect our plants.

Fresh herbs in four clay pots

What plants help deter ants?

One of our best defenses can begin with what type of plants work well to deter ants. The dual benefit is that many of these plants may be ones you already want in your garden. Several herbs fit the bill when it comes to keeping ants at bay, and many of them are absolutely lovely additions to any garden. The options include:

  • Rosemary
  • Lavender
  • Catnip
  • Peppermint
  • Mint
  • Thyme
  • Tansy

In addition to the herbs that act as an organic repellent, planting garlic in your garden offers great protection against these pests as well.

Close up of sprouting garlic cloves on a brown table

I have several of the plants listed above in my garden already, but am still battling ants…now what?

When an ant population begins to get out of control and even ant repelling plants aren’t doing enough, it’s time to consider trying natural remedies which are plant, pet and human safe but are effective in cutting down on the number of ants. Listed below are several options for natural deterrents beyond plants that are readily available and easy to apply in your garden.

  • Cinnamon – sprinkling cinnamon over your garden is effective (but slightly more expensive than other options)
  • Lemon Juice – dilute lemon juice with water (50/50) and spray liberally. The lemon destroys the scent trail ants depend on for survival.
  • Vinegar – similar to lemon juice, a 50/50 vinegar to water concentration will destroy the ants scent trail as well as often killing ants on contact. Test a small spot first and wait a day to take note of any burn marks on the plants, as vinegar can be very astringent to more delicate leaves.
  • Cayenne or Black Pepper – both of these options may be applied directly to the soil or can be mixed into a water solution (2 tablespoons per 1 cup of water) and sprayed on your garden. Like the vinegar option, test a small area and wait a day to take note of the potential damage of the pepper spray to more delicate leaves.
Close up of diatomaceous earth on wooden surface

I have heard some people recommend organic food grade diatomaceous earth to repel ants, what is it?

Diatomaceous earth (often referred to as DE) is simply a talc like powder (picture the consistency of baking powder) that is the fossilized remains of marine phytoplankton. While this may make you hesitate, it is actually a very effective and very safe method of deterring pests in your garden and is quite effective with ants.

Many people are shocked to discover we actually eat DE more often than we realize. It is present in many grain based foods due to its ability to aid in the storage of these foods to keep bugs from eating the grains and is 100% safe for human consumption.

You can readily find a quality organic diatomaceous earth at almost any garden supply store or online. To apply DE, simply apply it directly to hills and trails. To help prevent ants from the outset, sprinkle DE around the perimeter of your garden occasionally throughout the growing season.

Remember that while pests are a normal part of gardening, and ants are some of the most common, they don’t have to be hard to manage. Following any of these ant control methods will aid in a happier, healthier garden for you and your plants!

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Image of ant touching a tomato
fresh lavendar growing in a clay pot and basil in a grey pot

4 Comments

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    • Hi Donna! Ants are industrious little critters and when they want something they can be relentless. A couple of natural remedies that people have used to keep them out of an area are the diatomaceous earth, sprinkle it around the area you want to keep them out of, you can also follow them back to their home and sprinkle it there. Some have mixed powder sugar with the DE sprinkle it around their anthill, so the ants ingest it. Using oils like tea tree and citronella, these oils can make it difficult for the ants to navigate and transmit. You can clean your surfaces with it but also find their entry point and put the oil there. Another method is to give them a food source using water, honey, or sugar in a box near their home. Once they find it, you keep moving it away from where you want them to be. We hope one of these methods helps. Good luck!

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