Ants in your garden can seem like a problem, but that’s not always the case. Ants can help control other insect pests, fertilize, pollinate and even help aerate your soil.
However, they can also be problematic. Issues with ants include painful bites, damaged structures and even protect some negative insect pests.
Read on to learn about common species ants, their effects in the garden, and how to get rid of ants in the garden.
How to Get Rid of Ants in the Garden
Before you start looking for the best outdoor ant killer, it is important to first analyze the pros and cons of having ants in your garden. And second, know some of the common species found in gardens.
From here, you can use an integrated pest management plan to control your problem quickly and cost effectively. Ants are a natural pest control for many damaging garden insects.
They will attack and feed on caterpillars and termites that eat your plants. Ants will also feed on larvae and young insects, and even dead insect remains. This natural decomposition process naturally returns nutrients to your soil as ants digestion occurs.
Benefits of Ants in the Garden
Ants can also serve as beneficial pollinators. Flower nectar is an attractive sugary treat for ants. As they move from flower to flower collecting this energy rich substance, they can carry pollen from plant to plant. This natural use of pollination will ensure genetic variability and fruit production within your flowering plants.
Lastly, ants benefit the soils in your garden, which in turn, positively impacts your plants. The tunnels created by ants to move throughout their colony naturally aerate the soil.
This process helps reduce soil compaction that otherwise can crush roots. It also creates spaces where roots can expand. Ant tunnels also provide pathways for air, water and nutrients to move and be easily up taken by plant roots.
Bad Effects of Ants in the Garden
Ants can negatively impact the garden. These can include painful bites when working in your garden and destructive burrowing in wood containers. They may also be attracted to overripe fruits and vegetables.
Some species of ants have even been found to cultivate colonies of aphids that feed on your plants. Ants will protect the aphids from other insect predators. As the aphids thrive, they secrete a honeydew which then feeds the ants.
Here is our guide on how to identify aphids and how to control them.
Different Types of Ants
Fortunately though, negative impacts from ants are typically limited to a few specific species. Before eliminating all ants in your garden, you should first know if they have the potential to cause problems.
This can be done by examining areas where ants are observed, distinguishing body characteristics, and the types of foods they’re attracted to.
Fire ants are arguably one of the most problematic ants found in your garden. These aggressive ants are known for their painful bite when disturbed.
Fire ants will construct mounds adjacent to raised beds, or even within gardens. Typically, only noticed when the mounds appear, they’ve been present for a while building their numbers underground.
By the time mounds appear, the colony is very large and will quickly swarm on an unsuspected disrupter. They can also be found under wood or rocks, and cavities like walls or under foundations.
Aside from the painful bite, fire ants will also target certain fruits and vegetables. They have been reported to feed on vegetables like okra, cucumbers, and corn, as well as fruits like melons.
Fire ants will also viciously attack beneficial garden inhabitants, like earthworms. The two most common species in North America are southern fire ants and red imported fire ants.
Southern fire ants are the largest and range from ⅛ to ¼ inch. Their head and thorax (middle segment) are amber to red, while their abdomen is black.
Red imported fire ants are native to South America but have made their way north. Their head and thorax are a dark red and their abdomen is black. They range from 1/16 to ⅕ of an inch.
Fortunately, all fire ant infestations appear similar and don’t need to be distinguished to treat. When it comes to fire ant infestations, all species are treated alike.
Frequently tilling or soil disturbance can encourage fire ants to move to another area. The best method for controlling fire ants in the garden is with a fire ant bait.
Check the label on any product to ensure it can be used around gardens. Baits aren’t an overnight fix, so best apply as a preventive method. If an immediate kill is needed, use a garden approved mound drench.
However, remember that you will not likely kill the queen with this method and the mound will slowly return.
Carpenter ants live in and are attracted to damp, decaying wood. If you have raised wooden beds, or garden boxes, you will eventually have carpenter ants. Unlike termites, carpenter ants do not eat wood.
They bore out cavities to construct their nests which damage the structures. If not managed, they can even move into wooden parts of your home. You also might even see carpenter ants nesting in wood mulch around your plants.
Carpenter ants are some of the largest ants that can be found in your yard. However, they shouldn’t be feared. Due to their size (¼ to ½ inch) and strong jaws, they do have a painful bite.
However, they only bite when they feel threatened. They may not immediately be seen, and you might unknowingly disturb them while working in your garden.
For this reason, it is beneficial to remove any infestations in and around your garden. Look for these ants to be all black, or black and red.
Carpenter ants are most likely the largest ants you will come across in your garden. They can vary from ¼ to ½ inch in length. They typically do not cause any issues directly with plants in your garden.
They feed on other insects to meet their protein needs. In addition, they are attracted to sweet foods in your garden like honeydew that is secreted by aphids.
Occasionally, they may feed on fruits that are produced in your garden. Aside from the occasional bite, the biggest issues from carpenter ants come from their nests.
They will actively bore holes in rotting wood further diminishing the structural integrity. This can make raised beds and wood boxes fail, and even worse if they make it into your home.
Controlling carpenter ants in your garden is not overly difficult but does take persistence. Since carpenter ants are readily attracted to the sweet honeydew, target aphid populations in your garden.
Not only will you be reducing a food source for carpenter ants, but also eliminating plant damaging insects. In addition to reducing the attractiveness of your garden to ants, also use a proven carpenter ant killer that’s safe for your garden.
The term sugar ant is typically a catch-all term for small ants that are predominately attracted to sugary foods and found near dwellings.
Most likely they are either Argentine ants or odorous house ants. Both ant species are around ⅛ of an inch in length and have similar body characteristics.
Argentine ants are usually a lighter brown color compared to the shiny black coloration of the odorous house ant. A distinguishing characteristic between the two is the strong smell of the odorous house ant when it has been crushed.
Both species can be found in shallow mounds outside around dwellings and structures. However, the odorous house ant can also frequently be found inside your home.
Argentine ants and odorous house ants do not usually cause enough issues within the garden for concern. Attracted to sweet foods, they may be observed feeding on overripe fruit, or fruit that has been damaged.
However, aside from crawling on plants, and raising concern, there is no major issue. In fact, both species can act as important pollinators within the garden as they crawl in and out of flowers looking for food.
For these reasons, it is not recommended to actively manage these species. However, if they’ve invaded your home or garden and must be controlled, there are multiple effective sugar ant killers on the market.
Be sure to read the label of the product to ensure it can be used where you intend.
Pharaoh ants are the least likely of these four to be found in the garden, however once they invade, they are extremely difficult to control. An even bigger risk of having them around the garden is if they make it into your home.
Pharaoh ant colonies will rapidly grow and bud off to start new ones. As they spread, they will displace native ants that could be beneficial to your garden.
Pharaoh ants have even been known to transmit diseases like salmonella, and staph and strep bacteria. One characteristic of pharaoh ants is that they are difficult to find, until their colonies have reached into the hundreds of thousands.
These ants do not nest in the soil and are strictly found in structures or debris piles. Pharaoh ants love the secluded areas of walls, insulation and baseboards, as well as piles of wood and rocks.
Characterized by their constant determined search for water, pharaoh ants are distinguishable with their golden to yellow-orange color. Their max size is only around 1/16 of an inch, which adds to the difficulty of detecting them.
Pharaoh ants' insatiable drive for water should encourage you to monitor areas around sprinklers, bird baths and constantly wet areas in the garden. The best management strategy for these ants is to use bait around water sources.
Baits are slow acting, but they are more likely to eliminate the queen. After this, the mound will slowly die. Some baits are even equipped with growth regulators to further slowdown a developing colony.
Searching through the aisles of your local home and garden store for the best ant killer can be overwhelming. Ant killer not only comes in liquid, dusts and granule forms, but also the delivery method can vary.
There are mound drenches and there are baits. Plus, if you’re going to use them in your garden, which are the safest?
If all of these questions are running through your head on the best ant treatment, step back and look at the big picture. Yes, you can use an ant killer and eliminate ants, but what will keep them from coming back?
Therefore, using an integrated pest management (IPM) approach not only helps eliminate current infestations, but also prevents future ones.
Integrated Pest Management (IPM)
The first step in ant IPM is identifying the species of ant. Based on the knowledge gained above, you’re already a step ahead. The next step is deterring and preventing ants from continuing to invade your garden.
This can vary depending on the type of ants that you have. For example, if you have carpenter ants, begin by getting rid of rotting wood. Or if pharaoh ants are the problem, reduce standing water.
The final step of an integrated pest management system is to eliminate the existing ants with an appropriate ant killer. Mound drenches quickly kill any ants they come in contact with, but rarely impact the queen.
These work best if you need to eliminate the greatest number of ants in the shortest amount of time. However, remember that you will only have temporary relief. Mound drenches will not reach deep in the colony where the queen is located.
To eliminate the queen, you will need to utilize bait products. Baits are slower acting, but they will kill the queen, which will eventually eliminate the mound.
Baits can also continuously be used as a preventative measure. Baits should be used between April and October, and applied when temperatures are between 70 and 80 degrees. This is when ants are actively foraging for food.
It is important to always read the label of any ant killer before applying. The label will advise if it can be used within gardens where fruits and vegetables are harvested. If the product selected is not safe for gardens, use it as a barrier treatment to keep ants out.
Now You Know How to Get Rid of Ants in the Garden
Remember, an integrated pest management approach is going to be the quickest and most cost-effective method for eliminating and keeping ants out of your garden.
It is important to remember though that some species provide a great ecological benefit, so knowing which one you are dealing with is essential. From there, develop the best management approach and implement your plan.
There you have it, everything you need to know on how to get rid of ants in the garden.