When you look at your beautiful bromeliad plant and you notice tiny crawling creatures on its surface, like ants, your first thoughts are “why are they there?” and “how can I get rid of them?” Don’t fret, there’s a fix for everything.
An ant crawling on your potted plants or on your houseplants isn’t a threat to your plants; they are a nuisance, however.
If you’d like to solve the problem naturally, you can do so without chemical pesticides or chemicals.
If you have potted plants that are being attacked by ants, one of the easiest and most convenient methods is to use essential oils (thyme, yarrow, lavender or citrus), pour a few drops in water, then spray the plant, soil, and pot.
What can you do to get ants to leave your potted plants, why your plants are attracting them, and can you keep them away? Read on.
Why Are Ants In My Plants, Pots And Soil?
There are a few reasons why ants may crawl around your house plants, some natural and some related to you, your home, and where you live. Understanding the reasons why they make their home around your plants can explain how you can eliminate them.
- Ants have a sweet tooth. It is true that ants love sugary foods; in fact, it is possible to lure them with a teaspoon coated with even just a tiny droplet of honey, and in minutes the teaspoon will be filled with ants. Sugar gives them a lot of energy, so they can feel the sweetness around them even from a distance. Their sense of smell is different from ours.
- Plants produce sugary substances. The ants do it when the blossoms bloom; but what’s more, there is aphid material produced by small insects; ants are addicted to these sweet excrements and literally harvest them from the aphids’ backs. Therefore, ants will follow if your plants have other ‘guests’ with sweet substances.
- Ants are natural garbage men. A whole logistic structure is set up to effectively look for organic matter, send “collectors,” and transport it home to the nests. They are so specialized at doing this that they have a whole logistic structure to find it, send “collectors,” and haul it home. Despite what you may think, some ants actually farm and grow their own food in organic matter. The fungi they cultivate are then eaten by the ants.
- Ants are great explorers. The odd ant might also find its way into your pots even when there isn’t much to take home, since these little creatures are always seeking food and exploring new places to find it.
- You may have left “ant food” in or near the pot. It doesn’t matter if crumbs are on the floor or whether the pot is nearby a smelly food source. Ants will be attracted to these food sources and while they’re at it, they may eventually find the pot itself interesting.
- Ants drink water. You can’t blame them if they come and have a sip from your pot when it’s very dry and gloomy outside and you’re watering your plants.
In addition, if your house is on the ground floor, or if there are ants in your walls, ant infestation is more likely.
If you leave flour or crumbs in your cupboards, you can often find these six-legged insects there, so it shouldn’t surprise you, if they end up in your pots as well.
The Link Between Ants, Pests And Disease
We should start by making clear that ants are not pests. Instead, they’re so vital to the ecosystem that it’s hard to imagine life without them.
A garden, preferably an outdoor one, would certainly welcome ants.
In fact, they have a fundamental role to play in soil health and improvement; by digging into the soil, they introduce many small organisms, which improves its fertility. In fact, the fertility of soil is largely dependent on microorganisms as well as the presence of nutrients.
Ants play a critical role in the decomposition process; they break down dead animals’ carcasses, making natural fertilization possible. Ants are key to the decomposition process as they break down dead animals.
Ants are actually great predators, as they eat pests like termites, larvae, and small insects and keep pest populations at bay.
Hence, ants cannot be considered pests, furthermore, they are not directly harmful to your plants; they may eat away at old materials, but they do not directly harm them like some caterpillars, for example.
Species like ants may be a nuisance indoors; they may be unattractive to see crawling around, but out in the wild, or in an outdoor garden, they are actually a sign of a healthy ecosystem.
Ants, on the other hand, do not only farm the grains, they also breed other insects like aphids, and they do this for that sweet excretion that they collect.
Aphids, however, are also protected by ants when they do this.
While aphids are not a deadly threat to plants, they do siphon off the plant’s lymph, which can lead to weakening the plant, which can then lead to other diseases, like fungi, molds and soot.
Ants are good against some pests but are breeding other insects which, especially on weak plants, can cause those plants to become sick by weakening them. Therefore, we ought to understand this natural balance.
Obviously, everything has to do with processes and consequences.
Ants Outdoors And Ants Indoors
Outdoors, ants are a natural part of the landscape – maybe you don’t want a colony of killer ants, but what we are talking about here is “normal” ants.
Our point was that while outdoors they are important components of the ecosystem, indoors they play a different role.
Correctly speaking, the problem is not the ant colony; it is that indoor plants do not benefit from a whole, interconnected ecosystem. I’ll explain.
An ant in a field will have a wide selection of plants to choose from, as do aphids in a field, but the plants in your living room are partly cut off from the natural world out there. This means that their small ecosystem can be upset easily.
It is true that indoor ants are not as useful as those found outdoors; and having them around your plants will soon get them into your cupboards too. What can you do to eradicate them?
The Two Perspectives On Ant Problem Solving
The best way to get rid of ants is to kill them. However, there are almost two different approaches: the first is quite violent and drastic.
This second principle, which is more “humane” and gentler, holds that they are useful living beings and there is no reason to kill them, since they can just be sent packing.
It’s obvious that it’s a moral and ethical choice, as killing ants is just unacceptable for many. However, there are other reasons for it being controversial, to say the least.
An Inorganic And An Organic Solution
Interestingly, neither solution is more difficult (or less so) than the other. Let’s examine an inorganic solution first.
- Take a tablespoon of chemical insect repellant, there are many you could use, like N-Diethyl-meta-toluamide based products.
- Mix a small dose (it is usually about a spoon, depending on the product) as indicated in a spray bottle full of water.
- Shake well.
- Keeping about 12” (30 cm) at least from your plant, spray it.
- Ventilate the room.
Despite its simplicity, it is slightly toxic, causing nausea and vomiting. Certain populations, such as children and pets, may suffer from its effects although you are unlikely to ingest it in large doses.
More importantly, most chemical repellents destroy the mycorrhiza, tiny fungi that live in symbiosis with plants and allow them to absorb nutrients. In a nutshell, you will harm your plants.
Getting Rid Of Ants In Container Plants Naturally
- Choose one of the following essential oils, according to your taste: lavender, thyme or yarrow.
- Fill a spray bottle with water.
- Put a few drops in the bottle (at will, but about 5 will suffice).
- Spray the plants from about 12” (30 cm) away.
- Spray it on the soil.
- Spray it also on the outside of the pot.
- You can leave the window closed if you want to keep the aroma in the room.
There is no risk for children or animals, and your plants remain intact, while your room is filled with a nice aroma.
The Case Against Chemical Pesticides
Using a pesticide may seem simple, but it has serious consequences:
- The poison kills ants, and ants are very, very important for ecosystem health.
- In the process of manufacturing it, it uses chemicals, which are of course hazardous to the environment.
- They pollute the soil you grow your plants in; pesticides are one of the biggest reasons for soil degradation, leading not only to polluted soil but also to less fertile soil.
- Plants are weakened by pesticides; pesticides are harmful to their immune system.
- In other words, it means having poison inside a home. Why would you put poison near your children, pets, and air you breathe?
6 Natural Ways To Getting Rid Of Ants In Potted Plants
In order to keep ants away from sweet or organic food, keep your cupboard clean; don’t leave crumbs on the floor or food out after meals. If many ants appear, it could mean that you neglected to do the spring cleaning that you have been putting off for too long.
There are natural ways to get rid of ants. Since gardening, agriculture and most people have moved away from these methods which are dated, there are natural ways to get rid of ants.
Repotting The Plant To Drive Ants Out
You may notice that ants are digging into the soil of your houseplants. If you find that the ants are eating away at the roots of the plants, then it may be due to some type of pest.
Therefore, we can view ants as signs that your plants aren’t doing so well. Ants should not burrow into your pot soil, unless there is a good reason to do so.
In this case, you should repot your plants and put them in a sterile and clean pot. There is a high likelihood of a fungal infection.
This will allow you to spot pests in the soil, and change as much of it as you can. If you suspect fungus is present in your soil, you can sterilize it naturally with organic charcoal. Just sprinkle a thin layer in your pot, and the problem will be solved.
Additionally, this is a long-term solution, as it prevents fungi and molds from growing for a long time.
Lemon Juice In The Saucer Or On The Pot
Ants don’t live in your pot, do they? Just observe the trails they leave behind, then block their path. How? Let me tell you this secret: ants like sweets, but strongly acidic substances are repellent to them.
The chemical substances actually confuse ants, which are very sensitive to chemicals. Lemon juice is the most effective substance for preventing ants from gathering. If you don’t have lemon juice around, vinegar will suffice.
You can therefore drop lemon juice on the way they take to get inside, and they’ll just stay away.
You should do it in the morning so that you don’t trap any ants inside. If you do, they’ll keep going back and forth to find a way out.
Your pots can be protected against ants by using lemon juice.
- Squeeze a lemon.
- Put it into a small spray bottle.
- Just spray it on the pot.
- Do it in the morning before they wake up and then repeat as necessary.
Ants will stay away from it because of the smell.
The saucer can be filled with a few drops of diluted vinegar; this is fine if the plant is an acidophilic plant (like azaleas, caladiums, and Japanese iris, for instance; most succulents prefer slightly acidic conditions as well).
Hyacinths want quite alkaline soil (for example), so spray only the outside of the pot. If you do not have lemons, any stringy citrus smell (bergamot for instance) will make them angry, but oranges are fine. You can extend the duration of your effects by applying citrus essential oils. Just a few drops will last for days.
Use Cinnamon Sticks (Or Powder) Cinnamon To Get Rid Of Ants In Plants
Ants are attracted to many different smells, but many of them are unpleasant. Fortunately, the smells they do not like are pleasant for us! So, you can refresh your room with a nice fragrance while keeping ants out of the way.
In fact, ants dislike cinnamon. What’s for us a reinvigorating scent is actually a “terrible pong”. How is that possible?
- Buy a few cinnamon sticks if you don’t have any in the kitchen.
- If you just put a cinnamon stick on the soil of your pot and leave them there.
As cinnamon sticks repel ants, you will also get some aromatherapy for yourself and your household. Cinnamon powder can be used instead, but its effect lasts a shorter time.
Water In The Saucer
A very simple solution will work; ants aren’t inclined to swim, and by placing water in the saucer, you will create a “moat”, much like medieval castles were fortified with moats.
It is easy and straightforward to do, but there are some risks involved. First, not every plant likes to have water in the saucer. For example, succulents may risk root rot. For other plants, however, especially if they like dry soil, you may have two options:
- You can fill the saucer of the plant with water and then set a wider saucer underneath so that the plant stays dry yet remains protected from ants.
- Place the pot on a short platform such as stones or bricks to keep the soil dry while allowing water to drain from the saucer.
Even if the succulents are not in direct contact with the water, they will not like the humidity provided by sprinklers or saucers. These solutions are fine with other dry-loving plants like thyme, orchids and sago palms.
Drive Ants Away With Mint Essential Oil
As you probably already know, ants dislike the scent of mint, so it’s a great idea to use mint essential oil to keep them at bay. Put a drop or two in the saucer, and you’ll have ants and mice far away from your home!
Plant Marigold For Ants
A lot of insects can’t stand certain plants. Geranium flowers are known for keeping insects away, which probably explains why they often appear in Alpine cottage window boxes. If you want something ants can’t stand, go with marigolds.
It is true that marigolds are unbearable to insects, including ants, so you can plant them around your house or simply keep a pot of marigolds along with your other plants.
What better way to repel ants than to plant beautiful flowers in your pots?
A Natural End To The Problem
Remember, ants are just a nuisance, and their role in the world is so much greater than ours, or perhaps it ever will be.
It is unnecessary and dangerous, not only for the environment, but also for your family and pets, including your pets. Chemicides are an overkill, to use a sad metaphor.
Besides being safer, cheaper, and more humane, the natural approach is also just as effective, and they are actually fun as well.
For instance, you can choose from citrus, mint, lavender, yarrow, or cinnamon, or you can add some scent to your room while keeping ants away.
If you have a spray bottle, diluted essential oils are the easiest way to repel ants. Alternatively, you can grow flowers to create a barrier.
We all know that the natural way is not just a better way, but also the most creative solution to a very small problem.