Every gardener knows the frustration of checking out their potted plants and discovering ants and thousands of eggs.
There are times when you see critters coming and going, and other times when you only see evidence of their presence.
In either case, finding an ant nest in your potted plants is frustrating, so it’s crucial to identify the reasons for the problem and prevent it.
Why Are Ants Attracted to Potted Plants?
An ant’s state of survival can be easily explained. Potted plants give ants food, shelter, and warmth. But of course, there’s more to it than that.
Ants aren’t usually attracted to plants. Often they occur in conjunction with other insect pests attacking above ground level, or they’re looking for a place to hang out. However, an infestation can suggest that the plant isn’t as healthy as it should be.
Ants are unlikely to live in a potted plant because they probably have a main nest somewhere else instead, so you’ll need to encourage them to stay there instead. Why do ants come to your potted plants? Let’s take a look at some possible reasons.
There are various insects that produce honeydew, including aphids, mealybugs, whiteflies, and soft scales. When pests feed your potted plants, it is possible that they are feeding them this sticky excrement. If you have an ant infestation, it may be because of the pests feeding them.
Inconsistent Watering/Dry Soil
My potted plants were overrun with ant colonies after I came home from a vacation in the summer. The pot was dry and the soil was shrunken due to dehydration, making it the perfect environment for ant colonies.
If you water inconsistently and your soil gets dried out, ants will come knocking. Even if you’re at home, you can encourage this behavior.
Potting soil that has dried out may also occur if some soil has escaped from the bottom and air has penetrated, causing things to dry out.
Old Potting Mix
Commercial potting mix often becomes a water repellent. Hydrophobicity refers to the property of preventing water from getting in. This is what occurs when the material dries out. Your plants should have water seeping around the edges and out the bottom.
The water results in an environment that is hospitable for ants in soil since it will run straight through and not soak in.
Transferred by You
In compost, ants typically prefer to live because of the food or the fact that it’s warm and dry. After composting, you will apply it as mulch or fertilizer to your pot, and you will introduce them to their new home in your pot.
How to Get Rid of Ants in Potted Plants
Each of the problems above has a chemical solution and a natural solution. Both can work equally well, so it depends on what your needs and goals are.
Getting rid of the insects that provide the ants with honeydew is the first step. Use an insecticidal soap or pyrethrum spray.
If your plants have honeydew, you should wash them or you will keep seeing ants. You need to remove the honeydew to prevent mold.
Small plants can be cleaned by spraying and wiping the leaves, but larger or affected plants need to be tilted and then soaked in soapy water and then rinsed.
Soak the Soil
If your plants are suffering from dry soil, first put them outside or in a large plastic container. If they are indoors, take them outside or into a large plastic container.
Pour the insecticidal soap solution into the container, then mix it with one quart of water. Fill the container up with the solution. Overflow the soil with the solution until it overflows out of the original pot. Soak everything for 30 minutes and then drain off any extra liquid.
Replace the Soil
Sometimes replacement of the soil is the only option. The plant should be removed from the pot and set aside. Be aware, however, that an entire ant colony will run in all directions, so move the pot to somewhere where this won’t pose a problem.
Make sure the soil around the roots of the plant is as free of soil as possible using your hands, a brush, and a gentle spray of water.
Remove the soil from the pot and scrub it clean if necessary. Replant the plant into a new container with new potting mix and water with a mixture of insecticidal soap and water. Continue to water the plant regularly after that.
Citrus is not liked by ants, which is why you should boil six oranges in water and blend them all together into a paste. This paste can be poured around the plant in the pot.
Alternatively, you can make a peppermint deterrent by adding dish soap to a pint of water, along with several drops of peppermint oil. Pour the solution all around the base of the plant. You may have to repeat this several times to get all ants completely gone.
Ants dislike the following things as well:
- Coffee grounds
- Tea leaves
- Chili powder
You can combine any of these and place them around the soil to make the plant pot inhospitable.
I think diatomaceous earth is the best and most effective remedy and preventative measure you can use.
A thin layer of DE should be applied to dry soil. Both the soil and the DE need to be dry, as the DE is intended to prevent the ants from reproducing.
It may not be my favorite solution, but it can be necessary if the infestation is particularly large.
In the potted plant, place bait for ants to consume; they will usually consume the bait and die either in their nest or nearby. Then, other ants will eat them and they will also die. Be cautious not to let pets or children consume the bait as it is toxic.
One of my large pots had a particularly stubborn ant nest in it. I poured some vinegar into it and it immediately vanished. The acidity of vinegar can cause some plants to die though.
Preventing infestations is more effective than attempting to cure them, so keep an eye out for their causes.
- It is important to keep your potting mix moist.
- It’s important to replace the mix every two years.
- Water repellent mixes should be soaked to make the potting mix work.
- Make sure to eliminate pest insects, particularly those that excrete honeydew.
Plants and gardens benefit from ants as they prey upon destructive insects, so don’t make it your goal to eliminate them all. You want them out of your potted plants to preserve the plants’ health.
Plants, which are often neglected, often attract ants so keep an eye on them to avoid infestations and make sure to remove any unwanted plants quickly, instead of letting them die in pots.
Use Pot Feet
Whenever I had an ant problem, the pots were sitting directly on the ground or deck. Help ensure this doesn’t happen by lifting the pot above the surface. This improves airflow in the bottom of the pot.
Add water to the base container and a good quantity of peppermint oil. You can also use citrus or cinnamon essential oils. Place the pot on a saucer or large container and fill with water.
By placing the water barrier, you effectively shield the entrance to the pot from the ant.
The Bottom Line
When it comes to your potted plants, ants can be an irritating problem, so keep a careful eye out for their presence. Don’t wait for it to become an infestation because their numbers grow exponentially.
If you know what to look for and how to handle the underlying problem, however, it is possible to eradicate ants from potted plants.