Are you struggling with an ant infestation in your potted plants? This article will show you how to get rid of ants in plant pots, with ten easy, natural methods you can try.
The invasion of ants into plant pots can be a frustrating ordeal. An ant infestation not only undermines the aesthetics of your indoor and outdoor plant displays, but also poses a threat to the overall health of your plants.
However, armed with the right knowledge and tactics, you can regain control of your plant pots and enjoy flourishing greenery and flowers once more.
Employing a combination of strategic methods and natural remedies is the best way to effectively control ants, while safeguarding your beloved potted plant.
This article covers ten methods of using natural products to prevent or stop ants from infesting your pot plants.
Understanding why ants nest in container plants
The first step in combating ant problems is to identify the source of their attraction, and their entry points.
Ants are typically drawn to the presence of a food source. This makes plant pots, with their moist soil and organic matter, an inviting location.
The food source could also be nectar. This is present in flowering plants on flowers or buds. Ants will make a beeline for sugary substances. If you’re growing fruit in pots, this also provides a sweet food source for ants.
When potting compost becomes hydrophobic, it has dried out to the point where water doesn’t drain into the soil. Instead, it sits on the surface or runs off. Potting mix in containers is particularly prone to becoming hydrophobic.
Ants love dry soil, which is why dried-out pots are attractive to them.
Some species of ant eat other plant pests. If there are mealybugs, aphids or other sap-eating insects on your pot plants, you may find they are a target for ants.
What does ant damage look like in plants?
Ants won’t usually damage the plant itself, as they mainly feed on sweet substances and other insects.
To identify ant damage in your plants, look out for these telltale signs:
- Soil deposits around the pot or on the surface of the soil – caused by ants excavating tunnels.
- Dehydrated plant roots – caused by ants disturbing them as they dig a nest.
- Wilted leaves – caused by root disturbance. This can also be caused by under-watering though.
- Increased presence of aphids – some types of ants actually farm aphids for their sap. Yes, they’re that clever!
Should I use ant baits to get rid of ants?
A common method of eliminating ants from the garden is to disrupt their foraging patterns by employing ant baits. These baits for your ant infestation can be homemade or store-bought, and are usually laced with a sweet substance that attracts the ants. Once consumed, the ants carry the bait back to their colony, effectively eradicating the entire ant nest and any queen ants.
While ant killer is an effective method of controlling ants, it’s worth remembering that ants play an important role in a garden’s ecosystem and the food chain in general. Killing them disrupts the natural balance, and this disruption is even more impactful if chemical sprays and insecticides are used. These products don’t just kill ants; you may also harm natural predators and beneficial insects.
It’s always advisable to exhaust natural remedies before resorting to chemical interventions.
Many people use an insecticide spray, poisonous traps or insecticidal soap for ant control, but there are plenty of effective natural remedies that can also be used.
How to get rid of ants in plant pots naturally
These natural ways to keep ants under control will help your potted plants to thrive.
Homemade ant spray
- Add bay leaves and cloves to a glass jug.
- Pour boiling water into the jug on top of the ingredients in the jug.
- Allow the water to cool to room temperature.
- Pour the liquid (including any ingredients, if they fit) into the spray bottle.
- To make the solution even less apprealing to ants, add a little white vinegar.
- Spray affected plants and soil regularly.
Spread diatomaceous earth
Diatomaceous earth (also known as silicone dioxide) is a powdery substance made from fossilized remains of tiny aquatic organisms. It has sharp edges that physically damage ants’ exoskeletons.
You can spread diatomaceous earth around the base of the plant and on the top of the soil to deter ants and limit their numbers.
Mint tea bags
Place peppermint or spearmint tea bags near the ants’ point of entry. Ants do not like the smell of mint and will keep away.
You can also brew mint tea, allow it to cool, and spray it on the soil and plants. Peppermint essential oils mixed with water is another good option.
Cucumbers can be an effective ant repellent – particularly the more bitter outer skin.
Place them around your plant pots or on the surface of the soil. This will provide a scent that ants dislike and encourage them to stay away.
Similar to cucumbers, ants are no fans of the strong smell of citrus fruits. Scattering orange peels, lemon rinds, grapefruit peels or citrus oil around and in your pots will deter them.
Coffee grounds can be sprinkled around flower pots to prevent ants invading. This works because ground coffee contains nitrogen which damages ants if they decide to crawl through it.
You can use these store cupboard staples to keep ants away from your plants. Sprinkle cinnamon powder, ground pepper, cinnamon oil or cinnamon sticks on and around your pots to provide ants with an unappealing scent.
This works in the same way as cinnamon, by providing a smell that ants don’t like. Sprinkle ground pepper around and in pots.
A line of chalk will interrupt the ants’ scent trail, which can cause them to head off somewhere else. Try drawing a chalk line around the bottom of your plant pots.
Placing a moat of fresh water underneath your outdoor plants can make it harder for ants to reach them. Do be careful not to saturate your pots though, as this can damage the plant’s roots.
Reducing the likelihood of ant problems
Having taken the time to get rid of ants in plant pots, it makes sense to try and avoid the problem happening again. As always, prevention is better than cure.
Here are some ways to stop ants causing a problem in your potted plants:
- Place fine mesh over the drainage holes in the bottom of the pot.
- Use pot feet to lift your pots off the ground and make it harder for ants to gain entry.
- Check your pots for natural crevices that allow ants to gain access. Replace damaged or cracked pots.
- Water your container plants regularly, and don’t allow the soil to dry out.
- Remove debris such as fallen leaves and dead flowers from the surface of container plants.
- Remove old potting soil, which is more likely to dry out and attract ants. Replace with new soil regularly.
- Employ barrier methods to stop ants getting to your pots. We’ve covered lots of these already.
- Stay on top of other insect pests in the garden to cut off the ants’ food source.
- Encourage natural enemies of ants into your garden. These include birds, small mammals, amphibians and spiders. Our tips on wildlife gardening have lots of great ways to do this.
- Regularly inspect the pots for signs of ant activity, such as ant hills or worker ant trails. This will help you to catch infestations early.
The battle against ants in plant pots can feel daunting, but you can adopt a multi-pronged approach to tackle the problem. Using natural deterrents, barrier methods and preventative measures will allow you to reclaim your plant pots from these persistent invaders. By understanding these small insects behaviour and employing these natural solutions, you can safeguard your indoor plants and outdoor plant displays, while respecting the delicate balance of the garden ecosystem.
More container gardening tips
For more advice on growing plants in pots, take a look at these additional resources:
Over 25 gorgeous low maintenance outdoor potted plants to make container gardening really low-effort.
A lovely selection of evergreen plants that are perfect for an all year round container display.
Seasonal guides to container planting
Beautiful hanging baskets
If you love your hanging baskets, make sure you take a look at our trailing plants for hanging baskets roundup, our plants for winter hanging baskets, and our tips on how to create hanging basket wow factor.
We explain how to choose the right compost for potted plants in this comprehensive guide.
Pots are perfect for veggies too! Find out which ones work best in this guide to easy vegetables to grow in pots.