Maintenance Outdoor Gardening

Ants – Boon or Bane in the Garden?

I am somewhat fond of ants, having had an little ant farm as a science experiment when I was a kid. They are hardworking little creatures which have the amazing capacity to carry objects much heavier than themselves. However, ants can be both beneficial to your garden and a pest as well.

Ants are beneficial to gardens

By diging tunnels through the soil, ants are similar to earth worms in helping to aerate the soil. They make the soil more water-absorbent as a result.

They move garden waste when they move organic material like leaves and dead insects, which thus helps to fertilize plants.

They are predatory animals that feed on other insects, some of which are plant pests. They kill off caterpillars by attacking them in large numbers. Tree ants also tend to consume the mildew that forms on plants without destroying the plants.

They also inadvertently aid in pollination while they are foraging, moving pollen from flower to flower while looking for sweet nectar.

Ants are pests in the garden

Ants like to build nests around the root system of plants. This can cause stunted growth, leaving plants more susceptible to disease.

A secondary issue is that they have been known to protect aphids from other predators, such as ladybirds, to maintain a reliable food source for themselves. The last thing you want is an increase in aphids in your garden, as they will be sucking the life out of your plants relatively unhindered!

Lastly, what appears to be a harmless ant nest can be annoying if it creates uneven bumps in your pristine lawns. 

What to do about ants in the garden?

As it is next to impossible to have an ant-free garden, we recommend having a tolerant relationship with them. Considering some of the benefits they provide, it is good to have ants in the garden. On the flip side, it would be wise to keep their population under control, so that they do not cause damage to your garden.

Some natural ant remedies:

There are a few natural remedies. Some of them are listed briefly below.

1. Use of cinnamon is my favourite as it is known to repel ants without killing them. That way, you can still have some ants in your garden while keeping their numbers low.

2. Sprinkle aspartame (eg. Equal or Nutrasweet) around your garden. It is toxic to ants in that it over-stimulates their brain cells, resulting in their deaths.

3. Use food grade diatomaceous earth in a fine powder form. They have sharp edges that can penetrate the bodies of ants, resulting in dehydration and death.

4. For other remedies such as soap sprays, check out our other article on natural pest control remedies.