Ants can be a real nuisance around your home and garden. But there are steps that you can take to stop ants from bothering your family, your pets and your plants.
Natural remedies are easy to make, and you won’t have to worry about any toxic residues affecting your pets or your young children.
As the old saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, so we’ll take a look at ways to keep them out of your home as well as ways to eradicate them.
How To Stop Ants Coming Into Your Home
When a stream of ants are marching into your house, it’s because they have found a source of food.
Once spring arrives, ant colonies send out scouts to find new sources of food. When a scout finds dinner, it returns to the colony leaving a scented trail behind it that the other ants can follow to get to the food source.
Ants from the colony will dutifully scurry back and forth along the trail carrying morsels of food back to the nest.
If the food source they have found is in your kitchen, you will have to kill the ants as they come in, follow them back to their nest and kill them there, prevent access to your house, put up deterrents to drive them away, or interrupt their forage trail with a new food source.
The first thing to do when you see ants in your kitchen is watch them to see how they are getting in and out. Ants are so tiny they can fit through the smallest cracks around door and window frames, they could find a way in through pet doors that aren’t well sealed, or they could have found a way in through the holes made for plumbing and wiring.
So watch and follow. When you have identified their entry point, you will need to get out your caulk gun and seal up the cracks.
It’s always a good idea to check your door and window frames, and pipe and cable points as winter rolls in because any small gaps will let the cold in and make your house draughty and your heating bills higher.
If you weather proofed your house for winter, you shouldn’t have ants come spring.
Caulk is easy to use, and it’s inexpensive. You can get it in a variety of colors, but white, black, brown and grey are the most common and they should blend with most exteriors.
Pay attention to thresholds if you have tile floors. Ants can scoot inside and roam around under floor tile if the grout isn’t sound.
Once you have diligently sealed up the cracks, the ants won’t be able to get in. They will keep trying for a little while but will soon move on to other food sources.
As weather warms up and you leave doors and windows open, ants will have further opportunities to raid your house.
This is where you can set up deterrents, scrub away their forage trail, or divert them to another food source.
Ants don’t like herbs and spices. So you can sprinkle a layer of these on your window ledges and in front of doorways. You can try:
- Black pepper
Use the herbs fresh or dried. You can also mix the essential oils of these herbs with some water in a spray bottle and spray the areas that the ants are crossing over to get inside your house.
Try this recipe:
- 1/4 cup water
- 1/4 cup vodka (helps to suspend the oils in the water. If you don’t want to use vodka, you can just shake the bottle well before each use).
- 15 drops peppermint essential oil
- 15 drops tea tree essential oil
- 7 drops of any citrus essential oil
- OR 3 drops clove essential oil
Mix everything up in a spray bottle and spray where you see ants.
Chalk dust makes an effective deterrent. Ants hate the calcium carbonate in chalk and avoid it.
Diatomaceous Earth (DE) is another barrier that you can sprinkle around. If you plan on using DE indoors, then make sure that you buy the food grade product. Food grade is safe to breathe in, pool grade isn’t.
Growing fresh herbs in pots in or beds underneath your windows will also help to keep ants away.
To remove the forage trail so that ants can’t find their way to your house, you will need to clear away a good section of it with a household cleaner and water, or with window cleaner.
If you’re feeling kind and don’t want to hurt the ants or deprive them of their dinner, you can leave some food on the trail. Once the ants encounter the new food source, they will forget all about the food in your house for a while.
But they will continually scout the area, so it most likely that they will be back eventually, unless you continue to leave ‘offerings’ near their nest.
It may sound ridiculous to feed what many people would consider nothing more than annoying pests. But if the ants at your place are the harmless kind, then they can actually be a real boon for your garden.
Ants till as much soil as earthworms, they will attack other insects that are detrimental to plants and food crops, they even offer protection to some of the other beneficial garden insects as well as providing a food source for the birds, toads and lizards that perform pest control.
In areas where termites are a problem, ants will attack termites and stop them from damaging your home, so that’s another good reason to let them live in your yard.
Sometimes though, ants aren’t harmless, native fire ants will bite and sting, as will non native fire ants, who also cause the decline of non aggressive ant populations.
Your best course of action if you have these ants bothering your home is to kill them.
Obviously, the smattering of ants running around on your kitchen counter can easily be dealt with. All you need to do is squish them with a piece of wet kitchen towel and then use a strong smelling cleaner or an essential oil spray to mask the pheromones that the dead ants release.
Ants communicate using pheromones. Their forage trail is laced with pheromones, when ants sense danger, they emit a pheromone which tells others in the vicinity to prepare for attack, and when you squash an ant, it releases all of its pheromones at once which simultaneously attracts more ants to the area and puts those ants into attack mode.
If you don’t mask the pheromones, the next batch of ants that arrive in your kitchen will be more likely to run onto your exposed skin and bite you.
How To Kill A Nest
Ant nests are usually part of a larger colony, and a colony can have an enormous number of nests. One of the largest colonies discovered consisted of 45,000 connected nests spanning 620 acres in Japan. The colony was estimated to house 306 million worker ants and 1 million queen ants.
Hopefully your ant colony will be smaller than that!
The easiest way to destroy a nest is to flood the nest with water. Once you’ve discovered where the nest is, just insert your garden hose and turn it on. You’ll need to do this several times over a couple of weeks, because the ants will keep returning to the home that they worked so hard to build, but they will eventually cut their losses and move on.
Another nest busting option that you have, is to use poison bait. Bait traps are widely available and consist of an attractant that draws the ants into the trap, and a poisoned bait that they will carry back to the nest. Once back in the nest the poison gets shared around and the ants soon die.
You can make your own effective bait traps out of glass jars, sugar and borax.
You will need:
- 1/2 cup of sugar
- 1 1/2 tablespoons Borax
- 1 1/2 cups warm water
- Cotton balls or paper towel
- Glass jars with lids
How to make:
- Wear gloves and mix the water and sugar together followed by the warm water. Stir until dissolved.
- Stuff several jars with cotton balls or paper towels and pour some of the liquid in.
- Wait for it to soak into the cotton balls then add some more so that the cotton or paper towel is completely saturated.
- Punch holes in the jar lids to give ants access, then screw the lids onto the jars.
- If you have leftover mixture, label your jar so that you know what is in it because it will look just like water. Keep the jar out of reach of children.
- Set your jars around the areas that ants are frequenting. The ants will enter the jars, suck up the poisoned sugar water and take it back to the nest to share.
How To Keep Ants Off Your Fruit Trees And Plants
In my garden, ants are the biggest nuisance early in the spring when I want to sow seeds directly into the soil in my greenhouse for an early oriental vegetable and salad crop. I always find that they’ve overwintered in the raised beds inside the structure, and as soon as I begin to disturb the earth, they pour out of their nest ready to fight off my intrusion.
I keep on disturbing the soil so that they have no choice other than to pick up their eggs and move house. To keep them away from newly sown seeds, I use cotton balls soaked in peppermint oil and dot them around my planting areas.
Ants don’t really bother me again until summer, when they herd aphids for their honeydew up in the leaves of some of my apple trees.
Then I use various methods for keeping the ants and the aphids off the trees. I don’t want to kill the nests off because I appreciate all of the soil digging that the ants do for me.
To keep ants away I:
- Blast the trees with a garden hose when I notice the aphids.
- Use sticky bands around the trunks, topped up with vaseline once it loses its tackiness (when I remember).
- Sprinkle fresh mint, sage and basil around the base of the trees (when I remember).
Some people find that Diatomaceous Earth sprinkled around their trees and other affected plants works well, and if you live in a dry climate, this is certainly worth trying.
Solutions For Other Outdoor Areas
Hummingbirds are beautiful creatures to attract to your garden, but the feeders are magnets for ants. To keep them away from the sugary food source, coat the hanging wire or string with vaseline.
If you feed your pets outside, their food and water bowls will attract ants. You can sprinkle Diatomaceous Earth safely around your pet’s water bowl to stop the ants crawling up for a drink.
For food bowls, the best thing to do is only put bowls down at feeding time, don’t leave bowls of dry food out all day.
Once fido has finished eating dinner, clean the bowl right away.
Ants will happily set up home in your children’s sandbox and they will happily bite if your little guys dig near the nest. To keep ants away use the essential oil spray around the sides of the box regularly. You can also use an easy to make citrus vinegar spray.
- Add several orange or lemon peels to a pan and cover with half water and half vinegar.
- Heat on the stove until the liquid begins to steam, then turn off the heat and leave the peels to steep overnight.
- In the morning, strain the liquid into a spray bottle.
Regularly spraying the sandbox will prevent ants from moving in, but if there is a nest present already, you should dump the sand and start over.
How To Take The Itch Out Of An Ant Bite
Ant bites are super itchy. Unlike mosquito bites that you don’t feel at the time and that leave a noticeable swelling later, ant bites hurt and can leave no evidence of the bite other than a maddening itch. In many cases though the bite will cause a localized reaction.
They’ll inflict their ‘bite’ in several ways.
- An actual bite with their mandibles
- A sting with their stinger
- Spraying you with formic acid – the same substance that gives stinging nettles their sting.
Depending on your sensitivity to the bite/sting, you could have a slight reaction with a little redness, some pain and a lot of itching. Or your reaction could be more severe, involving swelling and blistering which can take up to 10 days to resolve.
In rare cases you can have a systemic reaction to an ant bite. Unlike local reactions which manifest in the area surrounding the bite, a systemic reaction will also involve gastrointestinal symptoms like nausea, diarrhea and cramping.
Severe systemic reactions can include wheezing, chest pain, low blood pressure, dizziness, produce vomiting, cramping, abdominal pain and diarrhea.
If you’ve been bitten by an ant and begin to experience a systemic reaction, you should seek medical advice.
Otherwise, treatment at home for local reactions centers on relieving the pain and the itch, and reducing any swelling or skin irritation.
Oral and topical over-the-counter antihistamines like Benadryl can be used to relieve the itch, and normal acetaminophen will manage the pain.
Natural alternatives to Benadryl cream that you can apply to your skin include vitamin C powder dissolved in water, and a crushed raw garlic clove.
A cold compress made from a brewed and cooled black tea bag can relieve swelling, and if you have some lavender essential oil to hand, you can apply a few drops of the neat oil to the area around the bite to control the inflammation.
Turn your Ant Nest Into A Work of Art
If you do go ahead and kill the ants, you can make a really neat piece of art out of the nest. Ant hill art is quite popular, and it involves pouring molten metal (not very practical), cement or plaster into a nest and waiting for it to set up.
The liquid casting material runs into all of the tunnels and chambers of the ant hill, and once it has set, you can excavate the surrounding soil and dig up your artwork.
Ant hill casts make great garden or indoor ornaments, and they’re a really good teaching project to use with your kids.
If you do a Google image search for ‘ant hill art’ you’ll see plenty of examples.
You’ll never get rid of all of the ants living on your property, even if you go nuclear on every ant nest that you find, new ants will soon move in and take up residence. The best that you can hope for is to keep them away from the areas where you don’t want them.
I’ll leave you with some ant trivia because I think that ants are pretty amazing.
Ants make up 25% of land based animal biomass on earth.
Ants are as old as dinosaurs, but while the dinosaurs are long gone, ants are thriving almost everywhere.
They survived the KT mass extinction event 65 million years ago.
The Argentine ant has conquered 6 continents, and a super colony of these ants has been found stretching for 3,700 miles along the southern European coastline. The colony consists of millions of nests and houses billions of worker ants.
There are around 10,000,000,000,000,000 (ten quadrillion) ants alive at any one time.
The largest species of ant is one and a half inches long (yikes!) and lives in Africa.
The smallest, lives in Sri Lanka and is 1/30th of an inch long.
Ants were practising slavery long before humans. Some species of ant raid other colonies, capture the eggs and raise them as slaves.