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Are Ants Harmful or Beneficial to my Plants?

Ants can create a healthy working garden, or they can over populate your nasty pests that want to take over and kill off all of your lovely plants!

For a gardener with a family including children you may want to keep everything organic. In fact it can be the cheapest option for any amateur. It means that finding solutions to little problems like the ants can seem insurmountable. The ant colony is a very well organised one with often thousands of individual ants. Each lifting 10-15 times their own body weight, means you can very quickly have an infestation!

Positives to Ants in your Garden

They can act as guardians of the garden. Looting pests for their eggs, disturbing the same pests when they want to set up home. This means that the pests will only take a small amount of your crop and you can say you are living in harmony with them. Almost as permaculture specialist would want.

Ants create these little underground routes. Tunnels which will aerate the soil, creating pathways for nutrients and water. Meaning that for those of us with heavy clay soil our irrigation is better!

Irrigation and good drainage are at the heart of growing herbs!

If we want to look at the wider reason to have a garden, there is little nicer than hearing birdsong. So why wouldn’t you want a ready food source for the little loves?

Ants are accidental pollinators as well, have you ever seen their little feet with pollen all dusted on them? They are more like toddlers than our efficient pollinating machines bees, but they want the sweet stuff and will wander around and take the pollen with them.

natural prey for ants

How are ants farming the aphids?

The ants will farm the aphids by taking away any weaker or dead aphids, therefore keeping the remaining aphids healthy. They clean away any debris and rotting materials to optimise the aphid productivity.

Why are they farming aphids?

Aphids produce this sugar sweet discharge of honeydew. It is like nectar to the ants and they carry it home to the colony as a real treat. Seriously though, how amazing is it that one animal actively farms another? Such small arthropods with such clever plans.

We want tasty herbs that we can eat fresh and they want the aphids to produce honeydew.

ants and aphids on our apple tree leaves
Taken from our apple tree last year.

Therefore it is not to say that you wouldn’t have an aphid problem without the ants, but these existing pests can be dismissed as they will sort of handle their own numbers. A very simple option in this instance would be to buy some Dragonfli Ladybird Adults to eat away through the problem.

When you also have ants there is a problem. One that can grow very quickly and destroy your plants!

How do you stop the ants without harming the plants?

The way that ants find their routes is by scent marking. All natural organic pest control measures rely on interfering with that ability.

  • Garlic and chilli spray. Add boiled water to a jug with chopped chillis and garlic in. Leave to steep overnight, preferably with a cover on! Then drain the contents into a spray bottle. Now attack the leaves and base of the plant affected.
  • If it is in a pot, find a clean new pot and take as much of the old soil away. Ants do like to make their nests in plant pots. Be careful not to reintroduce the ants to the new pot. I like to leave the ants to scatter and the birds pick off any stragglers. ( I sound so cruel, but it is the natural way)
  • Cinnamon around the base of the potted plant. It is such a strong smell that it will confuse the ants. Similarly we use our coffee grounds, citrus peel and anything else to make the ants life harder! Happy coincidence they also stop next doors cat from digging in the pots.
  • Have you ever heard those studies about the harmful effects of fake sugar? Well ants will eat it up and then die. So you can make a saccharine trail and then look away as it is particularly nasty as they take it all back to the queen. She is the first to eat the good stuff, and will die leaving the colony without a leader.
  • Create more natural habitats for birds and other ant predators like frogs. It’s quite a big job I know but there are so many other benefits to having a garden that does the hard work for you.
  • As cruel as it sounds a few kettles of boiled water will also be enough to kill a queen and finish a colony.

The last option sounds inhumane and frankly it is last chance for the ants. This would be the solution for an ant colony that will just as easily move on to your next most cherished plant!

Or you could always borrow an anteater from a local zoological park?

Might scare the local wildlife a bit too much?

Why go organic for your herb garden?

We want our herb garden to be ready to eat. We have lots of young children who come to stay and love to play in the garden. Which is code for stealing their aunt and uncles crops. So to encourage them to be free to try what they grow, we like the idea of picking and eating in one go.

To be honest we also like that idea for ourselves. We use herbs directly in our picnics in the garden as well as in our cocktail bar! So it is pretty easy to pick and eat. Some times a little rinse is required, but often it is much nicer.

If we used chemicals we would be destroying that freedom.

We also want to work with nature and not against it. So be mindful that those ants can also help in certain places, you just don’t want them taking over!

clever ants destroying the leaves before they have fully opened
whilst the leaves are still young the aphids are moving in to take over.

There are little to no benefits of going for a chemical solution as they are often expensive and you would need to keep them out of reach of children. So anything as harmful as that is better left outside of a garden you wish to eat from at a later date!

Many thanks and good luck with your infestation!

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