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Ants in Potted Plants: Why They Nest & How to Get Rid of Them

Potted plants bring natural beauty and a touch of the outdoors into our homes and gardens, but they can also attract unwanted visitors—ants. Discovering ants in your potted plants can be a frustrating experience, raising questions about why they choose to nest there and how to effectively eliminate them.

Keep reading to find out why ants might be nesting in your plant pots and learn practical solutions on how to stop ants from making your potted plants their home.

Why Ants Nest in Potted Plants

Before we explore solutions, it's crucial to understand why ants are attracted to potted plants in the first place:

  • Moisture: Ants are drawn to moisture, and potted plants offer a conducive environment with damp soil. Overwatering or improper drainage can create an attractive nesting spot for ants.
  • Food Sources: Ants are opportunistic foragers, and if your plants produce sugary substances like nectar or honeydew, ants will be enticed to build nests nearby to access these food sources.
  • Shelter: Potted plants provide shelter and protection for ant colonies. The soil and the base of the plant offer a hidden and secure location for ant nests.
  • Planting Medium: Certain potting soils or planting mediums may contain organic matter that attracts ants. They might nest in the soil to take advantage of the available resources.

Do Ants Harm Plants in Pots?

While ants themselves generally do not cause direct harm to plants, their presence can indirectly impact your potted plants:

Disturbing Roots

Ants can disturb the root system of plants while constructing their nests, potentially affecting the plant's overall health.

Aphid Farming

Some ant species "farm" aphids (small, sap-eating insects), protecting them from predators and "milking" them for honeydew. Aphids, in turn, feed on plant sap and can harm your plants.

Nesting Damage

Ants may create extensive tunnel systems within the soil, potentially leading to soil compaction and affecting water drainage.

How to Stop Ants Nesting in Your Plant Pots

Now that we understand why ants are attracted to potted plants, let's explore how to prevent them from nesting:

Improve Drainage:

Ensure proper drainage for your potted plants. Use pots with drainage holes, and use a well-aerated potting mix to prevent waterlogging.

Watering Practices:

Water your plants in the morning to allow the soil to dry out during the day so they’re less attractive to ants. Avoid overwatering. Excessively moist soil is an ideal nesting ground.

Natural Repellents:

Use natural repellents like cinnamon, peppermint oil, or diatomaceous earth on the soil surface. These substances create a barrier that ants are less likely to cross.

Remove Food Sources:

Regularly clean plant leaves to remove honeydew-producing pests like aphids. This reduces the incentive for ants to build nests in search of food.

Seal Entry Points:

Inspect your potted plants for any cracks, gaps, or holes in the pots, and seal them.

Elevate Pots:

Place your pots on stands or use pot feet to elevate them. This creates a physical barrier that makes it more challenging for ants to reach the soil.

Ant-Repelling Plants:

Introduce ant-repelling plants around your potted plants. Mint, basil, and tansy are examples.

Rotate Plant Locations:

If possible, rotate the locations of your potted plants. This disrupts any established ant trails and makes it harder for them to locate and nest in the same spot repeatedly.

How to Get Ants Out of Potted Plants: Step-by-Step Guide

If you've already discovered ants in your potted plants, follow these steps to effectively remove them. Hopefully the first few steps work, and you don’t have to make your way down the entire list:

  1. Identify the Ant Species
    • Knowing the specific species can help determine the most effective treatment.
  2. Disturb the Nest
    • Gently disturb the ant nest by loosening the top layer of soil. This disrupts the ants' nesting environment and makes them more likely to relocate.
  3. Use a Natural Ant Repellent
    • Apply a natural ant repellent around the pot's base. Mix equal parts vinegar and water or use a solution of lemon juice and water. Spray this mixture on the pot's surface to deter ants.
  4. Introduce Beneficial Insects
    • Introduce beneficial insects like nematodes or predatory beetles that feed on ant larvae. This natural approach helps control ant populations without harming your plants.
  5. Remove Aphids and Honeydew Producers
    • Remove any aphids or pests producing honeydew from your plants to eliminate potential food sources for ants.
  6. Apply Diatomaceous Earth
  • Sprinkle food-grade diatomaceous earth around the base of your potted plants. Diatomaceous earth is a natural insecticide that works by dehydrating and ultimately killing ants. Reapply after rain or watering.
  1. Use Ant Baits
    • Place ant baits strategically around the affected area. Ant baits contain a slow-acting poison that ants carry back to their colony, effectively targeting the entire nest. Follow the instructions on the bait packaging for optimal results.
  2. Neem Oil Solution
    • Mix neem oil with water according to the product instructions. Neem oil has insecticidal properties and can deter ants from nesting in your potted plants.

Successfully dealing with ants in your potted plants involves a combination of immediate action to eliminate the existing infestation and implementing preventive measures to keep them at bay.

By understanding why ants are attracted to your plants and using natural remedies and repellents, you can create an environment that discourages ants from nesting. Regular maintenance, proper watering practices, and strategic preventive measures will help ensure that your potted plants remain a thriving and ant-free part of your home or garden. 

Happy gardening!