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Ants on Plants and Trees

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Q: We have "a lot" of little ants in the yard. Many of them are at the base of my trees, shrubs, and plants. I am looking for something that will get rid of them and not harm my plants. We also don't want to use anything that will harm our dog or cat, deer, or other little animals. Thank you for any help you send.

Hardiness Zone: 8a

Jodi From Gary Texas

A: Hi Jodi,

Texas is home to hundreds of species of ants. Some of them like to feast on sugar, while others prefer eating protein and fat. Most ants are harmless in the garden. Certain species will defoliate and damage plants, others have a stinging bite, and still others are beneficial and keep harmful insects like termites from taking up residence near your home.

There are several different ways to control ants in the yard, while still keeping pets and kids safe. Keep in mind that you may have to do a little experimenting to figure out what method works best for the kind living in your yard.

1. Certain ants are attracted to the sweet honeydew left behind by aphids on trees, shrubs and plants in the garden. These species will even go as far as "keeping" aphids, defending them from other insect predators, protecting their eggs over winter and actually transporting adult aphids from plant to plant in order to keep them fat and happy (and secreting honeydew). Check the plants in your yard and garden for infestations of aphids, scale and mealy bugs-these insects all secrete sugar that some ants feed on. A good spray with the hose is often enough to dislodge these insects. Getting rid of them will often get rid of your ants.

2. Frequently flooding ant hills with the garden hose (boiling water is not necessary) will encourage ants to relocate. This takes a little patience (and water), but is effective if you only have a few big ant hills in your yard.

3. Certain products sprinkled around trees and shrubs seem to keep ants at bay: scented baby powder, cinnamon and black pepper. Ants navigate by scent and these strong smelling deterrents are said to confuse them.

4. Applying Vaseline or another sticky substance around the base of the trees and plants they seem to be favoring will prevent them from climbing.

5. Boric acid is very effective at killing ants. Although considered a relatively safe chemical when used correctly (diluted boric acid is used in some ointments and salves and Boron occurs naturally in the environment), it is not safe for children, pets or the environment in higher concentrations or when used incorrectly. You can get around this by making a homemade trap. Wear gloves and mix 3 cups of water, one cup of sugar and 4 teaspoons of boric acid. Fill several glass jars with cotton batting soaked in this mixture. Cap the jars with lids that contain holes punched in the top to let the ants in. Mark the jars as containing poison (skull and cross bones) to be safe. Leave them in areas of your yard where ants are a problem. They will enter the jars, suck up the mixture and take the bait back to share it with the colony where others will eat it and die.

For protein-eating ants, substitute dog or cat food or peanut butter for the sugar. For carpenter ants, substitute wood soaked in a mixture of water and boric acid instead of cotton batting. Do not let pets or children near the jars.

About The Author: Ellen Brown is our Green Living and Gardening Expert. Click here to ask Ellen a question! Ellen Brown is an environmental writer and photographer and the owner of Sustainable Media, an environmental media company that specializes in helping businesses and organizations promote eco-friendly products and services. Contact her on the web at


Recent Answers

Here are the recent answer to this question.

By robyn (Guest Post)07/16/2007

I have almost an acre of land and about 15 oak trees on the lake! The ants are everywhere on vines, dock, trees, plants, and the outside of house.......they do not bite they just crawl all over you and drop out of the trees......please help I am going crazy....robyns06 AT

By Teresa [4]03/26/2006

Ants hate used coffee grounds. Coffee grounds make an excellent fertilizer for plants and repels ants!

By jeggie (Guest Post)03/09/2006

I don't have any advice but have a similar problem. I would like a solution to my fire ant problem that won't hurt my Black Lab or any children that come onto my property. My husband and I moved to Northern GA last August and have never had to deal with these creatures before. Our dog likes to find a hill and start digging in it and last time I was trying to be the "protective mother" and get them off of him, I was the one that got bit. How can I get rid of them?

By Connie A.. (Guest Post)03/07/2006

Just a hint. Some plants require ants on them to bloom. I didn't know this until my neighbor killed all of the ants from her Peoni's and the plants never bloomed. I live next door and got my starting plant from hers and mine bloom every year. The ants help the plant to bloom. You might want to check before you kill all of the ants to make sure that they aren't being beneficial.

By Dr. Beth Dupree [1]03/06/2006

simply mix borax and honey and a drop or 2 of orange essential oil. mix this all together and drop around the yard where ants are seen. You may have to reapeat once a month.

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