Getting Rid of Ants in Outdoor Potted Plants

September 4, 2008
Ant on a leaf.


What is the best way to keep fire ants from setting up shop in outdoor potted plants? After recently transplanting two ornamentals, I noticed ants in the newly placed potting soil. I utilized Sevin Dust water hose treatment, but this was without success.

Hardiness Zone: 9a

Jo from Louisiana


Hi Jo,

One of the best products I have found for keeping ants out of my flower pots (and my house) is diatomaceous earth (DE). Just sprinkle a tiny bit around the base of your pots or on the ants' "runs". It won't hurt your plants if you also want to spread a little on the topsoil.

I like DE because it is organic and it is safe. It contains nothing more than the powdered skeletal remains of tiny algae-like plants called diatoms (and maybe some water). DE is considered a mineral-based pesticide. It is made of up magnesium, silicon, calcium, sodium, iron, and several trace minerals. You can find it at garden centers, feed stores, and some health food stores, or order it online. DE is usually sold in 1-2 lb bags and has the look and feel of ground up chalk. I'm not exactly clear whether ants ingest it, or just perish as a result of coming into contact with it, but either way, it dries them up within about 30 minutes of exposure.


The only caution about using diatomaceous earth is that you should not continuously breath any of the dust. Once you open the bag, you may want to store it in an additional bag to help contain the dust. I've used DE both indoors and out. I also have pets and have never had any problems, but like any pesticide, I restrict their contact with it. Always read and follow the label directions carefully.

Another organic method I've read about is scattering worm casings 1 inch thick across the topsoil of potted plants. Apparently, fire ants (and whiteflies) in particular don't care for this. I have not tried this method personally, but I like the sound of it. You are feeding your plants, while keeping troublesome bugs at bay. If you try it, let me know how it works. You can order worm casings online, get them from worm composters, or find them where organic garden products are sold.


Good luck!


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5 Questions

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April 25, 2011

I have a large pot outside with several kinds of plants in it, I just discovered it is full of small black ants. When I moved the pot, the ant "holes" were all under where the pot has been sitting for quiet awhile. Does anyone know how to get rid of these little devils without killing my plants or having to dump the entire pot? Thanks, any help would be appreciated.

Hardiness Zone: 8a

By Harden from NC


April 26, 20112 found this helpful

Sprinkle in a little cinnamon.

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April 27, 20111 found this helpful

I have had good luck with cinnamon. Just sprinkle it on top of the soil and they should leave.

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September 10, 20160 found this helpful

first I lifted up my plant and was grossed out. I've been spraying with HOT SHOT ant spray, so I soaked the ground with ivory and water then dawn with water and finally cinnamon. The cinnamon seemed to do it.

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September 15, 20161 found this helpful

I wouldn't use cinnamon on the soil. I tried that and it killed my plant.

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June 11, 20170 found this helpful

I researched and then made my own insecticidal soap with Dr Bronner's peppermint soap bar. For a 2 gallon potted plant, I cut the bar in half and soaked it outside in a gallon pail of clean water overnite then placed it in the sun for rest of next day.


Then I just poured it into my potted plant. Next day I watered it again. Poof they're gone. Plant is happy. Hope it's safe for bees or butterflies getting nectar from the plant though...

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January 16, 2020

Do you have to use Dawn dish soap to help get rid of ants in outdoor potted plants or will any dish soap work?


Bronze Post Medal for All Time! 105 Posts
January 16, 20200 found this helpful
Best Answer

Normally you should use an insecticidal soap to do this one. You are to add 1 to 2 tablespoons of the soap to a bucket of water. Sit the plant in the bucket and make sure the water just goes to the top of the soil. Allow it to sit in the water for 20 minutes.


Other than this the next step I do is to get a bag and take my plant out of the pot and shake all the ants and dirt in the bag to tie up and throuw away. Then change the soil on my plants.

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July 16, 2018

I have an ant nest in my rose bush. The bush is planted in a tub. How do a get rid of the ants?


Gold Post Medal for All Time! 677 Posts
July 16, 20180 found this helpful

You can use ant bait or spearmint spray.

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July 16, 20180 found this helpful

I am of the anti chemical side so I will tell you what works for me and it is very inexpensive as I can sometimes get it from the dollar store... cinnamon. Plain old pantry cinnamon. Sprinkle it in the dirt. They don't like it and it disrupts their scent paths. You will have to reapply it when it rains and it may take a few treatments. My friend adds mint spray to her repertoire and sprays it on the ants and if she finds the hill she douses it with the spray.


I think she found a recipe on YouTube. I haven't tried it for ants, but mint packs work on keeping mice out of basements. That I have done.

Good luck! Hope a natural method works for you! It is safe for the plant, pets and kiddos.

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Silver Answer Medal for All Time! 424 Answers
July 17, 20180 found this helpful

I found that Cinnamon powder or Baby powder is a deterrent for ants. Just sprinkle it in the dirt of your planter and they will soon leave !!

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Bronze Post Medal for All Time! 107 Posts
July 24, 20180 found this helpful

so it's tough that it's so near the flower bush because you don't want to upset the plant

but the best way to get rid of an ant's nest I've found is to boil water with orange peels in it, and then douse the nest with it. Instant annihilation, and zero chemicals! If it's impossible due to proximity of rose bush, then probably just something with an insecticide

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January 17, 20190 found this helpful

Yes, the orange peel really works. If you have potted plants it's really easy but also works on outdoor plants.

Like this:

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May 27, 20190 found this helpful


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August 17, 2012

How do I get rid of ants in the soil of my outside plants on my patio?

By Brenda C from Clinton, NC


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August 20, 20120 found this helpful

I place my plants in a large saucer or tub containing about an inch of soapy water, then flood the potting soil with a soapy-water solution (a little Dawn dishsoap in water). The soapy water will kill the ants, which can't get away because of the water in the saucer/tub. When the ants climb up the pot or up the plant, I spray the soapy water on them. But don't do this in sunlight because it can burn the plants. After the ants are dead, I spray clean water on the plants to remove the soapy water. I've never had a plant die, and I put all my plants out in early spring, each year. Sometimes, I'll water my plants with soapy water just to make sure they don't contain any ants before bringing them in. It's a cheap solution to an aggrevating problem.

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November 19, 20150 found this helpful

hi susan my name is lanell I have red ants in my plant outside and im not sure how they got there but I just read your answer to my question but I have a question how long does this that for the plant to completely get out and how offend to I spray the plant thank you

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November 6, 20180 found this helpful

I have been using Dawn for a long time and water my plants in pots before bringing in for the winter and I have had no problem with insects.

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February 11, 20220 found this helpful

I would suggest you Mix a teaspoon of dishwater liquid or any soap liquid in a pint of warm water. Spray it on and around the plants. If you have peppermint oil then add a few drops of this super-effective. Do this at night, and the next morning spray some freshwater just to remove the soap solution.

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