Ants. Is there anything more frustrating than looking out at your (maybe not so) perfectly manicured lawn and spotting the telltale signs of ants making their homes in your garden? It starts with just spotting one, and then suddenly you notice the things everywhere: on your paths, furniture, and in your grass.
Perhaps you’ve got children or pets, or maybe you just want to feel cool grass between your toes, either way you’ll probably want to be rid of them before your next foray out to the garden. Unfortunately most “off-the-shelf” effective bug repellent or killer uses harsh chemicals that can be dangerous or even deadly for pets, plants, or children, so a lot of people try to avoid them.
Fortunately, there are several options at your disposal for exterminating the pests naturally without destroying your grass. Some of the options could be in your kitchen cabinets already.
Whilst the little insects can be annoying and gross, they do also play an important role within the ecosystem of your garden, like eating termites and aphids, aerating the soil, and pollinating seeds. With this in mind, and if you’re a bleeding-heart hippy like me, you might want to consider discouraging the ants from making your lawn their territory by removing their access to food sources, which could include your bins or your compost. By moving these away from your grass, the ants would have to go elsewhere for their food and could leave your garden alone.
Another alternative could be to encourage bug-eating birds, such as Chickadees and Nuthatches, into your garden to help keep the ant population down.
You could also try using natural deterrents, such as mint, that can be planted in your garden and repels insects. Some essential oils have a similar effect, like cinnamon or peppermint oil. These repel and discourage insects from traversing the area.
These options however would definitely take the most time to be effective and in the end, wouldn’t necessarily work, so it’s not for everyone, but is always an option to bear in mind before you start taking direct action.
There are essentially two methods of dealing with ants or other infestations: sprays and powders. Natural sprays are all a combination of water and another substance which work by either disrupting the ant’s chemical trail and disorientating them, or by exposing them to stuff that they can’t handle and killing them. Keep in mind that whilst none of these solutions are toxic to people or pets, try to keep both away from the infestation whilst you deal with the problem so they don’t disturb the process.
With that in mind, let’s run down the top options for possible sprays that you can make using materials found at home.
The easiest, most effective method is to make a soapy water solution, using a ratio of 4 cups of water to 1 tablespoon of regular soap (either hand soap or dish soap will work), mixed together then added to a spray bottle. The soap breaks down the ant’s natural water resistance which eventually kills them, and it also destroys the chemical trails that the ants use to communicate with each other.
So you want to spray this generously anywhere you’ve spotted ants such as their trail, the mound, or any plants you’ve noticed them on. You can also pour this solution into the colony to kill any ants within.
Another similar solution is to use equal parts white vinegar and water and apply the same method as above. This works a lot faster and it is the acidity of the vinegar that kills them, rather than the slower method of using soapy water.
However, you need to be cautious when working with the vinegar solution, as the same acidity that kills the ants can also damage your grass, plants, or topsoil. This method is best in small doses or poured directly into the anthill to avoid any accidental damage.
1 part lemon, 3 parts water will give you an all-purpose lemon water solution that works effectively to destroy the chemical trail that ants follow and use to communicate with each other. This method is very similar to vinegar as the acidity will kill ants that it comes into contact with, whilst the strong citrus smell will act as a deterrent and repel ants or other insects from the area.
Salty water works by drying out the ants’ exoskeleton and leaving them to die of dehydration. Mix a liberal amount of salt with warm tap water, make sure it all dissolves then get to work spraying the trails and mound – this is another solution that can be poured directly into the ant colony.
However, just like with the vinegar mixture, exercise caution when using salty water, as excess will damage your plants and soil – and can potentially leave you with completely infertile soil.
Powders are the dry alternative to using sprays and can be used as they are, directly from the box (or bottle, or jar, etc). These can be more effective as they either dehydrate or suffocate the ants. However, you do have to bear in mind that they will potentially make a mess of your lawn as they will be more visible than a water-based spray.
As well as this, in order to be effective, the powders need to be used in large quantities, which can potentially increase the cost. With any method of pest control, you need to be mindful of any pets or children that might play or otherwise be outside whilst you experiment with different techniques. You don’t want your poor dog to go outside to do his business only to end up sitting on a lump of Cayenne Pepper, as I imagine that would be pretty uncomfortable.
Here are some great methods for keeping your garden ant-free with powders.
I’m cheating a little with this one, as it can be used as either a powder or a spray. Ants will not walk through Cayenne or Chilli pepper, so you can take advantage of this by pouring it thickly around the anthill and along their trail. This can be used as a deterrent by creating a carrier that prevents ants from making their way towards your home or patio.
Alternatively, the pepper can be used to exterminate the ants by mixing the pepper with water and once again pouring it into the mound and spraying the remaining ants.
Ants breathe through a tiny sequence of holes on their backs named spiracles which carry oxygen to almost every cell in their body. If these pores become clogged, the ant will suffocate and die. This is exactly what sprinkling ground cinnamon around the ant’s trail and the mound will do, whilst also disturbing the chemicals the ants leave.
Cinnamon is an effective method for killing an infestation, so long as it’s used in generous amounts to ensure coverage.
Similar to cinnamon, baby powder particles are small enough to clog these pours, depriving an ant of oxygen and leaving it to suffocate. This is a decent option as you can buy it in much larger quantities than spices, so you shouldn’t need more than one bottle. Plus it smells great.
That said, baby powder will inevitably make quite a mess around your garden and potentially dehydrate other plants wherever you’ve sprinkled it, so use it carefully.
That’s a long word, let’s just call it DE from here on out. DE is the ground-up fossils of microscopic sea life, which means it’s packed full of minerals and nutrients which feed and nourish your garden whilst also getting rid of most pesky insects, including ants. The way that it works is by being so microscopic and razor-sharp that it actually cuts into the ant’s exoskeleton as it walks over the powder, eventually absorbing the ant’s moisture, leaving it to die due to dehydration. You just need to use it every day until the infestation has died out – which can sometimes take a little whilst, but once they’re gone, they’re gone as DE also acts as a repellent.
Food-grade DE is completely safe for consumption, and so can be used around children and animals without worry. You can buy it in large quantities, with lots of options for distribution including dusters and scoops available from Amazon. The only catch is that it is naturally more expensive than spice or dish soap, however, you may find that the added benefits more than make-up for the price tag.
There are a ton of options when it comes to disrupting or exterminating an infestation of ants, and it really is up to you to experiment with what you have available to you in your home, or what you’re willing to go out and buy. Using deterrents and repellents will allow the ant population to survive and find a home somewhere else – remember, they do serve a purpose to the biome of your garden, and completely exterminating them may lead to an increase in other unwanted pests.
If you find yourself with a large, unwanted population of ants in your grass, stay mindful that you don’t cause more damage to the surrounding lawn than the ants would have done by drowning it with harsh chemicals, and experiment with one of these natural solutions instead.