7 Ways To Stop Ants Nesting in Your Plant Pots And Why They Do It

by | Ants, Insects, Plants and Trees

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Potted plants can be a beautiful way to liven up any space, whether indoors or outdoors. But they also seem to be very attractive to ants that are looking for a new place to nest. While ants are usually found in any gardening project, you probably don’t want them nesting in your pretty flower pots.

Use ant bait or commercial ant spray to kill and stop ants nesting in pot plants. For an eco-friendly option, scare ants away by sprinkling coffee grounds, citrus rinds, or spices in the pot. If ant nesting is an infestation, change the soil for fresh, ant-free soil.

The good news is that there are many things you can do to stop ants from nesting in your potted plants. Let’s take a closer look at why ants are nesting in your pots and all the options you have to stop them from nesting there.

Why ants nest in potted plants

This potted plant had an ant nest in it. After seeing ants crawling along the top of the soil and under the pot, I decided to flip out the soil to see what an ant nest looks like inside a plant pot. What I found was thousands of red ants and many thousands of white ant eggs inside the soil and along the edge, between the soil and the pot. Once exposed, the ants disappeared within 10 minutes and carried most of their eggs with them. This is probably a budded or satellite ant nest, which may or may not have a queen ant depending on the type of ants living there.

Ants do not nest in potting soil to eat or damage the plants in the pot. So ants are not harmful to the plants in your pots.

There are several reasons why ants nest in pots, so let’s take a look at the three most common reasons why you’re finding ants in there…

Potted plants are safe, comfortable places

Potted plants, especially those perched off the ground, are safer for ants than making nests on the ground or at ground level.

The potted area also provides warmth, shelter, nutrition, and a worry-free place to live. The ants may even go underground in your pots for the winter, if the weather gets too cold for them.

The soil is hydrophobic

Potting soil, like food, gets old. And old potting soil can become what’s called ‘hydrophobic’.

Hydrophobic potting soil stays dry because it doesn’t let water run into the soil – the water collects on top of the soil in the pot.

This quick video shows you what hydrophobic soil is, and how to tell if you have it:

Ants love hydrophobic soil because it stays dry instead of soaking up the water from rain or the water hose. If you’re using old potting soil, there’s a good chance that ants will move in.

Ants are a sign of another problem

Photo of ant eating honeydew from aphids

Ants like to eat, and a potted plant with edible food on it makes a great place to build a nest.

If your potted plant is infested by mealybugs or aphids, ants usually aren’t far behind. Aphids and mealybugs ooze a sweet substance called honeydew that ants love to eat. Click here to find out how aphids kill your plants.

If you notice ants in your pots and damage to your plants, don’t just assume the ants are damaging your plant. Check for another infestation, which might be causing the problem.

6 ways to stop ants from nesting in plant pots

Photo of ants and ant eggs in the soil

Here are my six best tips to get rid of ants that are nesting in your pot plants…

Use commercial bait or spray

If you have a major ant infestation that you need to sort out quickly, the most effective option you have is to buy ant baits or chemical sprays. There are many on the market and they aren’t very expensive – but as with any household chemical products and poisons, it’s important to take precautions such as:

  • Buy a branded product that is made in a country where there is strict quality control in manufacturing processes or a product with local offices that check the quality of the products they import and sell
  • Keep children and animals away from any pots with poison in them
  • Put the pots where birds can’t get to pots with poison, or find ways to stop birds from getting to your plants
  • Follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully when using ant bait or spray
  • Wash your hands well after handling ant bait or spray

The top brands of ant bait and sprays to look out for are:

  • Raid
  • Advion
  • Maggie’s Farm

If you want to use ant bait, many gardeners have had success with these liquid bait stations from Amazon. They are pre-set and ready to go, and all you need to do is set them near your plants and wait for the ants to crawl in.

You’ll also want to check out this organic spray from Amazon because it kills ants at all stages of their lifecycle – from eggs to adults (along with many other harmful pests). You can use it on indoor or outdoor plants, and it’s a botanical insecticide that’s made with chrysanthemum flowers.

Add diatomaceous earth

Diatomaceous earth is a white, rock-like powder that’s made from the fossils of little sea organisms. When sprinkled on the soil in a pot, it kills ants that walk there by soaking up the fats and oils in the ants’ bodies, which dehydrates them so they die.

Simply sprinkle some diatomaceous earth on top of the soil in your pots, or use the powder duster that comes with some of these products that’s designed for this purpose.

The safest option is food-grade diatomaceous earth, such as this option from HARRIS, which should be safe for animals and wildlife, but not ants and other crawling insects such as slugs.

Many people prefer to use diatomaceous earth over baits and sprays because it’s chemical-free and doesn’t hurt humans or animals.

Here’s a great video on what diatomaceous earth is and how to apply it:

Click here for the complete list of what diatomaceous earth kills in your yard and home.

Use natural ant repellents

There are plenty of things in nature that ants won’t go near to, which makes them good things to sprinkle on or around your potted plants to keep ants away.

Citrus makes a great ant repellent. You can try spritzing freshly squeezed juice from oranges or lemons directly onto your plants to see if this scares the ants away.

If you want something stronger and much more effective, cook up a little citrus storm:

  1. Simmer the rinds from six oranges in one cup of water for about thirty minutes
  2. Mix it well to get an even consistency
  3. Leave the mixture to cool down
  4. Pour this solution over the ant nest

Here are some other natural ingredients you can put on the soil in your plant pot to keep ants away:

  • Black pepper
  • Cayenne
  • Cinnamon
  • Cloves
  • Coffee grounds
  • Mint (grind leaves first)
  • Peppermint oil
  • Tea leaves (grind them first)
  • White vinegar

Ants hate white vinegar, which makes it extremely effective as a means of getting rid of them. But be careful with vinegar as it’s very acidic and may kill your plants.

Spray ants with homemade Dawn soap spray

The blue Original Scent Dawn dish soap (available on Amazon) can be used to make an insecticide spray that kills ants effectively. You can read how this insecticide works and what steps to take in my blog post HERE – I also give you an organic alternative to Dawn that you can use.

Simply mix 2 tablespoons of Dawn dish soap in a gallon of warm water and put the solution into a clean spray bottle. Spray your affected plants and any areas where you know the ants are nesting. Wait for the spray to dry and wash it off your plants.

The soap spray must be wet and come into contact with the ants to be effective.

** If you live in the UK, Europe, Australia, or New Zealand, try this dish soap instead of Dawn dish soap. It’s made by the same company (Procter & Gamble) but is sold under another brand name

Change the soil

If your potting soil seems to be the problem, buy new, fresh potting soil and repot your plants.

Try to get as much of the old soil off your plants’ roots as possible, or you may end up relocating the ants to the new soil.

Soak your soil

Ants like to live in dry soil. If you don’t want to repot your plants, try drenching them in water for 30 minutes. Mixing a small amount of insecticide into the water can also help to rid the soil of ants.

First check the type of plant you’re watering. Some plants can’t handle a super soak in water for the length of time it takes to get rid of ants (about 30 minutes). Be sure yours can, or you’ll kill your plant with the ants.

This method only works if you have ants nesting in your pots because of dry, hydrophobic soil. If that’s not your underlying problem, then soaking the soil won’t help.

Get rid of underlying infestations

If the sweet smell of honeydew from aphids or other bugs attracts ants to your pot plants, you’ll need to take care of the underlying infestation, which should take care of your ant problem as well.

Start by determining if there are any pests, other than ants, on your potted plants. Inspect the plants’ leaves, flowers, and stems, and take a close look to see if there’s anything else in the soil. If you see any other pests, take steps to get rid of them.

Aphids, for example, can usually be taken care of with a mixture of water and dish soap. And you can get rid of mealybugs with a combination of Dawn and rubbing alcohol.

Final thoughts

Ants won’t usually damage your potted plants, but they can be a nuisance, especially if your potted plants are inside your home.

Luckily, there are plenty of ways to get rid of them, both chemically and naturally. The first step is always diagnosing the underlying reason why ants are moving in, then finding the right way to get rid of them shouldn’t be too hard.

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