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How to Get Rid of Ants in Potted Plants: The Ultimate Guide

Ants are pesky insects that invade potted plants. They can be frustrating to get rid of, and even more frustrating if they return later.

But don’t worry, there are multiple things you can do to avoid this problem.

Ants typically invade your potting plants when it is left outside and not brought inside during the winter months.

5 Things You Didn't Know About Ants x
5 Things You Didn't Know About Ants

This article will provide information about how ants enter potted plants, why ants would want to live there, and what steps you can take to remove them naturally or with pesticides.

How to Get Rid of Ants in Potted Plants Naturally

Got ants in your potted plants? 

Ants can be a problem with many houseplants, especially if they’re crawling up the sides of pots and into the soil. 

There are several types of ants that will invade potted plants for food and shelter, but it is possible to get rid of these ants naturally by modifying their habitat around the plant.

Here are some of the best natural ways of getting rid of ants in potted plants:

  • Diatomaceous earth
  • Essential Oils
  • Dish soap
  • Replacing the soil
  • Using water
  • Denying access

Diatomaceous Earth

Ants cannot digest diatomaceous earth which causes ants to dehydrate and eventually die. 

To utilize this method, sprinkle some DE around the base of your plants where ants are present. Ants will enter the potting soil to take some back to their nest and ultimately die. 

It may take a few days for ants to be eliminated, but it is an effective method without any chemicals.

Diatomaceous Earth

Essential Oils

Essential oils are very effective as natural remedies against ants in potted plants. The oils have strong fragrances that ants don’t like, so they will leave your plant alone if you use them around the base of it. 

Cinnamon oil or tea tree oil are excellent choices for this purpose because ants cannot stand its smell and will be driven away. 

Some other essential oil ants in potted plants remedies include peppermint, eucalyptus, lavender, and citronella.

cinnamon and essential oil

Dish Soap

If ants are climbing up the stem of your plant, use a dish soap mix to kill ants or to create a protective barrier. 

To do this, simply mix a little dish soap with water and pour it into a spray. Spray the soapy water on your plants, or directly on the ants, and wait for the ants to perish.

This is an easy and pesticide-free way of getting rid of ants.

hands soap

Replace the Soil

If ants have already infested the soil your plant is planted in, replace it. Simply remove the plant, wash the roots to make sure you’ve gotten rid of all of the ants, and replant.

Keep an eye on the replanted plant, as ants might try to infest this soil as well. If that’s the case, try using some repellant.

replacing soil on potted plants

Soak the Soil

One method is trying to drown or flush out the ants. To do this, simply soak the soil in water. This should kill the ants eventually.

Another way of using water is to place the pot within a larger pot while placing the inner pot in water. Surrounding the pot completely with water will prevent ants from reaching it.

soaking soil

Deny access to your plants and modify the conditions

Ants collect food and water for their colonies. If you make it difficult to access either of these things in your potted houseplants, ants will go elsewhere looking for a better source of nutrition.

Keep the soil dry by adding mulch around your plants or simply watering from below at least once per week rather than with an overhead sprinkler that leaves the topsoil constantly wet and may encourage ant infestations. 

Ants also use plant sap as a form of sustenance. While some ants are more inclined to eat sugary food and others prey upon insects caught between branches and trunks for protein, all ants will eat any sort of nectar from your plants.

To prevent ants from getting their food source, coat the exterior of pots with a natural ant repellent or petroleum jelly to make it difficult for ants to climb up them.

You can also put your pots on pot feet to make it more difficult for the ants to reach.

How to Get Rid of Ants in Potted Plants (Other Methods)

If you’ve already tried the natural methods without luck, it might be time to turn to stronger methods.

There are a lot of sprays, baits, and powders you can use, all developed specifically to get rid of ants.

Also read: How to get rid of ants in your home and garden

Here are the best ways to get rid of ants in potted plants using chemicals and other methods:

  • Commercial ant bait or spray
  • Call pest control

Commercial Bait or Spray

One of the best methods for ants in plants is using a commercial product. There are many different types to choose from depending on what type of ants you have and where they like to hang out. 

Some of the most popular are:

  • Using ant bait stations to poison the ants
  • Using ant traps to poison the ants
  • Spraying the ants with ant-killer spray

If ants are crawling up the stem or sides of your houseplant’s pot, try spraying ants with soapy water first. The soap will stop ants from being able-bodied to move around and ants will die from being unable to absorb water.

Have Pest Control Remove the Nest

Ants in potted plants, ants on the ground, and ants all over your yard can become a problem. In some cases, it’s best to call professional pest control to remove the nest from wherever they’re nesting. 

Pest control knows how to deal with ants, and if you’ve got yourself a larger nest on your hands, it can be quite difficult to deal with.

ant spray and exterminator

Why Are There Ants in My Potted Plants?

There are many reasons why ants may be invading your potted plants, but the primary reason behind ant infestations is food.

Ants will look for moist areas that contain lots of nutrients. This makes plants, and the soil they’re planted in, perfect targets for ants. They’ll also seek out fungal growth such as mildews and molds, which can also be found around plants.

Here are the most common reasons why your plants may attract ants:

  • Potted plants are safe for ants
  • The soil is hydrophobic
  • Ants love sugary substances from plants
  • Ants Collect Water From the Plants
  • They’re growing fungi in the soil

Different types of ants may look for different things, such as a place to grow fungi or a place to collect nectar.

Also read: What attracts ants?

Potted Plants Are Safe for Ants

Ants are animals with a lot of natural enemies. Because of their small size, they are constantly in danger of getting eaten, being killed by the weather or other various ways they can die.

They’re also constantly looking for food. They use up a lot of energy, so they need a lot to eat – and not just for themselves, but for the queen and brood as well.

That’s why the safety of potted plants attracts them. The pot can provide shelter for the little insects, and the plant can provide a smaller amount of food. A perfect combination.

A potted plant is way better than an open field.

The Soil Is Hydrophobic

The soil in plants is hydrophobic, meaning it repels water. Ants need water. If it’s dry outside, or you live in a generally dry area, this might be the primary reason behind ants in potted plants.

The ants will collect some of the water from the pots to hydrate themselves.

alone black ant on plant leaves

Ants Love Sugary Substances

Ants love sugary substances, and plants are great source for sugary substances. Plants produce glucose through a natural process called photosynthesis [1].

Photosynthesis is a process where plants transform light energy and carbon dioxide into oxygen and glucose. This glucose is very rich in nutrients. This occurs in plants and trees.

Ants like the glucose from plants (also called nectar). They will rush to it, as it’s one of their favorite foods.

many ant workers in a flower

If this is why ants are infesting your plants, you don’t have to worry, as they will leave as soon as they’ve collected all of the nectar from your plants.

If they don’t disappear though, there might be another reason behind the infestation.

If you find ants on your houseplants or garden, make sure to remove them quickly before the colony gets bigger.

They Collect Water From the Plants

As stated, plants don’t use all of the water they’re given – some of it typically runs through the soil, which is hydrophobic. If this water is just sitting around, it will attract ants.

Ants love moisture, and they need water to stay hydrated. If they sense that there’s water in your potted plants, they might come to collect some of it. As you keep watering your plants, the water runs into the soil and might keep returning.

ants on a wet flower

Ants are growing fungi in your plants

Some ants live off of fungi they grow, almost like their own plants. Your potted plants are great places to do this. 

If you’ve got stale water in the bottom of the pot, mold may start to occur. Ants such as the leafcutter may sense this, rushing in to keep the fungi growing. They will then keep growing and feeding this, so they can eat it for the nutrients.

leafcutter ant

Are Ants Good or Bad for Potted Plants?

Ants are both good and bad for plants. They help the soil by aerating it. Ants will even collect aphids that can destroy or damage plants, but ants can also disturb the plants.

In most cases, ants are harmless to your plants as long as they don’t inflict any direct damage or eat the leaves of your plant [2]

Read more about the relationship between ants and peonies here.

Here are the two most common issues ants cause when invading your potted plants:

  • Ants disturb the soil around plant roots and deposit it on the surface during their nest building activities.
  • Ants may disturb the roots and containers, which can cause wilting for deep-rooted plants.
  • Some ants sting or bite, which can be an issue.

Ants will only invade a potted plant if it has something that is attractive to them such as aphids, honeydew from other insects on the plant, fungus gnats due to excess moisture build-up in soil over time.

You may like: What are ants good for?

If ants are invading your compost, you have no need to worry. They won’t cause any problems here. They’re probably just looking for nutrients.

Can Ants Kill Plants in Pots?

Yes, ants can kill potted plants, but they don’t do this directly. While ants are omnivorous (eating both meat and greens), they won’t feed on leaves. Instead, they can kill your plants by nesting in the soil. This can disturb the roots, which can cause your plants to die.

If you’ve got leaf-cutter ants on your hand, they may go straight for the leaves. This type of ant uses leaves to grow fungi in their nest (or in the soil your plants are planted in). In this case, it’s important to act quickly.

ants and aphids

Types of ants in potted plants

Some of the most common types of ants found in plants include:

  • Carpenter ants
  • Pavement ants
  • Pharaoh ants
  • Odorous house ants
  • Acrobat ants
  • Thief ants

Different types of ants will cause different problems. Some ants eat mostly sugar, which might be the reason why they’re invading your plants. Other ants grow fungi, which they can do in your soil.

If you can identify the type of ant in your plants before treatment, you can target your efforts better, increasing your chance of success.

Getting rid of ants from potted plants is not easy, but it’s important to do in order for your houseplants to be healthy and happy during the summer months when ants are most active outside.

Try out our ant identifier to identify different types of ants.

About Teodoro Pittman

Teodoro is a nature and animal lover. He specifically focuses on insects, such as ants, bees, and the like. In his free time, he takes care of his own ant farm, where he analyzes their behavior. Teodoro has spent the last 7 years studying the intricate behavior of these small creatures.