If you love your plants, seeing bugs like ants on your potted plants is scary.
Ants on potted plants appear as if they’re feeding on something.
When too many ants are crawling on the plants, your potted plants appear to be under an ant attack.
In this guide, you’ll find out if ants in potted plants are good or bad. You’ll also find out why potted plants attract ants and how to get rid of ants in potted plants.
Plus, a lot more.
Are Ants Good Or Bad For Potted Plants?
Ants are good for potted plants and plants in your garden. Ants aerate the soil and amplify its quality by circulating its nutrients.
Ants also eat the plant pests like whiteflies, aphids, mealybugs, and caterpillars. So, ants keep your plants safe from pests that damage plants.
However, the presence of ants is a drawback to the seedlings.
An ant colony is underground. Ants build tunnels underneath the soil to keep their food and larvae.
The process of ants digging the tunnels can damage the seedlings’ roots.
But it also makes it easy for the roots of the grown-up plants to penetrate the soil better.
However, two ant species can kill plants.
They’re the red fire ants and the leaf cutter ants.
Do Ants Eat Plant Roots?
A plant’s roots are not the part of ant diet. So, ant’s don’t eat plant roots.
However, they can cut off the dead roots of dead plants and tree stumps to build their nests.
Ants displace the soil surrounding the roots while building their colonies.
The displaced soil can expose the roots of tiny plants and seedlings. The roots of these plants can dry up and cause the plants to wilt over.
Do Ants Eat Plants?
Ants, including the leaf cutter ants and fire ants, don’t eat plants.
At times, ants in potted plants may look like feeding onto something on the plants.
They’re not harming the plants. They’re feeding on honeydew that has formed on the plants.
Even the damaging leaf cutter ants don’t eat plants.
Why Are There Ants In Indoor Potted Plants?
The presence of an entire ant colony inside the house (which means an ant infestation) and larvae of bugs in the pot’s soil are two primary reasons for ants in indoor potted plants.
Bugs and flies will lay their eggs on the moist soil beds of your indoor potted plants.
Fungus gnats and fruit flies are two of them.
When the eggs hatch, these flies’ larvae (or maggots) become an easy target for the ants to hunt and eat.
Another reason is that if there’s an ant infestation in your home, ants will spill into your indoor plant pots.
The ants will look at alternative nesting grounds, which can be the soil of your potted plants. It happens especially when the soil of your potted plants is extremely dry.
Why Are There Ants In Your Outdoor Potted Plants?
White dust-like plant bugs like whiteflies and aphids produce honeydew. These honeydews solidify into black sooty molds on the plant’s stems, and leaves attract ants.
As honeydew is sweet, it’ll attract ants to the potted plant in your yard or garden.
Ants will feed on the honeydew and the pests that hide underneath the plants’ leaves and twigs.
So, you’ll notice ants in the plant pots and on the plants too.
The sighting of ants on the outdoor plants is a clear sign that an entire ant colony inhabits your yard soil.
If that’s the case, then on inspecting further, you’ll notice ant hills or ant mounds, ant trails, and even ants coming out of the wood piles.
That’s a clear sign of ant infestation in your outdoors.
Ants In Potting Soil Bag
Ants in potting soil bags needed a special mention because it’s also one of the ways that ants can get inside potted plants.
There are pests like ants and maggots in many cheap soil bags available.
And when you pour the soil on the pot containing ants, you introduce ants into the potted plants.
The best way to avoid this situation is by using pasteurized soil. You can buy it or make pasteurized soil in your home.
All you’ve to do is, put the potting soil in a pot.
Seal the pot with aluminum foil and heat it in an oven at 80 degrees F for 30 minutes.
Once you heat it, let it cool off before you pour the soil into the pot.
That’s an easy way to pasteurize the soil. Pasteurizing the soil also unlocks its nutrients. It’s healthy for your potted plants.
How To Get Rid Of Ants From Potted Plants Naturally?
Despite being harmless to plants, ants can thwart the growth of seedlings and expose the plants’ roots.
That can negatively affect your plants in the pot.
So, you must eliminate ants in the plants and use methods to deter ants.
Here are the eight ways to get rid of ants in the plant pots and keep ants away from your indoor potted plants and garden plants.
Scatter Diatomaceous Earth On The Plant’s Soil Bed
Diatomaceous earth is the best way to naturally get rid of ants in potted plants.
Diatomaceous earth is a natural bug killer.
It’s a desiccant with sharp particles that penetrates the ants’ bodies and soaks the fats and moisture that keep the bugs and ants alive.
Apply diatomaceous earth on the plant-soil bed of potted plants or container plants.
And let it rest for half an hour. It’ll kill all the ants living in the soil. It’ll also remove larvae and other pests secretly hiding in the soil.
Use A Soapy Water Spray On The Plants
A strong squirt of soapy water spray, made from dish soap, on the plants will remove the plant pests like aphids, whiteflies, and spider mites that infest plants.
These pests hide on the undersides of the plant’s leaves and branches.
So, use soapy water on them. It’ll remove those bugs and the honeydew on the plants that attract ants.
Soapy water spray is one of the most underrated ways to remove the ant problem in potted plants.
Water The Potted Plant’s Soil Bed
A parched soil bed in plant pots and your yard become the nesting grounds for many ant species that invade homes.
Ants will dig tunnels or build colonies in these soil beds. And they’ll spill all over your home.
So, water the soil of your potted plants.
It’ll be best to put the entire plant pot in a big container full of water. And let the soil in the plant pot soak in the water.
All the ants will drown and float on the water. Take the plant pot out of the container pot and ensure that you’re watering the plant pot at least thrice a week.
Use An Insecticide Spray On The Plants
There are many plant-safe insecticide sprays that you can use to kill ants crawling on the plants.
Use the spray on the plants, at the plant’s base, and around the pots.
If there are ant hills or mounds near the plants or on the soil beds, use the spray on them to kill the ants.
Insecticidal soap is also a reliable option to eliminate ants in the soil beds.
But please read the safety instructions on the chemicals and follow them before using them.
Keep An Ant Bait Where You Notice Ant Trails
Ant bait is a handy product that helps lure ants.
Keep a few ant baits where you’ve noticed ant trails. Those ant baits are poisonous. So, ensure that your pets and kids can’t access them.
The ant baits attract the ants. The ants feed on them, and some take the baits to their nests for the other ants to feed.
The other ants and the queen ant in the ant colony also feed on the ant bait. And they die.
Ant baits can kill an entire ant colony if you keep them in the right places.
Use Ant Repellants
Many natural solutions are safe for you and keep ants away.
Peppermint essential oils, citrus essential oils, coffee grounds, and baking soda are a few of them.
And they can be extremely useful in keeping ants away from your potted plants.
For example, you can make an ant-repellent spray by mixing a few drops of peppermint oil in a bottle with water.
Pour the mixture into the spray bottle. And spray it on the plant pots.
You can also keep a few cinnamon sticks. Cinnamon repels ants and many other bugs.
These ant repellants also work against bugs and flies and prevent them from nesting in the plant pots.
And they’re extremely useful in keeping ants and bugs away from indoor plant pots.
Cinnamon For Ants In Potted Plants
Cinnamon is a proven bug repellent. And you can scatter cinnamon powder, spray cinnamon oil, or even keep a few cinnamon sticks on the soil bed of potted plants.
Cinnamon’s strong smell keeps bugs and ants away.
However, it acts only as a repellant, not as a killer.
Change The Potted Soil With Pasteurized Soil
Over time, soil loses vitality. That leads the soil to become stale, and it becomes hydrophobic soil.
It means that the soil can’t soak water. That leads to dryness in the soil.
The dry soil attracts ants, enabling them to build their colonies underneath the soil’s layer in the plant pot.
The best way to counteract the drawback is to change the old potting soil with pasteurized or fresh soil.
You can change it every season, especially when spring arrives. It’ll help keep ants and other pests away from the potting soil.
Plants That Attract Ants
These species of ants attract ants. So, if you’ve them in your garden, they can draw the ants to your plants.
- Wild Parsnip
- Desert Willow
- Small Stonecrop
The sweet nectar of peonies, wild parsnips, and desert willow attract ants.
Whereas clematis, roses, small stonecrop, and penstemon attract aphids. Ants eat aphids, and the honeydew the aphids make also attracts ants.
White Ants In Potted Plants
Termites are the tiny white ant-like bugs you might sometimes see in potted plants.
Termites feed on the soil’s nutrients and kill the plants by damaging their roots.
And, unlike ants, termites don’t infest potted plants when the soil is dry. Moist soil attracts termites when the weather is dry and sources of moisture dry up.
So, if there are termites in the indoor potted plants, then your home is under a termite attack.
If there are termites in the potted plants in your yard, then your yard has termites.
These termites will make their way into the plant pot underground through its bottom.
The water from the soil of potted plants leaks through the bottom of the pots and plays a significant role in attracting termites to the potted plants, especially at the peak of the summer.
To get rid of termites in indoor potted plants, change the soil. You can also use plant-safe termite killer sprays.
But the spray might not penetrate the soil to contact the termites. So, it’ll be best to change the soil and safely dispose of it with termites.
But on seeing termites in your home, it’ll be best to call a pest controller for a home inspection.
Except for the leaf cutter and red fire ants, most ant species are harmless for potted plants and plants in your yard or garden.
But ants can be damaging for the seedlings because when they dig their tunnels underneath the soil’s layer, they can damage the roots.
This guide has eight options to eliminate ants from plant pots.
Sightings of ants on both indoor and outdoor plants can be a sign of an ant infestation in your home and property.
So, inspect your home, like your kitchen, for ant colonies and possible ant infestation.
Nang Chen is an Entomologist and Arachnologist who is associated with Vienna’s museum of natural history. He’s also a consultant with real estate groups, insecticide conglomerates and law enforcement groups as a forensic entomologist. Nang Chen holds an M.S. from South China University and he’s a regular contributor to our site.