Why & How To Get Rid of Ants In Raised Garden Bed

Why are Ants Attracted To Raised Garden Beds


The simple answer to why are ants attracted to your raised garden bed is the same as why they are attracted to any part of your garden beds or yard. Food and nesting! Ants will feed off bits of vegetation, some common garden pests, and any discarded human food left lying around. Especially the sugary or protein types. Ants have two food cycles: one protein and one high-energy sugar. Identifying the cycle of an ant infestation in raised garden beds is challenging. Ants gather food for their underground nests within the soil of your garden bed.


However, not all ants are harmful and in some cases can be beneficial, as this article will explain further on. Before understanding how to manage an ant infestation, it is essential to identify the different types of ants . In brief, below are following descriptions of five common ants:

  • Black garden ants: These are the type of ants most commonly found in your garden. They can enter your home as well as be the reason for more aphids in your garden or yard. On the plus side ants aerate soil by burrowing and transporting decomposed matter underground. In turn, will both fertilize and improve the soil structure. They are also good pollinators.
  • Red Fire ants (also known as Stinging fire ants): These small, reddish-brown ants thrive in warm, humid conditions can aggressively sting humans and animals when disturbed.
  • Yellow meadow/field ants: These harmless ants are mostly found in fields and meadows. They are good for the environment in the way they burrow and aerate the soil. As they feed on caterpillars and aphids, this helps to reduce infestations. However, as ants in a garden bed they are a nuisance due to the large mounded nests they build.
  • Carpenter ants: These ants mostly live in wooded areas. They can cause damage to wooden structures in your yard or garden. As such, it is best to eliminate them to protect your living environment.
  • Leafcutter ants: These reddish-brown ants are unusual in that they have spines on their backs. They are a pest known to cut leaves away from crops and garden plants. If left uncontrolled, can easily devastate your whole garden or yard.

Common ants in raised garden beds include black garden ants and aggressive red fire ants.

Potential Harm Of Ants In Your Garden

Ants adore sweet substances and a favorite is the honeydew liquid that is produced by aphids. Because of this, Ants ‘farm’ aphids by moving them to fresh plants for sap, forming a symbiotic relationship. They will also protect the aphids from predators such as ladybirds. In return, the aphids provide honeydew for the ants. This can lead to an infestation of aphids that can weaken garden plants by feeding on them. The extra honeydew liquid produced by the aphids causes growth of a black fungus that blocks sunlight from your plants.

Some ants will also feed from leaves and stems, weakening the plants. 

Root disturbance is another potential problem with ants in a garden bed. Their natural burrowing and mounds of nest building in the soil cause roots to become dislodged and weaken the plants.

Fire Ants In Your Garden Beds

Another potential danger of ants in your garden bed is if they are red fire or stinging ants. These ants are very aggressive and can potentially give multiple painful stings to humans and animals if disturbed. The stings can cause harm to young children and adults by causing an allergic reaction if stung. They are also voracious feeders and can cause massive damage to your plants. The nests mounds are usually up to two feet high but the ants will build smaller ones nearby.  It is recommended that they be eliminated from your garden or yard. Borax, Citrus oil d-limonene, Orange Guard, food-grade Diatomaceous earth,and pouring boiling water, are more natural methods of elimination. For larger infestations, chemical insecticides such as Ortho’s Fire Ant Killer or Amdro Fire Ant Bait Granules are specifically designed to target fire ants.

Benefits Of Ants In Raised Garden Beds?

Ants in raised garden beds, however, can have some worthwhile benefits. When they tunnel through soil, they create pathways that help aerate the soil and improve drainage. At the same time, they carry small pieces of organic matter that decompose and add nutrients to the soil. In addition to dispersing organic matter, they also carry seeds and pollen to other areas. Another benefit of ants in raised garden beds is that they will prey on caterpillars, which can cause considerable damage to both garden plants and vegetables. 

Natural Methods For Eliminating Ants

To control small infestations of ants in raised garden beds, one of the following natural methods of eliminating ants is an eco-friendly first choice:

Applying Coffee Grounds

Applying coffee grounds around your raised garden beds will temporarily disorient ants from travelling to your raised garden bed, but it won’t eliminate them. Ants release pheromones to scent their trails, which enables them to journey around your yard. Applying coffee grounds will temporarily mask this scent and disorient them on their journeys. Small numbers might die as they can’t find their way back to the nest. It is best to apply fresh coffee grounds, as they will be more pungent.

Ground Cinnamon

Ground cinnamon can kill the ants with its pungent smell that they suffocate and die when they inhale. It can also be used as a deterrent. Its pungent smell will repel them and disorient them on their journeys. Sprinkle ground cinnamon around your raised garden bed. It can also be mixed with ground coffee or vinegar to make it more potent. Another method is to dilute cinnamon oil with water and spray around areas of infestation.

Cucumbers

Do cucumbers deter ants? Yes and no. Cucumbers release a scent that repels ants, and as a short-term measure, placing pieces of cucumber around raised garden beds will deter ants from these areas. However, bits of cucumber lying around and growing cucumber plants can attract aphids, which in turn will attract ants to the aphids. So, as a short-term measure, yes, but there are more effective methods in the long run.


Food-Grade Diatomaceous Earth

Food-grade Diatomaceous earth is a well-known natural pest control has microscopic razor-sharp edges that cut through ants’ exoskeletons, causing their body to dehydrate. It is often sold as a fine white powder and should be applied daily around your raised garden bed or directly into the entrance of the ant’s nest until there are no signs of any infestation.

Orange Guard


Orange Guard is a purpose-mixed, non-toxic insecticide available at many garden stores and online. It comprises d-limonene, a natural compound found in citrus peel. The way in which it kills ants is by attacking their respiratory system. It is effective against common black and fire ants but is non-toxic and safe for humans, animals, and the environment. 

You can make your own citrus spray by steeping the citrus peel of two to three fruits in hot water. When cooled, transfer to a spray bottle and spray directly onto infestations.

Honey & Borax

Honey is a high-energy carbohydrate food source for ants and they will be easily attracted to any left around.  Borax is a naturally occurring mineral with many uses, including being used in many insecticides. Borax mixed with honey, a high-energy attraction and high-protein peanut butter can make a very effective insecticide that will eliminate ants, including red or fire ants, from your garden beds. Mix peanut butter, honey, water and Borax in equal parts and leave around your raised garden bed. The ants will take the Borax mixture back to the nest as food, poisoning and killing the entire colony within 48 hours.

Note: Take care when handling Borax as it can cause an irritation if in contact with your skin; always wear protective gloves. Though it is a natural substance, it is an irritant,  so take care when using it where there are children and pets.

Aspartame

 Aspartame is an artificial sweetener you add to your tea and coffee, and it is readily available and easy to use as a natural method of eliminating ants. This sweetener is harmless to humans and animals but toxic to ants, causing their digestive systems to malfunction. However, ants can detect the type of artificial chemicals in aspartame and recognize it as a low-calorie carbohydrate, preferring high-energy pure sugar or honey instead. To confuse them, make it into bait using three parts of a sweet source such as sugar syrup, honey or apple juice to one part aspartame and apply around raised garden beds or other infected areas.

Nematodes

Nematodes have long been used as natural predators. They are microscopic worms that naturally occur in soil. When targeted against ants, they enter the ant’s body and release a harmful bacteria that kills it. However, nematodes are not effective in killing red fire ants or stinging ants. A more robust method will be required here.

Planting Companion Plants

Planting companion plants has been a long and trusted method of deterring and attracting insects into a yard or garden. Ants dislike strong smells or scents as they mask the scent of the pheromones they rely on to navigate their environment. The following plants have strong and unusual scents that are strong enough to disrupt their navigation system. In addition, some will provide summer flowers as well as deter ants in raised garden beds:

  • Mint Peppermint is a natural insect repellant. Planting it in you raised garden bed or yard will discourage ants in these areas. Peppermint has been well-documented as a very effective natural repellant to ants.
  • Garlic The highly pungent smell of garlic is a very effective deterrent when grown in your raised garden bed or other areas of your yard.
  • Calendula This cheerful plant has many beneficial attributes for natural remedies, and its unusual, strong scent is another deterrent to ants.
  • Chrysanthemum Another favorite garden flower with a distinctive scent that is repellent to ants.

Attracting Natural Predators

By planting a variety of plants in your yard, you will create an eco-system that will attract a wider variety of insects, birds, frogs and lizards. All of which are vital in attracting natural predators that will feed on ants. Birds, in particular, are worth attracting by placing nesting boxes or feed stations nearby to prevent ants in raised garden beds.

Vinegar and Natural Oils

Vinegar and natural oils are useful aids in controlling ants. White vinegar mixed 50/50 with water is a natural repellant and kills ants. In addition, strong-smelling natural oils such as peppermint, tea tree, eucalyptus, lemon, clove, and cinnamon will discourage ants in the yard and can be used indoors as well.  To deter ants in raised your garden bed, apply a few drops onto cotton wool balls and place them around the raised flower bed. Ants find their way around their environment by releasing pheromones to scent their trails.  By masking this scent with strong-smelling natural oils, you will disrupt their travels, and they will become disorientated and die.


Neem oil is a natural oil insecticide that, when mixed with water, kills ants when sprayed around your raised garden bed.

Chemical Methods For Eliminating Ants

Ants require two cycles of food to survive: the protein/fat cycle and the sweet cycle, and it is difficult to know which cycle the ants are in. Ant baits contain the two types of food cycles required, along with an insecticide that is carried by the feeder ants back to the nest. All ants inside the nest, along with the queen ant, feed off the poison, and eventually, the whole colony will die.

Non-repellent insecticides are insecticides that the ants cannot detect when sprayed. The ants unknowingly carry this insecticide back to the nest, where, again, the colony will feed upon it and die.

Conclusion


Ants in raised garden beds can be both friend or foe, and it largely depends on the scale of the infestation and the type of ant as to whether or not you decide they are a problem. By planting various plants and attracting natural predators, you should find that ants will be less of a nuisance.

At Gardeners Yards, we like to promote natural methods of eliminating ants as the first solution; however, that is not always possible, so chemical insecticides are also necessary for large infestations, especially for treating fire ants or carpenter ants.

There are multiple methods to get rid of ants. One should choose the preferred method and apply it.

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