There are a few things you should know about ants before you start applying any natural ant control method.
Ants are Good Guys
They’re good guys in the garden. Yes, they’re one of nature’s vaccuum cleaners – sucking up bits of dead tissue and organic matter to eat and recycle. That’s their function in the soil food web – think housecleaning.
When you see them scuttling and winding down from a plant wound, they didn’t cause the wound, they’re only there sucking up sweet sap from whoever else caused the damage. And yes, that includes peonies where they just love the bud sap but don’t have anything to do with the buds opening.
So don’t control them in the garden except in this situation.
Are They Climbing Up Trees?
To stop ants from climbing up trees, wrap the tree trunk with masking tape (caution: if the tree bark is still young, do not put the tape directly on the bark but wrap paper around the trunk and then tape tightly enough to hold the paper in place.
Cracks where an ant can get under the tape/paper should be filled with a cotton batting to stop the ants from getting under the tape.
Use a horticultural glue over the tape to create a sticky barrier the ants won’t cross (nothing will cross it I note)
In the House or Paving Stones
Now, here’s where we have instant problems. This creature is still doing it’s thing but we don’t want them in those places. There may be some damage from their activity – particularly on paving stones where they undermine the foundations by excavating the sand.
So we can control them there.
If you’ve ever killed one or two ants, you know you didn’t bother the nest at all. There’s a queen down there doing her queenly thing – producing hundreds of new workers to keep the nest alive.
You have to either convince the ants to go somewhere else (difficult) or you have to give them enough food to poison the queen. After the queen is dead, the ants colony will disappear in most cases.
New formulations of ant control products are using a product derived from bacteria -one such product is called “Spinosad” (a different manufacturer calls it “Conserve” and this is considered an “organic” product. Be aware that it is deadly to bees but considered “low mammalian toxicity” (note that just because something is organic doesn’t mean it won’t hurt you but this one looks OK in tests)
Having been bitten by a fire ant (luckily just one got me) I can sympathize with homeowners with this pest. I note it is not just a Southern problem but there are indeed areas in Canada with a different species of this creature but still one with a wicked bite.
Again, the products now contain the above bacterial component and are considered organic. Your results may vary and I’d welcome your comments if you’ve used this kind of product.
Home Recipes For Controlling Ants
Borax is a great little product for natural ant control without poisoning the ground, pets and children. To get ants eating the powder, mix a tsp of borax to 3-4 tsp of sugar. This extra sugar will entice the ants to the feeding area and they’ll quickly such this little bit down.
Increase the concentration of borax to sugar until you’re using about a 50:50 mix (do this slowly to get the ants used to the change in sugar content).
It may take a week or so for the ants to consume enough borax to wipe out the queen but you’ll notice (quite suddenly) that there are no ants at the feeder.
Option Two: Boiling Water
Some folks have found that slowly pouring boiling water down the nests between paving stones has also discouraged the ants and they’ve moved on.
Option Three: Blenderizing
I’ve heard of capturing some ants, whizzing them up in a blender and pouring that mix down the hole as well (apparently the fragrance of dying ants causes great alarm in the nest) You can then stomp them and pour more boiling water as they emerge from the nest (never done this – let me know if it works for you)
Diatomaceous earth is reputed to work really well as a natural ant control because the ants get it on themselves, take it back to the hive and in the grooming process, spread it around the colony.
I’ve not used it outside but didn’t see any impact with a small test we did indoors.