How to get rid of the ants in your garden without necessarily killing them

How to get rid of ants

When was the last time you took a walk through your garden? Have you noticed any ants around? These insects appear in every corner of the world, so having a colony in your backyard is nothing unusual. But, if left unattended, these small, hard-working fellows can be quite the pestilence. The damage done to plants can be quite significant, and not to mention the physical one, such as lowering of the ground, if their colony grows large. To remove them, here are some of the ways I have used, and which has proven to be quite useful.

Know thy enemy

ant control

As I said, ants live almost everywhere on Earth. Among many species, three stand out as the most common which you could find in and around your house:

What is common for every species in the world is the system by which colony is organized. Ants are divided into castes, with workers being the most numerous ones, warriors being physically larger and stronger, but fewer in number, and the queen, which lays eggs. The communication between ants is carried out via chemicals known as pheromones, and they use the sense of smell to know the way. You can use these two facts to your advantage. Despite being widely recognized as pests, they play a vital role in the natural cycle, and this is why I tend not to use lethal force when dealing with them.

Cover the ground with ground coffee

ant pest control

Coffee is quite the favorite drink, no argue about that. In case that you are drinking filter coffee, the situation is that you are throwing away the remains from the filter. These remains can be used as an ant-repelling agent. All you need to do is to collect the remains and spread them around the tree or the plant you wish to protect.

Ants are not overly fond of the strong smell, and coffee will keep them at bay. One more advantage is that coffee remains are of organic origin, and this will improve the quality of the soil in your backyard by fertilizing it. The only drawback of this method is that you will need a whole lot of coffee, but if you collect remains for a week; you should have enough.

Citrus peels

citrus peel

The same principle as for coffee works here. The ants can’t stand the strong smell of citrus fruits such as lemon, orange or lime. The best way to distribute peels is to cut them into small pieces (I have used a grinder). This way you will release essential oils from the inside. Do not use old or dried out ones, because oils have evaporated from those. To further improve the results, you can mix the peels with the coffee grounds.

Put the smell in their way

essential oil

Essential oils such as menthol will keep the ants away. The trouble is that you will need a lot of oil to cover the ground, resulting in a high price of this method. But, if you mix water and essential oil thus creating a solution, the price will be much lower. Spray the area around the plant or a tree, and they will not cross that line.

Another way is to put white vinegar into the mix, making 1 liter of water, 250 milliliters of vinegar, and 20 drops of oil mixture. This combination will confuse them, and of course, they will not progress further. If you are keen, you can search for the anthill, and cover the ground around it, but this can ultimately lead to a whole colony starve to death. This is the last resort you should use.

Cucumber to the rescue

peeled cucumber

Because of its taste, cucumber is a natural ant repellent. Luckily, with the summer upon us, it is very likely that you will increase intake of cucumber, and the peels you can use to keep the ants away. I have used the regular cucumber, but to further improve the results, you can use sour ones instead.

The ants follow the trace of food, and since the cucumber is not the food for them, they will not come any closer. Also, you could sprinkle cinnamon across the peels, because this is another smell which keeps them away. Spraying cinnamon across the ground can be very expensive, and inconvenient, because the wind can blow it away, nullifying the result.

Vinegar alone


For a fast and close to hand solution, I recommend using kitchen vinegar. More than a smell, this substance dilutes the pheromone trail which ants leave behind, and they simply do not know where to go. Imagine that you need to go somewhere, but there is no road, you have no map, and a GPS is not invented yet. That is what vinegar does for ants.

It is very convenient because you do not need to go to the store. All you need is a spray bottle, and if you do not have one at hand, fill the ordinary one with a mixture of water and vinegar, punch a few holes in the cap, and you are ready to go. Spray out!

Bring the nature to the fight

planting garlic

To be honest, this method had brought me further than I could imagine. First, it began as a few plants which I took to keep the ants away. Next thing I have noticed is that I had a whole spectrum of fresh, home-grown spices for my kitchen. So, this method is among the most beneficial ones.

Of all the plants, garlic has proven to be among the most effective. The drawback is that I had to plant it every year, but in time I tend to love a bit of a garden work. Also, consider yarrow, tansy, mint, and Laurel. All of those have a strong smell which is not convenient for ants and will keep them away. Mint is used for making tea, and Laurel is a common ingredient in a variety of meals.

If you cannot defeat them, pay ransom

black ant

Perhaps a bit controversial subject, feeding the ants sometimes works. Simply find the anthill, take a paper plate, put a spoon of honey on it, and put it aside. Now, the ants won't consider you as an ally for this, but there is a possibility that they will not go any further because of the abundance (in their terms) of food. The drawback is that if you have pets, they might find and eat the bait, or the honey can attract bees and wasps, which makes the situation a whole lot of worse.

So, these are my principles of fighting with the ants. Some people do not have a problem to pour a few gallons of soapy and boiling water over the whole colony, but I disagree with this approach. Ants are hardworking species, and that is something we must appreciate.

Also, I consider that this planet belongs to everyone equally, and thus we should at least try to share it. Of course, if you have a similar experience with the ants, feel free to share in our comment section below.

About the Author

I’m Emily and after a ten year career as a journalist I have moved on to share my passion for gardening. While getting out in the garden is one of my favourite hobbies, and helps me de-stress after a long day in the office, I often found myself frustrated at not getting the results I wanted from my plants. Through blogging, I have uncovered the answer to lots of common problems and now I want to share my knowledge with other horticulture enthusiasts.

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Jamie - October 6, 2017 Reply

What is the plant 3rd from the right in the photo above the text about essential oils?

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