Tag Archives: gardening

Garden Ants

I have a lot of ants in my garden: in fact, over the last five years, I’ve noticed them spreading closer and closer to the house. They reached it about two years ago, and I soon saw them mobbing an air brick, which was a very weird sight. That became my red line: I already had some ant killer in stock, just in case, and I powdered all the air bricks with it. I do try to live and let live, but I’m not having hundreds of ants in the house. And I’ve also decided I don’t want them on my big blackcurrant bush either, there are so many on there it just feels horrible picking the blackcurrants (which are gorgeous).

There’s also an ant hill at one corner of my borders, and it’s getting a bit tall – it’s up to a foot now, I’m afraid. The photo I’m using to illustrate this post, courtesy of Wiki Commons, is only a couple of inches taller than the hill in my own small suburban garden, though the photos I took of it really don’t illustrate it. Wiki to the rescue, in that situation.

Anyway, that’s what finally spurred me on to do some research, between that and the swarm on the air brick and losing my blackcurrant crop.

There’s a lot of websites will just tell you how to kill them, and what to use: white vinegar, soapy water, chalk, lemon juice, coffee grounds, salt, diatomaceous earth, and even essential oils. It seems like anything tangy or smelly or dehydrating has been used or recommended at one stage or another.

I mean, I’m not fond of ants. I don’t like them crawling all over me, or my food, or my house! But I had a look at the RHS page on ants, and as it says “ants should be tolerated in gardens wherever possible” and I don’t want to kill thousands and thousands of little insects that are pootling about doing their thing. They don’t eat the plants I’m growing, they feed on insects, often aphids. The worst the ants might do is protect aphids from ladybirds, apparently, and that is what can damage plants. And of course they’re bound to come into contact with the faeces of one animal or another, and who knows what problems that might cause, since they’re walking all over the fruit I’d like to pick.

I do probably need to take action, with my foot-high ant hill and my blackcurrant bush with thousands of ants labouring over it constantly … so this is what I’ll do:

  • ants in the house is still a red line. Anything that tries to get in the house will die, sadly. I’ll try diatomaceous earth, but I’m keeping the ant killer on standby.
  • RHS recommends dispersing ant heaps on lawns “by brushing the excavated soil on a dry day before the lawn is mown, otherwise the soil will get smeared on the lawn surface by the mower. If the lawn has an uneven surface due to years of ant activity, peel back the turf in the raised areas, remove excess soil and relay the turf. This is easier to do in the winter when ants are less active”. I’ll definitely be doing the brushing, though my grass could hardly be described as a lawn.And I think I need to use a spade first, to simply shovel some of it away, out onto some bare soil, because the hill is pretty bad, frankly.
  • The nematode Steinernema feltiae can be used on ants’ nests. I’ve never used nematodes at all, and they have to be sent away for, of course, but they seem to remain very popular with people who’ve tried them out, and that’s a good sign.

There’s a sobering note at the end of the RHS article, that to make a real impression on ant numbers, you’d have to destroy the nests, rather than the foraging ants. Our environment is out of whack enough as it is, without me adding to the chaos by killing thousands and thousands of insects in one go, so I’m going to live and let live, mostly: the above-the-surface aspect of the nest has to go, and they can’t come in the house. Nor can they use my blackcurrant bush as a home from home.

As far as that’s concerned, I’ll try to make the soapy solution very weak, so that it’s only the water pressure that’s really getting them away from the fruit. We’ll see, maybe I need a powerful hose; that’s my aim, in any case. If I decide I want to pick the fruit, and that means the deaths of the small proportion of ants on the bush at that time, then that’s a shame, but that’s a lot of fruit going to waste otherwise.