A friend recently asked how to get rid of ants in her garden and around her house without using chemicals. There are three things I can think of:
- Using plants from the mint family
- Using cornmeal
- Using a Borax/Sugar mixture
The mint family (or scientifically, the Lamiaceae family) actually varies quite a lot (around 900 species), and includes herbaceous perennials and annuals, some shrubs, and some that are considered weeds. Some of the common kitchen herbs such as basil, rosemary, oregano, and thyme are part of the mint family. The strong-smelling foliage of some plants in the mint family, especially Salvia, Common Sage, and Mint tend to deter ants. It’s even suggested that the strong smells confuse ants and send their sensories off-track.
To get rid of ants, you could use mint oils from a store, dilute them down some and spray it around your garden. Or you can grow plants from the mint family around your garden (in pots), which is one way to deter ants, and you can also use the leaves to make your own ‘bug spray’.
These plants are quite easy to grow, almost too easy. They can become weedy if not properly managed (so plant them in pots), but that also means that they can grow from cuttings quite easily. The plants themselves may also naturally discourage herbivores from consuming your garden because the leaves and stems are generally covered with tiny hair-like projections called trichomes which decrease the loss of water, and also prevent the plants from being palatable to grazing animals.
Salvia, sage, and mint are quite easy to recognize because of their square stems, hairy stems and leaves, and aromatic foliage. If you take a pinch of the leaf, rub it between your fingers and give it a smell, you’ll know at once whether or not you have a plant from Lamiaceae family. Plants from other families may have square stems or fuzzy leaves, but if you have all three of these identifying features, it’s highly likely it’s from the mint family.
Another problem with ants is that several ant species will ‘farm’ or care for aphids. Aphids can feed on the leaves, and then they produce a sticky sweet liquid that the ants can eat. And of course there’s always the danger of kids getting into ant piles. Ants aren’t welcome at all on my property.
Cornmeal: Apparently ants can’t digest cornmeal, so if you set some cornmeal out, they’ll take it back to the ant nest, eat it, and eventually the ant nest will die out. It’s a solution that takes more time. A quicker solution is using borax.
Borax is poisonous to ants. If you mix it with something sweet (sugar) they’ll eat it and it’ll kill them. To make a sweet borax solution us:
- 1 cup sugar
- 3 cups water
- 3 Tbsp. borax
Note: Even though some plants from the Lamiaceae family are used in foods as aromatic oils and herbs, we always recommend that our readers be extremely careful before eating or tasting anything unfamiliar. We do not recommend trying plants yourself that have not been positively identified by a botanist, and labeled as safe.