ant combat

How to Control Ants in the Garden by Starting an Ant War

Ants in a vegetable garden bed may not seem like a big deal, but they can be a real nuisance if left unchecked.

There are a lot of different ways to control ants in the garden. Some organic ant control solutions are safe but don’t really work. Other, more effective ways, require pesticides that shouldn’t be used near where we grow our food. If you’re looking for natural ant control safe for pets, kids, and the environment, then you should give an ant war a try.

What is an Ant War?

Ants are territorial creatures. If one group of ants gets near a different ant mound, the ants will fight to protect their queen. Some say that if you introduce one ant colony to another, the colonies will fight each other until one is dead and the other leaves to find a new home. This is called an ant war.

ant control in yard, two ants in combat
Photo Credit: Rutenioh

Where Do Ants Live?

Ants live in a group, known as a colony. Each colony has a queen and all the other ants exist only to serve and protect her. Every ant has a job. Some ants fix damage to the nest, some gather food from above ground and bring it back to the queen, and others protect the queen. Almost all worker and soldier ants are female. Male ants are the only ones with wings. The only job for a male ant is to mate and once they mate, they die.

The colony spends the majority of its time in its nest, which is made up of a series of underground tunnels. Above ground, you’ll find the anthill. This is where the ants come up to the surface to gather food.

If you want to get rid of ants in your garden, it’s important to find these anthills so you know where to attack. You’ll find ant hills in cracks in the pavement, under trees, in your garden bed, near compost piles, in your lawn, or butted up against your house and other structures.

ant colony
Photo Credit: rbelo

Ants in the Garden: Good or Bad?

There are some benefits to having a few ants in a vegetable garden bed including:

  • Pollination – ants crawl from flower to flower, pollinating them as they go
  • Aeration – ants can improve soil aeration with their underground tunneling
  • Decomposition – ants speed up the breakdown of organic matter which in turn, provides a natural fertilizer for your plants

Some downsides to having ants in your garden include:

  • Increased pests – ants have a symbiotic relationship with other pests, including aphids and mealybugs. If you have a lot of ants in your garden, you’ll probably end up with another type of pest problem, too
  • Ants in your house – the more ants you have outside, the more likely it is that they’ll make their way into your house for food and water
  • Increased likelihood of getting stung – some ants have a painful sting. The more you have around, the higher chance you have to get stung
  • Property damage – some ants chew through wood and will damage your home the same way a termite can
  • Plant damage – some ants eat small plants and seedlings

Should You Get Rid of Ants in the Garden?

It’s normal to have some ants in your garden. We are in their domain, after all. There’s no way to get rid of every ant, and you shouldn’t want to. Whether you should worry about ants in your garden depends on if they’re causing harm and how many you have.

There are 3 times that you’ll want to control the ant population in your garden:

  • If you’re struggling with an aphid or mealybug infestation
  • If ants are in your house and/or causing property damage
  • If ants are eating your seedlings and small plants

The general rule in organic gardening is to leave Mother Nature alone as much as you can. Our ecosystem is delicate and the more we tamper with it, the more problems we can cause. Unless you’re dealing with any of the 3 problems above, I’d do my best to leave ants alone.

Types of Ants in Florida

Carpenter Ant – feeds on plant honeydew, fruit juices, insects; chews through wood

carpenter ant
Photo Credit: Judy Gallagher

Pharaoh Ant –found in homes and hospitals; very hard to get rid of; eats human food, pet food and insects

pharaoh ants
Photo Credit: Kurt Komoda

Ghost Ant – tropical ants; live inside wood; eats sweets and insects

ghost ants
Photo Credit: Stevenw12339

Fire Ant – painful sting; eats seedlings, insects, and even small animals

fire ants
Photo Credit: Judy Gallagher

Acrobat Ant – found indoors and outdoors; nest in soil and decayed wood; eats sweets and proteins

acrobat ants
Photo Credit: Judy Gallagher

Argentine Ant – lives in mulch and moist areas; usually outside but comes indoors in winter; eats sweets and fats

argentine ant
Photo Credit: S. Rae

Pavement Ant – builds nests between cracks in sidewalk; eats greasy foods, insects, and seeds

pavement ants
Photo Credit: Fractality

Odorous House Ant – also known as sugar ants; give off a nasty smell when smooshed; prefers sweets but will eat a variety of human food

odorous house ant
Photo Credit: Brian Gratwicke

Crazy Ant – builds huge nests with multiple queens; eats seeds, garbage, human food, plant honeydew, and insects; erratic walking pattern

crazy ants
Photo Credit: Judy Gallagher

White-footed Ant – builds nests in dead trees and vegetation; usually found outside; prefers sweets and plant honeydew

white footed ants
Photo Credit: Scot Nelson

Big-headed Ant – lives in foundations, under logs, and in mulch; if indoors, found under carpets and baseboards; chews through wood; eats insects, protein, and sweet foods

big headed ant
Photo Credit: Jean and Fred

Pyramid Ant – usually found in lawns and loves sunshine; friends with fire ants; eats sweets and proteins

pyramid ant
Photo Credit: Judy Gallagher

Small Honey Ant – likes shade and found in garden beds; cold-tolerant; loves plant honeydew

small honey ant
Photo Credit: Jim Nelson

How to Start an Ant War

Starting an ant war is simple – the general idea is to move one ant colony and put it on top of another.

Once you’ve found an ant colony in the garden that you’d like to get rid of, grab a shovel and take a walk through your yard. Look for another ant mound and once you find one, scoop up a generous amount of the mound, ants and all. Walk the scooped mound over to the mound in your garden and put it on top.

In a few minutes, you should see ants fighting each other. Check the war in a couple of days and if everything goes according to plan, you should find little to no ants in the original mound.

To explore other methods of organic garden ant control, check out my article How to Get Rid of Ants in Your Garden.


Featured Image Photo Credit: Olaf Nelson

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