How To Rid Your Plants of Ants

How To Rid Your Plants of Ants

Got ants in your plants? There are three simple ingredients you can mix to create an effective and natural treatment for fire ants.

Temperatures are warming, plants are blooming and the urge to participate in the SAWS Landscape/Patioscape Coupon program is strong! With those good intentions to save water comes the need to work the soil, remove grass, add good soil, install those nice coupon plants and mulch them into blissful beauty.

Invariably, homeowners and gardeners cross paths with one of our least favorite landscape denizens: the red imported fire ant (Solenopsis invicta), commonly known as the fire ant.

Fire ants have been the bane of landscape enjoyment for many years in Texas and have stung their way into the doghouse of many humans and pets alike. For those whose landscape work is rudely interrupted and delayed by fire ants, the question arises “What can I use to kill these fire ants relatively quickly and still be able to finish my work without lots of pesticide residue hanging around?”

The answer comes from years of field research by entomologists with Texas A&M Agrilife Extension and it’s an easy, effective and natural remedy you can concoct at home. There are three simple ingredients: water, orange oil and blue Dawn dish soap.

Natural Fire Ant Treatment Recipe

  • 1 gallon water
  • 3 ounces blue Dawn dish soap (Why blue Dawn? Research showed it worked better than other brands and colors.)
  • 1.5 ounces orange oil (Be sure to use the correct measure — orange oil at a 3-ounce-per-gallon rate is used as a natural herbicide and will burn plants.)

The soap helps the orange oil mix well in the water and stick to the ants in the soil. Apply the mixture following these easy steps:

  1. Add the orange oil and soap to the water and mix thoroughly.
  2. DO NOT DISTURB the fire ant nest before applying the orange oil/soap/water mixture, no matter how much fun it is!! If you disturb the nest first, the ants will begin to disperse away from the nest and your treatment will be much less successful, if at all.
  3. Beginning at the center of the mound, slowly pour the mixture onto the soil in a circle, gradually expanding the circle from the center outward. Cover the mound area completely from center to edges.
  4. USE ALL OF THE MIXTURE ON THE MOUND, no matter the size of the nest.

Results of the Agrilife field tests showed a better than 70 percent success rate of treatment when compared to boiling water, regular water and other similar treatments. After treatment, you should be able to continue working within an hour or so. Be sure to take precautions for the few ants that may still be alive.

NOTE: adding more orange oil than listed in the recipe dramatically increases the changes of plant damage or mortality by this treatment. With orange oil at 1.5 ounces per gallon, plants may experience a little bit of yellowing, but it shouldn’t kill the plants.

Visit Antman’s Hill® for this recipe and lots of other fun bug facts!

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Nathan Riggs

About our expert

Nathan Riggs

Nathan Riggs is a SAWS project coordinator and licensed irrigator who also happens to have a degree in entomology from Texas A&M University. Yes, Nathan’s a bug expert, and not just on water bugs! When he’s not hard at work on SAWS conservation projects, he enjoys a wide variety of interests including: landscaping, hiking, photography of flowers, insects and other critters, and planning his next adventure with his son, John, and daughter, Olivia.