The Natural Remedy for Ants in Your Plants

Fire ants have been the bane of landscape enjoyment for many years in Texas. Fear not, there’s an easy and effective three-ingredient remedy you can concoct at home.

Temperatures are warming, plants are blooming and the urge to use SAWS’ WaterSaver Coupons 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 will cross paths with one of our least favorite landscape denizens: the red imported fire ant (Solenopsis invicta).

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 them without the worry of pesticide residue?”

The answer comes from years of field research by entomologists with Texas Agrilife Extensionand it’s an easy, effective and natural remedy you can concoct at home.

There are only three ingredients: water, orange oil and blue Dawn dish soap. Here is the recipe.

  • 1 gallon of water
  • 3 ounces of blue Dawn dish soap (Research showed blue Dawn worked better than other brands and colors.)
  • 1.5 ounces of orange oil (not orange essential oil)

The soap helps the orange oil mix well in the water and stick to the ants in the soil. Follow these steps to apply the mixture.

  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. 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 when compared to using 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. This recipe (and lots of other fun insect information) can be found in the Antman’s Hill® Facebook group.

Note: Orange oil at a 3-ounce-per-gallon rate is used as a natural herbicide and will burn plants, so use the correct measure when mixing the ingredients.

Picture of Nathan Riggs
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 wife Ella and family.
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