The Q&A Archives: Deterring Ants

Question: Over the winter a huge population of ants has taken residence in my wood planter boxes which also happen to house my herbs such as rosemary, green onions, cilantro, lavender and some beets. I think that the ants must have a nest in there somewhere because when I water, BLANKETS of ants start to cover my box and my plants. Now I can't even garden peacefully because the ants start crawling on me, and when they aren't happy in the boxes, they send out scout parties which get into my house and my bathtub! They also go exploring in my other nearby potted plants. Can I get rid of them without ruining the plants or rendering them inedible? Is there something that they don't like that I can mix into the soil? Thanks! Teri Pang Palo Alto, CA

Answer: There are lots of different kinds of ants, so it would be helpful to identify just what kind of ants you have. If they are carpenter ants, for example, you will need to determine the extent to which they have invaded your house and take appropriate measures to eradicate them. Other species are merely a nuisance. A good resource book is named "Common-Sense Pest Control" by William Olkowski, published by The Taunton Press. See if your library has it--it has drawings of a variety of ants and their habits. The general rule of thumb in controlling ants is to remove whatever it is that is attracting them. Keep food containers covered, etc. You can try flooding them out of your window boxes--run water through each planter for several minutes. Repeatedsoapy-water sprays will kill some ants and disturb the others enough that they might consider moving their nest.

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