Garden Dilemmas, Delights & Discoveries, Ask Mary Stone, New Jersey Garden blog

Admiration for Ants & Safe Remedies

a single ant carrying a leaf along a stone patio

Hello fellow readers, I have a newfound admiration for ants and how they benefit our gardens and work as a team which may contradict treatments to solve ant dilemmas shared over the years (links below). But there are safe remedies and ways to invite them to live away from your home and patios.

Sandy found colonies of ants and termites in pine bark mulch. The close-to-home part was I was tackling carpenter ants that nested in the screen porch. So Sandy’s dilemma was my dilemma too. I wrote back, “Oh my, Sandy. If you have already spread the mulch, sprinkling it with diatomaceous earth should work well to kill both critters.”

Safe Remedies for Removing Ants 

Despite my newfound admiration, we can’t have termites and carpenter ants living in our homes. Diatomaceous earth (DE) is fossilized remains of microscopic oceanic plants that destroy the waxy exoskeletons of bugs such as ants, termites, bedbugs, or fleas. Yet it’s safe for people and pets. I’ve read food-grade DE is suggested to remediate an ant invasion.

My go-to neem oil is another remedy that Sandy could use on her mulch. Mix half a teaspoon of liquid soap in four cups of water. Then mix in one teaspoon of neem oil. The mixture breaks down in about eight hours, so you must use it immediately.

Kind Ways to Encourage Ants to Move Elsewhere. 
a man walking along a mossy stone patio riddled with ants.

Pam and Ed’s lovely mossy stone patio.

a single black ant on a bright green leaf with morning dew.

Photo by Shannon Potter on Unsplash

My carpenter ant dilemma has a funny preamble. First, I noticed a sizable ant climbing the wall in front of my writing spot. Then each morning, one came trailing by in the same place. It made me think of Groundhog Day. Every day, the same event unfolded at the same time. I knew it wasn’t the same ant, though. Unlike most insects I released back into the wild, I hadn’t done so for ants. But now I do.

The single ants were the worker carpenter ants looking for other places to nest. Then they leave their hormone signals to call in their buddies. So move your uninvited guests to the woods and release them on a downed tree. Isn’t that a great idea? I am so tickled pink by my newfound love of ants.

The Benefits of Ants in the Garden

Ants have extraordinarily planned societies, with ants filling various roles working as a team for a communal goal. It’s fascinating to watch. So much so that you can buy Ant Farms kits to help children learn about nature, and hopefully, they’ll learn to work together as a team and with nature to improve our world. Big kids can benefit from the ant lessons too.

a single ant carrying a leaf along a stone patio

Photo by Vlad Tchompalov on Unsplash

Ants live worldwide, surviving in extreme conditions, and carry things well over their body weight. Plus, they help aerate the soil, break down organic material, and pollinate plants.

a mossy stone patio riddled with ants with a lovely wooden sculpture of a turtle.

I adore Pam and Ed’s Turtle Sculpture.

Pam and Ed of Sparta, New Jersey, have a charming bluestone patio on a shady spot and adore the moss in the nooks and crannies (so do I :^). “What do you recommend for keeping ants out and the moss in?”

While you can buy insecticidal soaps and make your own with one teaspoon of dish soap and two cups of warm water to kill ants, there’s a kinder way. Add a few drops of peppermint or citrus oil to two cups of warm water to deter future ants from moving in.

They say sprinkling chili powder, cinnamon, cayenne, crushed red pepper flakes, powdered garlic, or cloves is best to deter ants. It will encourage ants to move elsewhere, which is a good thing. Another tip is to keep your compost pile and trash bins away from your patio.

The Origin of My New Appreciation of Ants

My new appreciation for ants came from my lovely editor Alice Peck. During a conversation about my book underway, she mentioned her love of ants right up there with her love of clever crows. Indeed they are intelligent birds. So dear Alice, perhaps I will grow to admire crows too though they snag the bird babies I  adore. But it’s the cycle of life, and ants and crows have a role.

Garden Dilemmas? and your favorite Podcast App.

There’s much more to the story in the Garden Dilemmas Podcast:

Related Stories: 

Carpenter Ants and Termites in Mulch

Ants be Gone

Let Lichen and Moss be


Mary Stone, owner of Stone Associates Landscape Design & Consulting. As a Landscape Designer, I am grateful for the joy of helping others beautify their surroundings which often leads to sharing encouragement and life experiences. These relationships inspired my weekly column published in THE PRESS, 'Garden Dilemmas? Ask Mary', began in 2012. I dream of growing the evolving community of readers into an interactive forum to share encouragement and support in Garden and Personal Recoveries - seeking nature’s inspirations, stimulating growth, weeding undesirables, embracing the unexpected. Thank you for visiting! Mary

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