Horticulturalists strangely don’t usually categorize ants as a garden pest. Ants aerate the soil and function as pollinators.
They also eat the eggs and larvae of fleas and other pests and control other insects such as plant-destroying aphids. However most people with gardens and flower beds consider the ant a very unwelcome visitor and know the severe damage ant investations can cause. It was time for me to make up my own organic ant repellent. I have used it before with great success, although never on such a large scale. So I mixed one third of Eco-friendly lemon-based washing up liquid (Ecover) with two thirds water. My home-made repellent literally kills them on contact without harming the grass or flowers so I just began spritzing.
I also filled up empty bottles with my home-made mixture to literally pour onto ant-hills. I followed their movements and managed to locate nests although it took about a week to completely eradicate them all. However during this time I did not find any visible food source, something which was puzzling me. In the past when I have had ant infestations they have always lead me to a source of food, whether it be the remains of something or live aphids.
Some two weeks later, still thankfully with an ant-free lawn, I was working in my garden digging up the original grass border that had been infested. To my surprise I literally pulled out of the soil a whole dead Peonie flower head. Still complete with petals and stem it was literally buried deep inside the soil.
I hit Google and was surprised to learn that ants love Peonie flowers. Ants are attracted to sweet foods, and the Peonie is apparenty a nectar-rich flower. The Peonie, in particular, seems to attract ants just as they turn from buds to blossoms as they are attracted to the sucrose that collects on Peonie buds. In this case, as I don’t have any Peonie plants myself, a Peonie head obviously blew into my garden, settled on my lawn, and the ants located it and pulled it into the soil to live on and built their nest around. Although ants rarely inflict damage to live flowers or fruits in general, the attraction of a dead Peonie flower head can obviusly still cause untold damage to your garden should ants find it.
If you notice an infestation of ants like I did – look closely. Ants only swarm with purpose and where you see an infestation of ants there is always a food source somewhere even if you can’t see it. For example ants adore aphids which excrete sweet honeydew. The ants, in exchange, will use and protect the aphids from other insects and literally attack their enemies such as the beneficial ladybird. If you have aphids on your plants you need to get rid of them fast – the ants will then leave on their own accord and seek a food source elsewhere.
It’s wise to remember that ants are very sensitive to smells. Whilst sweet odours will attract them, certain smells will repel them. You can control ants with ant repelling essential oils and juice as I did. Ants detest mint and lemon. Grow mint in your garden where possible to keep them away. When you do see ants and visable investations, make up my homemade mixture of lemon-based washing up liquid and water and spritz them. Make sure its an organic version like Ecover which will be harmless to your plants and grass. The mixture will kill the ants instantly and organically without the use of harmful chemicals. Watch where they go, locate their nests and eradicate them fast.