Most ants are thought to be beneficial. They loosen the soil and help to aerate it. They also help to keep the ecosystem clean by moving dead insect carcasses and using their remains and bits of plants for their nests. Ants are also one of the leading predators of other insects, which helps to minimize pests in the garden.
But ants can become a nuisance, and if they do, you may want to get rid of them. There are lots of ways to kill ants that nest in and under lawns. Methods range from insecticides to much less expensive, safer, natural remedies. The caveat is to ensure you don’t damage your lawn or impact natural predatory insects that play an important role in the balance of nature.
Can ants ruin your lawn?
The quick answer to this question is, yes, ants can ruin your lawn. But the ants, grass, and other vegetation found in certain areas differ and some types of ants do a lot more damage than others.
Red Imported Fire Ant
For instance, in the southern United States, Solenopsis Invicta, the red imported fire ant (RIFA), is a serious nuisance pest, especially on golf courses. It creates unsightly mounds of soil in home lawns. It also has a nasty sting and can cause an allergic reaction.
As Dr. Blake Layton, Jr., extension professor of entomology at Mississippi State University says: “Fire ant control is a never-ending battle in the south.”
RIFA ants aren’t found everywhere in the U.S., but many other types are. Some of the ant species that inhabit our home lawns include little black ants, short-legged pavement ants, cornfield ants, and larger yellow ants.
As entomologist Gregory A. Hoover points out in an article on the Pennsylvania State University (PennState) Extension website, ants seldom cause serious damage to home lawns. In fact, because many are predators and scavengers of harmful insects, they are beneficial.
He says they sometimes cause minor damage by loosening the soil and building small mounds where they nest. They also feed on the honeydew that aphids, soft scales, and mealybugs secrete.
Donald Lewis from the Department of Entomology at Iowa State University agrees. “Most ants do not require controls and are considered beneficial.” But he does say they may become a nuisance when they build mounds on the lawn or invade the home in search of food.
Lasius Neoniger, from Michigan State University’s Integrated Pest Management, says ants are beneficial because the foraging worker ants often collect the young larvae and eggs of turf pests. But ant mounds can be a problem on golf courses and in gardens where the grass is moved very short (less than 1 inch.)
Dr. Pat Vittum, writing for the University of Massachusetts Amherst (UMass ) Extension Turf Program states that ants can be pests in turfgrass areas because they build unsightly mounds and tunnels, breaking the roots of the grass. But adds, “Ants are generally negligible pests on home lawns.”
At the same time, Dr. Vittum warns that if ant population levels rise, their activity can cause “unacceptable turf damage.” That’s when you’re going to want to get rid of ants.
10 Safe Ways to Getting Rid of Ants in Your Lawn
So, the question is, how can you rid of ants from your lawn?
There are many ways to get rid of ants from your lawn. Some are more successful, in the long run than others. And some methods are safer than others.
As we said earlier, the caveat is to choose the method you use with care and to avoid killing beneficial insects including pollinators and the lawn. Entomologists often warn that many home remedies simply don’t work.
For example, Terri Billeisen, who is an extension associate of entomology and plant pathology at North Carolina’s NC State Extension, warns that aspartame, club soda, grits, and molasses don’t work. Additionally, home remedies that involve pouring ammonia, chlorine, diesel fuel, or gasoline on ant mounds are dangerous because these substances can contaminate the soil and groundwater.
But that doesn’t mean that traditional insecticides will work either. For instance, according to Dr. Vittum, there are field studies that show instead of killing ants, some insecticides just induce them to move away.
Lasius Neoniger has a similar theory. He says that while certain insecticides are highly effective when ant mounds are destroyed, the ants tend to recolonize rapidly. Also, mowing removes insecticide residue and it breaks down in sunlight.
The University of Florida IFAS Extension warns that the queen of the colony must be killed if you want to get rid of ants on your lawn. In some colonies, there are many queens. So, even if the queen ant is killed, the ants that survive often make a new mound until they die off.
The methods we suggest below are intended for all types of ants. They cover how to kill ants, and how to rectify ants’ lawn damage. They include chemical treatments and home remedies.
Unless you have a major problem, it’s best to start out trying eco-friendly methods.
If you opt for insecticides, consider getting a pest control expert to kill the ants on your lawn. They have experience and you won’t face the risks of handling toxic chemicals.
Many experts maintain that it’s possible to avoid ant damage in home lawns and on golf course roughs by moving to a height of 3-4 inches, fertilizing in spring and late summer, and watering during dry weather.
In terms of mowing, the rationale is that the longer the lawn, the thicker it will become. And ants don’t thrive in this kind of environment. You won’t kill them, but the theory is that they will move away to another location.
Soap and Water
Spray warm soapy water in and around mounds. If you use an eco-friendly, biodegradable soap it won’t damage your lawn.
Don’t use this method when the sun is shining. Rather do it in the late afternoon.
This method uses food-grade diatomaceous earth, not the type used in swimming pools. It’s made from algae fossils and is a natural insecticide.
Spread it around anthills and rake the earth. The ants eat the diatomaceous earth which dehydrates them and they die.
Some say this is an old wives tale, but there’s no harm in spreading powdered chili pepper around anthills.
Alternatively, mix 2 pints of water with 3 tablespoons of cayenne pepper sauce and ½ teaspoon of liquid dishwashing soap. Put it into a spray bottle and spray around the anthills. If you can locate the ants’ nest, pour some of the liquid into the nest.
Canola oil is another ingredient that you can mix with water and dishwashing soap. Mix 1½ tablespoons of oil with 2 pints of water and ½ teaspoon of soap. Treat as above.
The oil penetrates the exoskeleton of the ant and suffocates it.
Red Pepper & Peppermint
Similar to the 2 previous methods, a mixture of red pepper and peppermint oil usually gets ants to move house. If they don’t leave your yard, you’ll have to keep chasing them.
Distilled white vinegar, which is a great cleaning aid, kills ants on contact. It’s one of the remedies that won’t harm the grass you are trying to save.
The downside is that it’s only likely to kill the ants on the surface.
Rake & Wash Mounds
Donald Lewis recommends regular raking and washing anthills with a water stream from a garden hose. If the problem is really bad, you can spot treat the anthills with an insecticide like diazinon or Dursban.
It’s simple and relatively safe. Rake the anthill flat before sprinkling the soil with granules or a diluted insecticide solution.
Then irrigate the area where the mound is to ensure the insecticide goes into the soil and doesn’t stay on top of the surface. Keep pets and children away from the treated area until the grass is totally dry.
Dr. Layton maintains you can reduce the number of fire ant mounds in your yard by 80-90% by using ant bait. But he doesn’t believe in treating individual mounds because there are always lots of little colonies you won’t spot.
Worker ants enter the nest via underground tunnels that radiate between 5 and more than 20 feet from the mound!
Instead, broadcast bait treatments will target the whole yard. Apply in early spring when fire ants are foraging for food. Also, broadcast treatments work faster than mound treatments using baits.
IFAS Extension warns that broadcast baiting may be counterproductive because it can kill other ant populations that slow the spread of fire ants.
If you’re going to use a broadcast method, they recommend pesticides with minimal toxins. These include Hydramethylnon and Sulfluramid which prevent ants from converting food into energy.
Ant Mound Treatments
There are various ways to treat ant mounds. But they are only effective long-term if you destroy the nest and the queen ant.
Gregory Hoover advises tracing “the ants’ line of food source to the approximate nest location.” Then use a registered insecticide to spot-treat anthills.
NC State Extension points out that if you are using chemicals, individual mound treatment uses less insecticide and will have less impact on beneficial insects. It is, though, more time-consuming than broadcast applications or placing bait.
A possible disadvantage of this method is that satellite mounds often appear close to the original mound within a few days.
What is the fastest way to get rid of ants in the yard?
Boiling water and soil drenches are good ways to get rid of ants quickly.
One of the quickest ways to get rid of the worker ants, which are the ones that spend time enlarging the nest and finding food, is with boiling water. IFAS Extension reports that the use of scalding water with a temperature between 190-212 ℉ has a proven success rate of between 20 and 60%.
They advise pouring at least 3 gallons on the mound very slowly. Repeat several times to make sure you kill the queen.
The caveat here is that hot water can kill the lawn around the mound. But it will grow again because hot water isn’t toxic.
There’s also a home remedy that uses boiling water. When the area is dry pour a mixture of sugar and borax over the anthill. The sugar will attract the worker ants, and the borax will kill them.
Another quick method of killing ants is to drench ant mounds with a chemical product intended for this use. Always remember that chemicals are toxic and that some products are not approved for use on home lawns. This method is also best restricted to killing fire ants.
NC State Extension advises that this is a fast-acting method where fire ant activity is causing problems. But, it’s important to apply high volumes of liquid (2 gallons of water per mound). If you don’t, the liquid won’t reach the queen ant and the ant colony will survive.
They say it is best to drench ant mounds in the mid-morning when the ants are usually close to the surface of the ground. Don’t disturb the mound before or after you’ve drenched the soil.
Most ants are said to be beneficial in a garden environment. But they can be a pest, especially when they build lots of mounds.
There are many ways to kill ants and get rid of ants. Some methods are safer than others. Similarly, some are more effective.
Our suggestions range from soap and water to effective insecticides. Choose wisely based on the severity of the problem, always taking environmental concerns into account.