It isn’t nice to see your potted plants swarming with ants.

Not only that, but the presence of ants can be a sign that there is something more serious going on.

Are Ants In Potted Plants Bad?

a woman trying to get rid of ants from her potted plants

A few ants scurrying around in your pots are not bad for your plants.

Ants won’t harm your plants directly, but they do farm the sweet honeydew secretions that pests such as mealybugs and scale leave behind.

Ants also pick these smaller pests up and move them around so there is a risk that ants can cause pests to spread to your other plants that may be otherwise healthy.

If your potted plants have attracted ants, you need to examine them carefully for signs of other pests that will suck the sap and damage your plants.

Ants Love Plants And Trees That Produce Anything Sweet

Also, if you are growing figs or other fruits that produce sweet nectar, they will attract ants like crazy.

Any plant or tree that produces a sweet residue will attract ants in their swarms.

The ants are harmless to your plants in small amounts but if their numbers become great enough, they will begin to do damage and may even kill your plants.

If you have larger plants or trees that you can’t easily repot, spreading coffee grounds around the base of them is a really good ant deterrent.

Ants Love To Make Their Nests In Potted Plants

Potted plants and trees, especially ones with mulch on the surface, make a perfect environment for ants to scurry around, hide and build nests.

Ants won’t dig into the soil but they will make a home for themselves if there is any debris to hide underneath.

An Ant Infestation Can Be A Sign That Your Potted Plants Are Too Dry

Ants are more attracted to dry soil and they are more likely to come back and stick around when your plants have been allowed to dry out.

Giving your plants a good soaking can sometimes be enough to get rid of the ants for good.

Related Article: What Attracts Mealybugs? (And How To Stop Them)

Why Are There Ants In My Potted Plants?

If there are ants in your potted plants it means that your plants are producing something sweet that is attracting the ants, or your plants are infested with a pest like a scale or mealybugs and the ants are farming the honeydew they leave behind.

Because ants, as with any other critter, are trying to survive, it makes sense for them to be attracted to potted plants for food and shelter.

Most likely, ants are attracted to your potted plant because of the food found on it.

Although you might assume that the stems and leaves are food for ants, it’s usually not the case.

Ants are usually attracted to excretions left by other pests, such as aphids and scale.

These sorts of pests leave a sweet and sticky honeydew-like excretion, which attracts the ants.

As you probably know from ants getting inside your house, they can have a real sweet tooth.

As long as your plants aren’t producing nectar, getting rid of the pests should get rid of the ants.

The honeydew-like flavor of the excretion is what attracts the ants to the potted plants.

Because the ants are attracted to the excretions, not the plants, you might only get rid of them by getting rid of the other pests first.

This won’t be difficult, but you can’t expect the ants to go away unless you first target the other pest.

Will Ants Kill Your Potted Plants?

Because ants are not going after the plants themselves, it is unlikely that they will kill your potted plant.

With that being said, ignoring the ant problem can cause your plants to become overrun by ants, which may eventually have a bad effect on your plants.

If enough ants are munching away and competing for the sweet honeydew, they can end up chomping at the plant while trying to get to the excretions.

How To Get Ants Out From Your Potted Plants

You can get ants out of your potted plants by spreading coffee grounds around, removing the pests that excrete the sweet honeydew, or spraying your plants and soil with neem oil.

Removing Ants From Large Potted Plants

If ants have infested a large potted plant or tree that you don’t want to repot, you’ll need to use neem oil in a pump sprayer to soak the whole plant and all of the area around the base of the plant.

One dousing of neem oil will disturb the ants and probably kill a good few of them but if you want to get rid of them for good, you’re going to have to repeat the process weekly for some time.

Neem oil is great to use because it’s organic, there are no nasty chemicals in it, you can get it on your hands and it’s harmless to your plants and the environment.

Removing Ants From Small Potted Plants

If you have a bad ant infestation in smaller potted plants like succulents, you’re probably best to remove them from their container, clean off the roots and replant them into clean soil.

Ants can move around in dry, loose succulent potting mixes a lot easier.

Just to make sure you’re getting rid of all the eggs, it may be best to get your small plants completely out of there.

Use Cinnamon Or Coffee Grounds

The presents of coffee grounds or cinnamon sprinkled around the soil will repel ants from your potted plants.

It’s great to get them to leave and to deter them from coming back.

Ants are deterred by coffee grounds because they are adversely affected by caffeine. It confuses worker ants by causing them to lose track of their scent trails.

Likewise, ants will steer clear of an area that has been sprinkled with cinnamon.

Destroy Ants’ Scent Trails

Ants rely on little scent trails to find their way from their nest to your potted plants and back again.

By having a good clean-up around your potted plants and wiping down surfaces with cleaning spray, you can at least disrupt these scent trails and make it less likely that the ants will find their way back to your plants.

Use Insecticidal Soap

You can also treat them with insecticidal soap which will kill all insects without harming your plants.

Get Rid Of The Pests That Secrete Honeydew

You can usually get rid of the ants by eradicating the other pests that secrete sweet substances, it is possible to keep ants away from potted plants.

You can kill mealybugs by dabbing them with a piece of cotton dipped in rubbing alcohol.

There may always be the occasional ant or two looking for a snack, but these won’t do any harm at all.

Lift Plant Pots Up Off The Ground

By lifting your plant pots onto a shelf or just off the flat surface of the ground, you can make them a little more difficult for ants to access.

You can also spray around the base of the pot with ant spray.

Spray Plants With A Hose

If you need to remove a couple of ants or so, you can simply spray the plants with the hose.

This is also a good option if you need to remove the ants to target the other pests.

This will remove the ants without you having to deal with them closely.

Use Organic Horticulture Oil Spray

To more permanently prevent ants from coming back, you have to get rid of the other pests.

Use some sort of organic horticultural oil spray to kill the pests.

This spray will kill the pests without harming the ants.

As a result, the ants can still benefit and help your potted plants without feeling the need to swarm them.

Make sure not to use a petroleum-based spray.

These products are based on chemicals and aren’t very good for an organic garden.

Something like EcoOil or EcoNeem works great.

When using horticulture oil spray, it may take a couple of days to get the balance right.

Just be patient and have faith that the spray will do its magic.

Final Thoughts

Ants in your potted plants are not necessarily a bad thing.

But if there are too many ants, your plant can begin to suffer.

Luckily, getting rid of the ants is not that difficult.

Ants are usually attracted to the sweet excretions left by other pests, not the plants themselves.

Give coffee grounds a go first – ants really hate them.

Other than that, getting rid of whatever is sweet should get rid of the ants too.