There are a lot of pests that directly harm plants, and then there are ants. Ants can be quite beneficial to your garden, aerating the soil and improving drainage.
They even kill many common pests and eat fungus that infects plants. But ants can also be highly problematic, with a few species feeding on the leaves themselves.
This not only makes ants a frustrating pest to most plant enthusiasts but can lead to ant infestations indoors.
There are several ways to deal with ants, but one option might surprise you: neem oil, one of the most popular and effective natural insect killers.
Extracted from the seeds of Azadirachta indica, raw neem oil contains Azadirachtin. This potent pesticide is non-toxic to humans and pets.
Does Neem Oil Kill Ants
Neem oil has a reputation for killing common plant pests, including ants.
There’s a slight chance of killing an entire ant colony using neem oil, so use with care.
How Neem Oil Affects Ants
The Azadirachtin in neem oil has a chemical makeup much like certain insect hormones.
When ingested, it can cause an insect to stop eating, prevent egg-laying or advancing to the next growth stage, and impact fertility.
Research shows they excrete as much as 80% percent of the Azadirachtin. The rest stays in the insect’s body for an extended time.
When applied topically as clarified neem oil, there are only trace amounts of Azadirachtin. But the oil itself can clog the insects’ airways, suffocating them.
Using Neem Soil Soaks To Kill Ants
A good neem soil drench has limited effects on beneficial insects but can be devastating against harmful pests such as aphids and mealybugs.
As the plant’s roots absorb the Azadirachtin, the toxin becomes a systemic insecticide. It causes any insect that pierces or chews on the plants to ingest the chemical.
Except for a few species, most ants won’t directly harm your plant.
As a result, the soak won’t directly affect them if they o not ingest it- unless they come into direct contact with the toxin in the soil itself.
The situation changes if you have aphids.
When aphids pierce your plant, the sap pushes through their body to create a sticky fecal substance called honeydew.
Ants love aphid honeydew and will guard the aphids and harvest the honeydew to take back to their colony.
As a result, an ant that harvests from an aphid feeding on a neem drench-protected plant will ingest tiny amounts of Azadirachtin. He will then take it back to its colony, regurgitate it, and share it with other ants.
The workers and soldiers are sterile. But any Azadirachtin consumed by drones or the queen can halt the production of eggs. Any larvae fed Azadirachtin-laced honeydew can fail to reach adulthood.
Please note that results may vary greatly using a neem soak against ants since they’re ingesting it second-hand. The drench treatment won’t work for everyone.
Basic Neem Soil Soak Recipe
- Emulsify a gallon of warm water by gently blending in 1 teaspoon of Dawn dish soap or pure castile soap.
- Add in 2 tablespoons of 100% percent cold-pressed raw neem oil. Make sure the oil is cold-pressed, as higher temperatures can weaken its potency.
- Pour 2 to 4 cups into the soil around the plant in place of its usual watering.
Soil soaks last for up to 22 days. Reapply every three weeks as needed or once per month as a preventative.
Related: Getting Rid of Ants In The Garden
Using Neem Foliar Sprays To Kill Ants
Neem-based foliar sprays use a further processed form of the oil. They have a very different application and effect.
These sprays use clarified hydrophobic neem oil, i.e., one that removes the Azadirachtin for use in other products.
This oil is a contact insecticide and must contact a pest to kill it.
The results appear much faster, even if they take longer to eliminate an infestation.
It clogs the airways of the target insect, causing it to suffocate. But it won’t transmit to an ant colony, even if the corpses themselves are.
This makes a great option to cut out ants that have infested your plant in response to an aphid or fungal problem without putting the otherwise beneficial colony at risk.
Basic Neem Oil Foliar Spray Recipe
You can buy premade foliar sprays, but it’s usually better to make your own.
The clarified oil comes in a few different potency levels, generally ranging from .5 % to 2 % percent, although you can buy up to 3% percent.
- Begin with the same emulsified water you’d use for the soil soak, but add 5 teaspoons of clarified hydrophobic neem oil.
- Using a spray bottle, soak every part of the potted plant, being sure to get any crevasses and the undersides of all plant leaves. As this is a contact method, you need to coat the pests in the spray.
- Repeat every other day for 14 days to deal with ants and any pests or fungi that attracted them.
- If spraying outdoors, be sure to spray around dusk and dawn to avoid exposing pollinators to the oil.
The foliar spray will dissipate in 45 minutes to an hour, leaving no residue. Thus, it will need more than one treatment.
Tip: Use A Combination Attack
The reason neem oil has varying levels of success against ants is that they don’t directly ingest the oil. And colonies can have hundreds of workers, most of which you won’t even see.
Using a soak kills their food source, and a foliar spray can kill any ants that are present on the plant. But adding another great product will better help keep ants off of your plant.
Diatomaceous earth sprinkled around the plant’s base will lacerate the exoskeleton of any approaching ant. This will cause it to dehydrate to death.
Using this in conjunction with the neem soak and spray combo may be one of the most effective, human and pet-safe solutions available.