It is super annoying to go out in the morning to check on your new strawberry plants and find a thick line of ants marching in. Ants serve a purpose in the natural ecosystem, but they’re not so great for your garden. If left to their own devices, they will quickly invade your entire garden! How can you stop them once they have started?
There are numerous all-natural solutions to keep ants off your strawberry plants, including:
- Ant repellant plants
- Diatomaceous earth
- Petroleum jelly
- Destroying their food source
- Bait stations
- Double-sided tape
- Cedar chip mulch
- Herbal tea
If you don’t want to use a harsh pesticide on your precious strawberry plants, below are some organic options that are still effective at sending the ants packing. Check out these inexpensive and relatively easy to manage tips to keep the ants off of your strawberry plants so that you can keep the strawberries’ sweet fruit all to yourself.
How To Keep Ants Off Strawberry Plants
If you have been dealing with the frustration of trying to protect your strawberry plants from natural predators, you have likely tried putting up fencing to keep out birds and small rodents. But what do you do for ants? They are small enough that fencing won’t stop them, and you don’t want to spray your plants full of harsh chemicals. These are some organic solutions to try instead.
It’s important to note that ants don’t harm your strawberry plants. The ants show up when other bugs secrete a particular type of liquid called honeydew for them to eat. The ants love honeydew and the insects that make it love feasting on the sweet fruit. So, they may be unsightly, but at least they aren’t hurting your garden.
However, when another insect penetrates the outer skin of the strawberry, ants will quickly swarm in to finish out the job. Though they don’t start devouring your fruit, they certainly add fuel to the fire and be the end of your sweet fruit harvest. If you want any fruit left for yourself, you need a way to get those ants out of your garden posthaste.
Not to mention, once ant colonies find a good source of food and begin to prosper, they will build new colonies more centrally located to your garden. They may bury new strawberry shoots in the dirt as part of the new nest, which will kill the sprouts and keep your plants from spreading out. That can hamper their growth, especially if they’re newly planted.
Soap is a particularly insidious killer of ants that most people don’t know about. Soap works by degrading the exoskeleton of the ant so they can no longer drink water. Eventually, they dehydrate and die. If you mix a small amount of dish soap into the water you spray onto your plants, the ants will quickly die off and won’t bother your plants anymore.
A single tablespoon of soap per cup is all you need to make a robust solution that will kill off the ants invading your strawberry plants. Alternatively, you can go right to the anthill and douse it with soapy water to take all of them out in one fell swoop. If you want to be sure, use two tablespoons of lye boiled in one gallon of water.
Soap is an excellent option for most people because it isn’t something you have to go out and buy specifically. It is an affordable choice that most people have kicking around the house already, so you won’t have to make a special trip to get something. You can finish reading this guide and get out there to kick those ants out of your strawberry plants right away.
Another option is to use borax. If you put some borax in peanut butter, jelly, or some other kind of sweet substance and place it near the strawberry plants, the ants will be drawn to the artificially sweetened stuff instead of your plants and will eat up all of the borax. In a few days, you won’t have to worry about an ant problem anymore.
Ant Repellant Plants
Depending on the size and scope of your garden, you might consider adding other plants with your strawberries. While the other plants will take up some space that the strawberries can’t then utilize, it may be worth it if you choose plants that naturally repel ants and other harmful insects. You can plant them along the perimeter or in between the rows of strawberries.
Some great options include:
- Pennyroyal (This comes with an ample warning. If you have any livestock animals or pets who frequently roam your garden, you should not plant this. It is toxic, even in small quantities to most animals, although it smells enticing.)
If you don’t have space in your garden for these plants, you can also purchase dried leaves to sprinkle around your strawberry plants. Your best bet, in that case, would be to use catnip. Many pet stores and grocery stores sell catnip for cat owners, so it is easy to find and quite pungent. The ants should be easily deterred by the strong scent and leave.
Most herbs have strong smells that easily deter ants, but you should also do some research to see which herbs grow best in your region. If you are going to buy a type of herb just to keep the ants away, you want to make sure that it will grow and thrive in your garden. You should ensure that the herb will work with your weather and current season.
This type of soil may be difficult to pronounce, but it is just fossilized algae. If you add a few pinches of this to the topsoil surrounding your strawberry plants, it should keep away the ants. The reason they hate it is that the soil contains sharp particulates that puncture the outer exoskeleton. That means that the ants can’t drink water anymore so that they will dehydrate.
Not too long after this, the ant will die. This method is an effective way to take out an entire colony of ants quickly and efficiently. You can likely order diatomaceous earth on Amazon or find it in your local gardening store. This isn’t a fun way to die, but the ants of the colony will learn not to come near your garden any more because ants can smell when other ants die.
You can also go straight to the source and spread some of this earth around any ant mounds on your property that you can find. By killing the ants at their start, you won’t have to worry that they will eat anything in your garden, not just your strawberry plants. You can substitute in talcum powder or chalk if you don’t live near a garden store.
Using a hose to destroy the ant trail might be a more cumbersome solution, but it is the least likely to damage your strawberry plants. For the first few months after planting, strawberries are sensitive, so you might want only to use water during that period. By forcefully spraying the ants, you can stop them immediately, but it is also important to destroy their trail.
Ants find their food, and each other, by the scent trail that each ant leaves behind. It may be invisible to humans, but it is as clear as a bell to other ants. You might not be worried about seeing a couple of ants initially, but they are just scouts. If they find something tasty, pretty soon, the entire colony will be coming to feast on your poor plants!
However, this can be a time-consuming method of keeping your strawberry plants ant-free. You have to monitor the plants all day and go out multiple times to spray the ant trail before they get the hint and leave your garden alone. That can get old pretty quickly, but if you are committed to just using intense bursts of water, this is the only way to go.
If you have some time on your hands and are ready to go to bat for your strawberry plants, spraying water might be the best way to get ants, and other bugs and slugs, out of your garden, but for most people, this method takes too long and too much energy to be considered when you have the other choices on this list.
Another method of deterring ants from invading is to spread petroleum jelly around the base of each strawberry plant. The jelly smells attractive to them, so they will surely explore it, searching for food. However, the jelly is very sticky, so they will get stuck and eventually starve to death while in full view of their food.
Cruel as this method may seem, if you want a quick way to get rid of ants, petroleum jelly is a relatively fool-proof plan. It might take a little while to spread all of the jelly out if you have a spacious garden, but it is well worth the effort when the ants either die or don’t come back to bother your plants, and they are allowed to grow and thrive.
Most people have salt in their house, so you won’t have to go out and buy something special to keep the ants from marching down to your garden with this method. Salt is a popular method to dehydrate slugs and snails, but ants don’t like it either. You can try sprinkling salt in and around your strawberry plants to discourage both ants and slugs from munching down.
It is quick and easy to spread a few fingerfuls of salt around the garden, so this is a pretty simple solution. Most people can head outside for a few minutes to distribute some salt in the strawberry plants, a suitable method for most plant owners. However, it may not be as effective as other methods on this list, so keep an eye on the plants.
Another way to keep ants out of your strawberry plants can begin with another kind of plant: citrus fruit. Ants dislike intense smells, so by squirting some acidic juice over your plants or in the general garden area, you can discourage them from colonizing nearby and making use of your garden. You can also use the acidic juice on their mounds if you find one.
Squirting the juice around the plants or anthill may be a quick method to kill ants, but you might notice that the plants don’t take kindly to introducing acid in their soil. To counteract this, you can use peat moss to change the ground’s acidity so that your garden continues to grow. Luckily, strawberry plants enjoy acidic soil, so you don’t need to worry as much.
This doesn’t mean you should pour out your lemonade on your plants either. Use freshly squeezed lemon, lime, or orange juice for best results, and try not to use anything that has artificial sugar or other ingredients, so your plants don’t have a bad reaction when you try to rid their leaves of the ants marching in.
Destroy the Food Source
A typical food source for ants is a small insect called aphids. Aphids are frequently found infesting sweet plants because they are attracted to the smell. In addition to the sweet flavor of the strawberries themselves, ants are also attracted to the nectar that aphids produce. It stands to reason that if you get rid of the aphids, the ants are likely to leave.
Aphids are pretty bad for your strawberry plants, even without the ant accompaniment. They eat the fruit and can spread diseases to your susceptible plants. If you see any yellowing or wilting leaves, that might be a sign of aphid infestation. If you quickly remove those leaves and take other measures to get rid of the aphids, the ants might leave voluntarily.
Another culprit is the garden slug. Ants are often attracted to plants that have been previously damaged by slugs. You can take preventative measures by keeping slugs away in the first place. To do so, there are a couple of methods that you can try. The easiest way is to pour some beer into a shallow bowl and set it near the plants. Slugs will crawl in and drown.
Alternatively, you can lay coffee grounds, diatomaceous earth, or human hair in the soil surrounding the plant. It won’t harm your garden at all, but it will prove to be a fantastic slug deterrent. The diatomaceous earth doubles as an ant repellant, too, so you can be incredibly efficient at protecting your strawberry plants.
If the ants are becoming a severe problem and you want to get rid of them without a lot of hassle, ant bait stations are available on Amazon or in most hardware and convenience stores. If you place these strategically around your garden, the ants will be attracted to their sweet smell and take the bait back to their colony, poisoning the other ants.
If you have any livestock animals or pets, or small children, you may want to reconsider the use of bait stations, however convenient they might be. The smell might be appealing to some animals, and the poison inside is obviously toxic to anything that eats it. Kids and pets have been known to get into ant traps, so you should take that into account.
Another method that deals with ants and other insects is the sticky stem method. This versatile method involves delicately wrapping a layer of double-sided tape around the base of the strawberry plant. This is a bit tricky, especially for well-established plants with vines reaching far away from the original plant.
This method works best if you wrap the stem when you are initially planting them. If you know that ants are particularly prevalent in your region, you can take precautions against them and any other creepy crawlies in the area by wrapping up the stem so that any invaders get trapped in the tape and starve to death while only a few inches from their favorite food.
You will have to replace the tape reasonably often. Depending on the number of ants caught in your fatal trap, we recommend checking the tape once a week at least. You might be able to wrap another layer around the first if it’s too finicky to remove the last layer. However, the layers will build up over time and interfere with the plant growing, so this is a temporary measure.
Cedar Chip Mulch
Usually, mulch is used to trap moisture in the soil and keep your plants nice and hydrated. Sometimes, mulch contains extra nutrients that can fuel their growth too. Most people who own a garden and are committed to making their plants successful know about how much mulch can add to your plants’ growth.
In this case, cedar chip mulch won’t benefit your strawberry plants directly. It will, however, deter the ants from marching one by one to your garden. Hurrah! The ants can’t stand cedar chip mulch because it smells pungent and discourages them from burrowing down into the mulch. Ants naturally love to burrow, but the texture of this mulch feels uncomfortable for them.
Cedar chip mulch releases a chemical called thujone, which also repels moths, carpet beetles, and cockroaches. Although cedar chip mulch can’t promise an utterly insect-free garden, it goes a long way towards repelling most of the usual suspects, so at least your strawberry plants won’t have as many predators.
Many people enjoy a nice cup of tea to start the morning, but ants are not fans. Using about eight ounces of naturally repellant plants like catnip, peppermint, sage, cloves, or pennyroyal, you can boil it in water and spray it over your plants. If you want the spray to have an extra kick, add a teaspoon of dish soap to top it off.
The next time you wake up with a nice warm cup of peppermint tea to get ready for the day, consider dumping the dregs of your tea out in your strawberry plants, especially if you tend to steep your tea for a long time. The highly concentrated smell can start driving them away from your garden and persuade them to look for food elsewhere.
This may seem too good to be true, and for some gardens, it is. This is a preventative measure that works best before the ants have begun to colonize the area heavily or have become fully entrenched in your garden. If the ants have formed a few thick lines into your plants, it may be too late to discourage them with herbs, and you might have to use multiple methods to drive them out.
Practices to Avoid
The practices listed above are a combination of proactive suggestions and solutions to the ant problem, but sometimes it is not about what you do; it’s about what you don’t do. By staying away from certain habits and temptations, you might be able to avoid tempting ants to come back in the future. After all, you don’t want to watch for them forever.
In addition to being proactive with the suggestions above, there are some common pitfalls that new owners of strawberry plants can watch out for. These mistakes can attract ants in the first place or cause more to swarm into your garden if you are not careful. If you want your strawberry plants to flourish, check out these practices to avoid.
Do Not Overwater
It may be tempting to give your strawberry plants a long drink multiple times a day to quench their thirst. After all, the most common reason plants fail for new owners is that they are not getting enough water. Try to resist that thought. Too much water can drown your plants and lead to rot, which may not entirely kill them, but the decay will bring the ants down on them.
Ants love rotting plants, so you should always monitor your plants for rotting, especially if you have noticed more ants hanging around. There are other reasons for rotting, besides overwatering, which you should also be on the lookout for:
- Fertilizer imbalance
- Fungal spores
- Nematodes (microscopic worms that eat your plants)
- pH imbalance
Do Not Use Nitrogen-Heavy Fertilizer
While your plants may benefit from fertilizer that uses nitrogen as its active ingredient, ants, aphids, and other insects are too attracted to both the plants that have been fertilized with it and with the fertilizer itself. Using nitrogen for fertilizer might seem like an attractive idea to help your strawberry plants grow, but you may be inadvertently inviting the ants in.
Killing All the Ants
While they may not look that nice, ants do provide some benefits to your strawberry plants. They aerate the dirt, which helps the plants efficiently get the soil’s nutrients and better absorb moisture from the air. Ants are also pollinators and consume bugs, which can spread damage and disease to your plants. Before you decide to exterminate, you might consider these qualities.
Do Not Leave Your Strawberries In One Place
If possible, replant your strawberries every three or four years. That way, even if ants are well-established in the area, you can keep your strawberries well out of their reach. They may change locations to follow the sweet scent of strawberries, but if you change up the garden location, you can keep them confused and out.
If you are freshly planting, don’t put the strawberries in a place where you have grown anything else for the past few years. Ant colonies have long memories, so you don’t want to put your precious strawberry plants in a place where they know that yummy food has grown in the past. They will learn to look there for a snack, and your plants will become infested quickly.
There is no need to be down if you have noticed ants trying to rain on your strawberry plant parade. You also don’t need to feel like you have to turn to harsh pesticides either. They can cause some damage to sensitive plants. Using any of the suggestions above, you should be able to make your garden ant-free in no time.