How to Get Rid of Ants in Plant Roots

Ants are never attracted to roots because they want to feed on them. In most cases, they are looking for habitat in the soil. Spreading Diatomaceous earth around the roots is a safe and efficient way of killing ants in plant roots.

When ants dig into the soil, they increase airflow into the plant roots via the little holes and burrows. They also improve the soil’s fertility by breaking down other organic matter as they feed. Those activities only benefit plants if the ants are in small numbers. However, An ant infestation can harm plants, especially if they are still young and weak.

How to get rid of ants in plant roots

Plants can be damaged if the wrong solutions are used to eliminate ants in or around roots. Be careful when using solutions like soapy water for ants in plant roots. Whatever is poured around the roots should not interfere with the soil’s natural PH and minerals.

Below are some useful tips on removing ants in roots without harming the plants.

1. Coldwater

Ants hate cold water, which can help get rid of them around the roots. Sprinkling it on ants around the roots is fine. However, be careful not to overuse it since cold water below 60°F can stress your plants. Roots overwatered with cold water can damage plant cells, leading to their death.

It is a good practice to use water between 65°F to 70°F for house plants. When getting rid of ants around the roots with cold water, try and use it in mall quantities but efficiently. You can spray it on visible ant burrows to maximize the contact. If the ants are away from the roots, it is okay to use a good amount.

The use of cold water for plants is also encouraged on a hot sunny day since the soul is relatively warm. It will still eliminate ants on contact while the warm soil stabilizes the temperatures fast. Therefore, there will be less exposure of roots to the negative cold effects of water.

2. Diatomaceous earth

Diatomaceous earth can get rid of ants in soil because it absorbs moisture from the ground. It is a compound made from hard-shelled algae in fossil form. When placed near an ant nest, it dehydrates, suffocates, and forces the ants to move or die.

If not used cautiously, Diatomaceous may harm humans and pets. Therefore, be careful when using it for ants in houseplants. The amount used should be controlled to reduce the toxicity levels.

Pets can really have negative reactions if they inhale it. If possible, keep the ant-infested potted pants away during treatment. Alternatively, use small amounts or simply keep your pets away from the plants.

The use of food-grade diatomaceous earth is only efficient if it remains dry when applied to the garden. When it rains, the solution has to be re-applied since it may be washed away. It could take a week to show results, but the impact lasts a long.

3. Introducing nematodes

Nematodes effectively control an ant infestation around the roots, yet they are not harmful to plants or humans. Introducing beneficial nematodes also offers a solution to getting rid of ants in plant roots while the plants remain healthy. They are applied by spraying them close to the plants and in the nests.

It takes 28 days for nematodes to kill ants since they need time to locate and work on them. However, this depends on the size of an infestation. The Steinernma Carpocapsae is one of the best natural solutions for ants and other tiny pests in the soil.

4. Orange peels

A simple homemade solution is using orange peel spray, which can keep ants from damaging your plants. Here is how to make an orange peel spray that is safe to use on plants:

  1. Peel 5 big oranges and put them in a blender
  2. Then add 200ml of water to it and blend the two to form a solution
  3. Pour it into a spray bottle and sprinkle it around the roots and holes to repel ants
Ants in plant roots
Ants in plant roots

How to stop ants from nesting around the plant roots

After getting rid of ants in plant roots, it is not guaranteed they will not invade the plants again. If there is an ant problem in the area, you have to find measures and solutions that will keep them from nesting around the roots in the future. Natural repellents can work since it is also important to take care of the plants.  

In most cases, ants are attracted to aphid excretions left on plant leaves, stems,s and around the roots. Controlling the aphids population reduces the number of ants infesting a plant. To rid of aphids:

  • Spray plants with a strong stream of water to remove the aphids from the leaves, although not advisable for young leaves/ plants
  • Remove aphids by hand. The aphids easily fall off the leaves when knocked off the plant. Collect the aphids in a soapy water solution to kill them. Letting them fall on the ground only creates more ant problems
  • Spray plants with essential oil solution. Mix water in a spray bottle with 4-5 drops of essential oils such as clove, peppermint, thyme, or rosemary. Spraying the solution on the plant suffocates the aphids
  • Use soap and water solution. Liquid soap and water solution applied directly on the aphids soaks the aphids and the protective outer layer of aphids. Removing the protective layer of the aphid’s skins exposes them to natural elements and eventually kills them

Use natural repellents

Strong odors repel ants; therefore, introducing strong odors such as cinnamon and cayenne pepper deters them from plants. Cinnamon or cayenne pepper is placed around plants and can be sprinkled near ants’ nests within the garden. It is also a naturally effective solution that will stop ants from digging the soil in potted plants.

Use a mixture of water and vinegar to kill and repel ants in plant roots. Mix 50% of water and 50% apple cider vinegar to prepare the solution. The solution can be sprinkled around the roots with the help of a spray bottle to deter ants.

Vinegar and water can also be sprinkled on ants that attack tomato plants. This solution can also be applied to their nests and trails. How far ants dig into the soil depends on its acidity, texture, and particle size. Vinegar should never be used in its pure form since it is acidic.

Dangers of ants in plant roots

Ants harm plants by attacking them in large numbers while feeding on their roots. They go for weak and fragile stems or roots since they are easy to cut or chew. However, most ants do not eat plant roots. They are only interested in making a home around it.

Young plants do not have roots that are well-established in the soil. The roots are still shallow. If ants dig around them in large numbers, they may dry out after 2-3 days, depending on the species and age.

For bigger plants, the survival duration depends on the ant colony and the plant size. Grown plants have deep roots in the soil, so ants cannot destroy them easily.

The Argentine ants are one of the most common species that can easily nest in the soil. While indoors, they are one of those ants in potted plants that crawl on the stem or the soil. A colony can have several queens, and an infestation in the garden may sometimes threaten young plants.

Seeing ant-infested plants might cause worry, especially if they are expected to have high yields. The major challenge is to get rid of the ants without damaging the plants. Using the wrong DIY solutions can sometimes leave you with no option but to start planting again.


Like in homes, ants are attracted to sugary food and content. Plants excrete amino acids and exude sugars into the soil. For ants, accessing the sugary content is a building component to improving their energy for their daily activities.

Plants with high excretion rates are more attractive to ants, which form anthills to access the sugar excretion from the plant roots.



  • Felix Odi

    Hi, I’m an experienced author and content creator with over 18 years of experience as a publisher. Growing up in rural areas of Bristol, FL, I developed an interest in pest control, fish farming, and poultry keeping. Farming is a main activity in the area, and pests are always part of our major setbacks. I had to learn how to get rid of them with simple DIYs.