150 million years ago in the Cretaceous Period, Planet Earth began its love affair with the humble ant. 22,000 species of ants later, during barbecue and gardening season, it can sometimes seem like they are all having an annual convention in your back yard. But you can't run away from ants, because, oddly enough, the only landmass on earth you can go to get away from ants is Antarctica, where real estate is illegal and jobs are few. So how to get rid of garden ants? Luckily, it's pretty easy, and it all has to do with brain size.
1. Use your brain.
Ants have the biggest brain per body weight of any creature we know. They are famous for being organized, untiring, and great team players. They can fall from great heights without trouble, and could survive a nuclear winter. We are smarter than them still, because luckily our brain is much larger than theirs. You can have garden ants out of your garden in 3 weeks by using your brain. Here's how.
2. Live and let live?
One question first though. Do you want to reduce the number of ants in your garden, or keep them from overrunning certain areas, or just plain and simple; "get rid of garden ants now, please?"
Remember, ants have a purpose in the greater scheme of things beyond crashing your backyard picnic. Ants feast on the larvae of fleas, bedbugs, silver fish, and flies. They aerate soil. They have co-evolved over millennia to carry out important relationships with other species! This is biologist-speak for "please share the Earth with our fellow creatures."
3. Live and let die?
Not interested? Thanks for listening. OK, enough of that environmental piffle-tiffle! You want to put the "Not In My Back Yard" back into NIMBY, at least as far as ants go? No problem. Let's start at the top, with the easiest, quickest, and most permanent way to get rid of garden ants, which is to kill them all and destroy their nest.
4. How to annihilate an ant nest.
There is no point chasing ants around individually. Like children, there are too many of them, and they are too fast. Children we put into schools, ants we put into the "Hereafter". Just waltz out to your nearest hardware store and buy some external ant bait traps, the kind that say they "destroy the nest”. Read the package to find out how many to buy for the area you wish to create your "Ant Free Zone" in.
Ant bait traps are cheap and crazy effective, but you can save lots of money in the long run by purchasing a little squirt bottle of the liquid bait the traps are full of. Because there's always next year for them to return.
5. How the ants will die.
What the bait traps do is very simple. Ants love sugar, and the ones in your garden are following coded instructions naturally selected over 100,000,000 years to collect sugar and return it to the nest. The ants go into the bait trap, eat the sugar, and run home to collect their gold star. Little do they know what havoc they cause.
Although ants can both learn and teach, because their brains are so small, they can't run laboratory tests on the sugar to make sure nobody slipped in some borax, boric acid, or whatever chemicals the companies are using these days. The ants live just long enough to go back to their nest and die. The next step makes for strong reading. You might want to skip it.
6. How the nest is destroyed.
Still with us? OK, the ant is now back in the nest, and keels over. Again, because the ants have such small brains, they have not invented vacuum cleaners, or hearses, or cemeteries. Ants are programmed to keep the nest clean and tidy, and they do that by eating any dead ants. "Waste not, want not." Then the borax or whatever kills the "janitor" ant, and guess what, another dead ant in the nest.
"Send more janitors", says the queen, and then, "hey, where is everybody?" Much like an atomic bomb going off in slow motion, it takes 2-3 weeks to eradicate a nest, as you wait for the "chain reaction" to scythe them all down.
7. And don't come back, varmints!
Now is when your little squeeze bottle of ant bait refill comes in handy. After a week or two, romp around to your bait traps and give them a little refill. The ants will likely have sensed their impending doom, and be striking out for a new home. At this point, you want to make sure the bait is still fresh and smelling attractive, because you want any survivors to find a home outside the range of your traps.
Depending how well you get on with the neighbours, you can find a little "bonus satisfaction" here. There won't be a lot of survivors though. Don't skimp on the number of traps, because ants do like to wander around looking for food. Better a few too many than one less than you need.
8. Change of heart? Discouraging ants.
Three weeks and $25 is a small price to pay for getting rid of garden ants, but maybe you have read all this and are wondering if there is a kinder, gentler way.
A shot from a 1l spray bottle full of good old tap water with a tablespoon of dish soap and a 1/4 cup of vinegar added will kill an ant within minutes, before it can get back to the nest, and without setting off the big chain reaction. The soap and vinegar is also great to spray on ant trails.
Ants lay scent trails to teach their buddies the best routes, but they won't follow trails smelling of death. You can "discourage" them with a light mist of soapy vinegar water, or you can "discourage them permanently" with a full-on shot.
9. How to "discourage" 100 ants.
Diatomaceous earth (DE) comes in little 1l spray bottles too. It is made up of fossilized "diatoms". Atoms are of course SMALL, and diatom creatures come in around 3 to 1,000 micrometres across. DE is soft and fluffy, like baby powder and chalk, which also deter ants. However, to ants, each diatom is razor sharp. If ants get DE inside them, it slices up their guts from the inside out. But hey, this is war.
DE kills a lot of other garden pests, and doesn't seem to negatively affect good ones. Plopping a little DE around your garden might just send a message to the ants about where you would like them to avoid, please and thank you, without having to destroy their colony.
Big brain to the rescue. Don't try and get rid of garden ants without exploiting those extra 80 billion neurons you come equipped with. You can't win a war of chasing them around. Either you can discourage them with diatomaceous earth, or water with a little vinegar and soap in it, and live with them, or you will have to completely get rid of them from your back yard.
Stay away from the chlordane and lindane and the other heavy hitting pesticides, which will trash the ecology of your garden and poison your dog. A quick trip to the hardware store for "Ant Bait Traps" and an extra bottle of bait will ideally limit the amount of ants in your life (we cannot help you with aunts, however).