Tackling Tiny Invaders: Will Neem Oil Kill Ants?

If you’ve ever seen ants crawling on plants in your garden, you may be wondering if they are harmful and, if so, what to do to get rid of them.

In most cases, seeing a few ants in your garden is nothing to worry about, unless it’s the tropical leafcutter ant, but they have a limited demographic: They are native to South and Central America, and are known to only four states in the US have them: Arizona, Texas, Louisiana and Southern California.

Do other varieties of ants pose a threat to garden plants?

Although most ants do not eat the foliage of your plants, there are a few reasons why you may not want ants in your garden.

  • Ants protect aphids – Ants actually cultivate aphids, protecting them from their natural predators, taking them to the juiciest parts of the leaves and caring for them, and even taking them back to their anthill at night to protect them. The reason for this is the “honeydew” that the aphids secrete after chewing the leaves. Ants feed on this sugary substance. So if you notice a lot of ants, take a closer look: you may have an aphid problem.
  • Extensive ant tunnels can damage the roots of your plants. – Although a small amount of ant tunnels will aerate the soil and can be beneficial for your plants, an ant infestation can create a massive tunnel system, which can weaken your plants’ root systems and damage them below the surface.
  • Some ants can cause an unpleasant sting – If you have ever been bitten by a fire ant, you know what I am talking about! All ants can sting, but fire ants, harvester antsand oak ants They have small stingers that release venom and form painful blisters on the affected skin. That’s not the kind of experience you want while working in your garden.

So how to get rid of ants in the garden? If you’re an organic gardener like me, you’ll turn to a natural solution, like neem oil.

Below, I will cover the effectiveness of neem oil in killing and repelling ants, how to prepare and apply a homemade solution, as well as offer alternative natural remedies to eliminate an ant problem in your garden.

Does neem oil kill ants?

Neem oil can be used to kill and repel over 170 types of insects, including all varieties of ants.

Neem oil works in two different ways:

  1. First, when applied as a diluted foliar spray, neem oil acts on direct contact with the pest, coating its body in oil and blocking its airways, often suffocating the small insects immediately.
  2. Additionally, neem oil contains the compound Azadirachtin, which, when ingested by ants, disorients them and disrupts their biological functions, such as feeding and reproduction.

What is neem oil?

neem oil is an organic, biodegradable pesticide made by pressing the seeds of the neem tree, which grows in Southeast Asia and parts of Africa. It is non-toxic and will not harm people, pets, birds or beneficial insects when used according to package directions. It is safe to use on fruits and vegetables, as well as flowers.

Does neem oil kill ant eggs?

Not quite. Ant eggs take 3 to 4 weeks to hatch into larvae. Neem oil kills by suffocation or ingestion. Therefore, the eggs themselves may hatch, but an application of neem oil will kill the larvae on contact by suffocating their airways.

Additionally, with repeated applications of neem oil, ants will not be able to lay eggs, as azadirachtin disrupts their hormonal system.

Does neem oil prevent ants?

Indirectly, neem oil can deter ants, even the more common varieties that don’t eat the leaves. Neem oil has a very strong sulfuric odor and a bitter taste that aphids I don’t like it, and remember, your ants are probably there for the aphids, not the leaves themselves.

Used as a soil drench, plant roots absorb neem oil into the cellular structure of the leaves, which affects the flavor of the leaves, makes the leaves less attractive to aphids, and therefore reduces the number of ants.

If you are in an area where there are leafcutter ants, the taste of neem oil on the leaves after soaking in the soil may repel them.

How to mix neem oil for ants?

The most economical way to use neem oil in your garden is to prepare the solution yourself, using 100% pure cold-pressed neem oil. This method has the added benefit of knowing exactly what is in the solution and controlling the concentration.

To start, evaluate your needs. Are you covering a large area or just a few plants? It is important to mix only enough neem oil solution for immediate use, as the active ingredient will deteriorate quickly once mixed with other ingredients.

For every liter of solution needed, start with 4 cups of water (preferably not cold). Add 1 teaspoon of neem oil and a drop of liquid soap. Shake vigorously and transfer to a spray bottle or, for a larger area, use a garden sprayer.

How to apply neem oil to kill ants?

You can apply neem oil by spraying the leaves, stems, and stem of your plant thoroughly, or by soaking soil into the roots of the plant. If you see the anthill in your garden, you can pour the neem oil solution directly into the anthill. If you do the latter, be prepared to move away when the ants come out in droves, especially if you’re dealing with fire ants.

Several applications of any of these methods are usually needed before the ants are eradicated.

When spraying neem oil on your plants, be sure to dilute the oil and only spray it once the sun goes down. This will protect your plants from foliage burns and will also protect pollinators from accidental exposure since they are only active during daylight hours. Bees and butterflies can suffocate if neem oil blocks their airways.

Read related: Can you spray neem oil on flowering plants?

How often to spray neem oil for ants?

You can spray neem oil on the plants every 3 to 4 days. If you do it more frequently, you will risk damaging the plants. Always check your plant’s foliage for signs of “burn” (dry, white or tan patches) before reapplying neem oil. If you have foliage burn, increase the time between applications.

If you use a soil drench on the roots of the plant, you should apply it every 2 to 3 weeks. Azadirachtin can remain active in soil for almost 3 weeks, so more frequent soaking may be unnecessary.

When pouring the neem oil solution over the anthills, as long as you do not apply the solution to any plants you value, it is okay to reapply it as often as you like. Neem oil can kill ants on contact, if they are completely immersed in it.

How long does it take for neem oil to kill ants?

If the ants are small enough and the neem oil is applied enough, some ants could die from suffocation immediately. For larger ants that have been less saturated, it may take a while for azadirachtin to work its magic. Within 3 to 5 days, ants that have ingested the compound will no longer be able to feed, reproduce, or lay eggs, breaking the cycle. Simply repeat the applications over the next few weeks and you should win the battle.

Can neem oil harm my plants?

If applied correctly, neem oil will not harm your plants, with a few exceptions.

  1. Never use neem oil on plants with delicate, wispy foliage, such as many herbs.
  2. Never use neem oil on plants that are stressed from a recent transplant or from over- or under-watering.
  3. Never use neem oil in sunlight. It is best to wait until nightfall.

Read my related post “List of Plants You Should NOT Use Neem Oil on (The Ultimate Guide)” here.

Are there alternative ways to get rid of ants in the garden?

It’s always good to have more than one weapon in your arsenal! Here are a few more organic ways to get rid of ants in your garden.

  • diatomaceous earth – a powdery substance made from the fossilized remains of small aquatic organisms, which kills ants by getting under their exoskeletons and drying out their body fluids.
  • Insecticidal soap – sprayed directly on ants, can be lethal, but must be reapplied frequently.
  • Borax combined with powdered sugar – a homemade ant bait that gets real results! Simply mix one part borax with three parts powdered sugar and add enough water to make a paste. Fill bottle caps or other small containers with the mixture and place them in the area where you have noticed ants. (Be careful not to place them where children or pets can ingest them.) Borax, once ingested by ants, is lethal within a few days.
  • Use citrus essential oils – Orange and lemon essential oils are toxic to ants. Make your own spray by combining 3 tablespoons of orange essential oil, 1 teaspoon of honey, a splash of liquid dish soap, and a quart of warm water. Shake well and spray your plants and soil well. Please note that citrus essential oils are also toxic to pets.
  • Introduce natural predators. – You can buy beneficial nematodes to release in your garden. Nematodes are the natural predators of many insects. They work by invading the bodies of their prey and consuming them from the inside out. There are specific nematodes that work on different insects. They will not harm humans or pets.

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