3 Reasons To Worry If You Find Ants On Your Basil

Ants on your indoor herb might be a sign of a more serious problem

During my experience in growing basil indoor I found many “hosts” on my plant. One of them is ants. These tiny insects, that can get numerous really quickly, can cover your basil entirely. It is then legitimate to ask why are there and more importantly if they can actually damage your plant. For such reasons, after a bit of investigation, here is the answer.

Why are there ants in a basil plant? Ants can be found in a basil plant for one (or more) of the following: 

  1. They are feeding on other insects secretion (and this is the most common); or 
  2. They are looking for nectar in the flower; or 
  3. They are creating a nest in the soil;

Hence, apparently ants should not be a reason for concern, right? On the opposite, ants are a sign of a bigger problem that needs to be addressed if you want your basil to last. Let’s understand why in the next section.

Ants on Basil: a Sign of a Hidden Danger

Ants are totally harmless to your plant, they will not feed on it. Moreover, the majority of ants are deterred by a plant with a strong fragrance like basil. What ants are looking for in your basil is very likely the so-called honeydew. This is a highly sugary secretion produced by insects when feeding on the plant.

Yes, you read it right.

If you have honeydew you have some other insects, most of the time aphids, feeding on your plants. And ants love sugar as you might now if, by accident, you dropped a can of coke on the floor in your garden for instance. You can recognize that a liquid on your leaves is honeydew as it is quite sticky.

Pink aphid producing the ant-loved sugary secretion of honeydew – Photo by Pixabay from Pexels

Hence, the first things you need to do in case you have ants on your basil is to look for aphids or other plant-eater insects such as mealybugs. This might be difficult at first as such pests are quite small and can hide below the leaves and their color (often green for aphids) might make even harder to spot them.

But keep looking. In case you find them now you know that you have a new and bigger problem. You need first to get rid off of these pests, so the ants will not have any reason to hang out on your plant any longer.

Before taking care of your unwanted little guest you might want to place your basil far away from other indoor plants you might have. Indeed, ants are so smart that can literally farm those aphids, or any other pests, by bringing them in new nearby plants so they can multiply and produce even more honeydew.

Does Vinegar Kill Ants?

No, vinegar does not kill ants but it will get rid of them. Indeed, ants find food sources thanks odor scent (called pheromones) that they leave behind. Vinegar, with its strong smell, will interrupt such trace preventing the ants to come back to your plant

Vinegar is also effective in the fight again aphids as well. Indeed, as discussed in a previous article here, ⅓ of vinegar and ⅔ water is proven to be extremely effective to get rid off aphids. However, it is important to notice that the ⅓ solution of vinegar can get rid off aphids, but might not be strong enough to get rid of ants.

Many indeed suggest a ½ solution of vinegar and water. In such concentration, the vinegar will repel ants immediately (and even more capable to kill aphids). However, be very careful.

Such a solution, if ends up in the soil in large, can significantly increase its acidity, condition that might cause acid intolerant herb like basil to die. Hence limit the amount you are spraying on the ants and never spry pure vinegar on the plant, you will “burn” it (as the high salt content of the vinegar will destroy the leaves).

A little tip: Do not spray vinegar solutions only on the ants but also on the trail they use to reach your plant. Indeed, if you look carefully close to your plant, you should see a trail on the floor that all ants follow on their way back/forward to their nest. That trail can be interrupted with vinegar. Also, before, that, vacuum any ants on the surrounding. Repeat the vinegar process a few times across a week as the vinegar smell dissipates quickly.

Another reason that might justify the presence of ants on your basil is again their passion for sugar. But this time is not from honeydew but rather for nectar. Indeed, some species of ants are very good pollinator and might be attracted by the nectar in your basil flowers. In such a case, you will find those ants going back and forward from the flowers.

Remember though, that letting your basil bloom will make it die soon and also, at this stage, any leaves will become bitter (so not very tasty for consumption) as the plant is using its last energy for its flower and seeds. So, in such a case, these ants might not be a problem after all as the plants will die soon anyway.

The last reason that might justify the presence of ants in your basil, mainly on the soil this time, is nesting. Indeed, some species of ants, especially the fire ants, love to create a nest in the soil of potted plants because moist and warm and hide below leaves during the day. Once their nest is established will move to deeper soil in case of lower temperature.

Herbs That Keep Ants Away

Ants are repelled (not killed) by whatever can mess up with their scent trail that they release to trace food. Hence, any plant with a strong fragrance like mint, rosemary, lavender, thyme, and peppermint are natural ants deterrent.

Of course, one of this potted plant will not be able to deter ants from coming into your house. Ants will just avoid staying on the proximity of such herbs. If you really want to use them as natural ant repellent you need to spread their leaves where ants normally access your house (such as doorway and windowsills). This will keep them away. Remember to replace the leaves after a few days when their fragrance will vanish.

Can Ants Be Beneficial For Indoor Herbs?

Ants that decided to create a nest in your indoor potted plant might actually improve the overall well-being of the plant. This is because, like earthworms, they create tunnels that improve the aeration of the roots. Moreover, ants accelerate the transformation of dead organic matter (other insects and leaves) into nutrients for the soil and, ultimately, for the plant.

However, this is not always the case. Indeed, if their nest is close to the plant roots (very likely if the pot is small) the tunneling with remove part of the soil surrounding the roots causing them to be way less effective in absorbing nutrients and water. Hence, the plant will soon start suffering.

Moreover, a few of those ants species that typically find a potted plant an ideal nesting house (such as fire ants) are also able to sting (and able to do it multiple times) causing a small swollen red spot. However, from some people, an ant sting can cause way more serious consequences such as dangerous allergic reactions that require immediate medical attention.

The above also applies for your furry companions (either cat or dog). Some ants, when they sting, inject venom, that can trigger a reaction to your four-legged friend.

Hence, given all the problem that ants might cause in a potted plant, I suggested getting rid as soon as possible of ants once spotted in an indoor pot by using vinegar or any other remedy that you can be found.

Do You Want Massive Basil: Here 21 Tips

Basil, once you get right watering and light, is a relatively easy plants to grow indoor. However, what is the difference between you with a small basil plants with 10-15 leaves and those that can grow little monsters indoor.

Click on the image below to read an in depth guide on the 21 tips to grow your basil as expert gardeners do.

Related Questions

Why ants are more commonly found indoor in winter? Ants are cold-blooded, so they would not be able to survive outside a cold winter. Hence, a house with its almost constant temperature, moisture, and presence of food is the ideal place to settle in the cold season.

Do ants eat leaves? Yes, although rarely and few species can eat on leaves, ants do not eat leaves or plant in general.

Do ants eat fruit? Yes, although they prefer honeydew, dead animals ants have been found eating over ripped fruit like mangos, strawberries as most species are indeed omnivorous.

Further Readings

21 Tips to grow massive basil

Best container size for your basil

Best potting soil for your herbs

3 Sneaky way aphids can reach your herbs

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