Ants on Your Plants: Are They Bad for the Garden?

When you start gardening, you’ll probably start noticing more of the life that visits your yard. For most non-gardeners, insects only come into focus when they enter houses, but for gardeners, they suddenly play a bigger role on stage. You start noticing the earthworms in the soil, the pillbugs scurrying around in your mulch, and the slugs that come to chew big holes in your kale. Many folks will spot ants visiting their garden and wonder what they’re doing there. Are they pests or garden allies? 

Why Are There Ants on My Plants?

Ants may be visiting your garden for several reasons. Like us, they must meet a few essential needs to survive: moisture, food, and shelter. These needs are met in different ways depending on the species of ant, and there are almost 800 ant species found in the United States today! Though these species vary widely, below we’ll cover some of the more common reasons you’ll spot them on your garden plants. 

Collecting Water

The way that ants source water varies with species. Some ants are specifically adapted to get all their moisture needs from their food sources. Harvester ants, for instance, can get most of their moisture needs from seeds, while other ants may get most of their moisture from flower nectar. 

However, it’s not unusual for ant species to gather water from dew droplets or puddles. If you often spot ants visiting your plants that tend to collect dew, they could be harvesting the water. 

Ant farming aphids on a plant stemFarming Aphids, Scale Insects, and Mealybugs

Many ant species, including Argentine ants (Linepithema humile), Allegheny mound ants (Formica exsectoides), common citronella ants (Lasius claviger), and longhorn crazy ants (Paratrechina longicornis), all enjoy feeding on honeydew, a rich, sugary substance secreted by aphids, scale insects, and mealybugs as they feed on plant sap. 

These ants will go to great lengths to ensure a steady supply of honeydew. The ants actually farm the aphids and other insects almost the way we do livestock. They will protect the aphid colony, keeping their habitat clean and fighting off predators. They also cull certain insects, especially older ones, that produce less honey-dew. When they want to collect honeydew, they gently tap the insect’s abdomen to encourage them to secrete honeydew. 

Amazingly, ants will also carry these insects to new plants to increase production. Obviously, this behavior can be problematic for gardeners. 

Thankfully, aphids are usually a reasonably easy pest to eliminate. A strong jet of water to kill or blast the aphids off the plant may be enough to do the trick. You can also use insecticidal soap or soapy water to kill the aphids. However, this method comes with some risks. It can destroy the waxy coating on leaves and may burn foliage, especially during hot and humid weather.

Harvesting Other Sugary Foods

Many of the ants that enjoy honeydew also love other sugary foods, such as flower nectar, fruit juices, and human food scraps. While the ants may seem like a nuisance if they show up at your picnic or climb into your flowers to gather nectar, they don’t do any harm. Usually, they don’t harvest fruit or juices unless the produce is already damaged. 

For example, finding ants in a hole in strawberries is often a significant complaint. Interestingly, it’s not typically the ants making the hole. Usually, slugs eat strawberries and other fruit at night, and then the ants harvest from the opening that the slugs have created during the day. Usually, if you can eliminate the slugs, the ants will cease to be an issue. 

Line of ants carrying leavesLeaf Cutters

You may also see leafcutter ants like the Texas leafcutter ant (Atta texana) in certain parts of the United States. These interesting ants can often be seen carrying large pieces of foliage back to their nests. This particular species has been known to work together as a colony to defoliate a citrus tree in less than 24 hours!

These foliage foragers aren’t eating the leaves; they take them back to their nest and chew them into a paste as fertilizer for their fungus gardens. Regardless, they can spell trouble if you’re trying to grow plants and trees within a colony’s range. 

Unfortunately, for people coping with leaf-cutter ants, many of the organic “ant baits” you see recommended aren’t effective because these species only feed on the fungus they grow in their nest.

We don’t have personal recommendations because they aren’t an issue for us. However, many permaculturalists in other areas recommend raising guinea fowl or treating the nests with boiling water. 

Harvester Ants

Harvester ants collect grains and seeds, which they store in granary areas within their nest. These ants aren’t usually a significant issue for vegetable gardeners, though you may observe them gathering seeds from plants around you. They can be an issue for grain farmers.

Benefits of Ants

While we may sometimes butt heads with ants and other creatures in our garden, it’s important to remember that they have their place. There are several benefits to ants that many gardeners and nature lovers can appreciate.

  • Many ground-dwelling species, like northern fungus-farming ants (Trachymyrmex septentrionalis), aerate the soil and improve fertility. These industrious ants bring minerals and nutrients up from deep below the surface, making them accessible to trees and plants.

  • Many ants, like large imported big-headed ants (Pheidole obscurithorax), are voracious predators of other pests. Researchers have found that one species, Buren’s Pyramid Ant (Dorymyrmex bureni), often feeds on invasive fire ants (Solenopsis invicta).

  • Some ants, like American winter ants (Prenolepis imparis), plant wildflowers. About 11,000 plant species, including many native wildflowers like bloodroot, trillium, and violets, have developed seed appendages that attract ants, encouraging them to harvest the seeds and transport them to new locations.

  • Ants clean up carrion, food scraps, and other waste, helping reduce the number of flies and other animals attracted to a location.

  • Some ants, like black harvester ants (Veromessor pergandei), help landscapes recover from wildfires, drought, and overgrazing. Researchers have found that the rims of their nests are “islands of fertility.” In these fertile soils, plants recover more quickly and help re-seed the nearby landscape. 

Depending on the species, seeing insects in the garden can bring joy and worry. Hopefully, this will help you understand why you’re seeing ants in your garden, what they’re up to, and what steps you may need to take. 

Growing Mint: Is It Invasive?

Mint is one plant that stirs the pot on social media! Recently, I’ve come across several reels and posts expounding on the horrors of this plant and how you should never plant it in your garden. It’s usually labeled as an invasive, and there are stories of it traveling through neighbors’ yards, through cracks in the sidewalk, and into the woods! That said, many people enjoy growing and using mint. It’s a beautiful herb with wonderful flavor and medicinal properties. In this post, we’ll discuss how to grow mint without it taking over your property.

Is Mint Invasive?

Yes, it can be invasive. Specific types of mint, like culinary mint (Mentha spp.), tend to be aggressive spreaders. Some mint species, like the aforementioned culinary mint, are considered weeds in some states.

While mint can outcompete many of your garden plants and will happily take over disturbed areas like vacant lots and pastures, you generally won’t find it creeping into native forests. Usually, when we think of invasive species, we think of species that readily outcompete our native plants in their natural habitats, like kudzu with its long vines climbing over and killing trees in its quest for the most sun. Mint is not invasive to the degree that kudzu is. 

Mint can be controlled, and we’ll discuss how to do that below. Certain species in the mint family are less aggressive. Also, some mints may spread readily but aren’t considered invasive in the same sense because they’re native to the United States.

Controlling Mint

Many mints can spread through seed and creeping roots. This double reproduction is one of the features that allows mint to spread so effectively. There are a few things we can do to prevent this spread. 

Many folks recommend growing mint in containers, and this is a great option! Mint makes a beautiful patio or porch plant. It tolerates full sun or partial shade, and there’s some evidence that some mint species may repel insects like mosquitoes. 

Growing mint in a small seperate bed is also a good option. If your bed is surrounded by grass, it’s easy to keep it mowed short around it and prevent the mint from spreading. Alternatively, you can hand-pull any escapees. Raised beds with solid bottoms can further eliminate spreading issues. Cut mint before it goes to seed to prevent it from self-sowing in other areas of your garden.

You can also plant mint in less-than-ideal habitats. Generally, mint doesn’t do well in very hot, dry spots. It will be much easier to manage where conditions are unfavorable.

Mint Varieties

As I mentioned above, not all mint species are as aggressive as culinary mint. Do your research before you plant a mint family species. While most mints can be used for culinary and medicinal preparations, their fragrance, flavor, and benefits may vary widely. Some mints are also more ornamental, and you will find variations in appearance and growth habits.

American Wild Mint
Mjhuft, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

American Wild Mint (Mentha canadensis)

American wild mint is native to most of the United States and much of Canada. It’s an excellent, native aromatic herb that puts on masses of tiny, purplish flowers in later summer. The flowers are a great source of pollen and nectar for native pollinators. Don’t let the fact that it’s native fool you; this mint can spread just as aggressively as the non-native species.

Anise-Hyssop (Licorice Mint)Anise-Hyssop or Licorice Mint (Agastache foeniculum)

This beautiful herb is native to the North-Central US and is cherished for its ornamental beauty and versatile uses. It offers a unique flavor for tea or culinary use, has medicinal properties, and is great for bees. 

Anise-hyssop will self-seed, and new patches may pop up, but it doesn’t tend to spread as aggressively as culinary mint.

HyssopHyssop (Hyssopus officinalis)

Hyssop is a beautiful semi-evergreen sub-shrub or large herb with stunning purple flowers. It has a strong flavor and a camphor-like odor, and it’s often used to season poultry. It doesn’t share culinary mint’s strong, aggressive tendencies.  

CatnipCatnip (Nepeta cataria)

This mint can be used medicinally or to amuse your cat. Note that only about 2 out of 3 cats are amused! The remainder, who do not have the dominant gene for this response, are bored by this plant. Catnip spreads some but doesn’t tend to creep as aggressively as culinary mint.

Lemon BalmLemon Balm (Melissa officinalis)

Lemon balm resembles culinary mint and can be an aggressive spreader. True to its name, it offers citrusy, lemon-scented foliage rather than the classic mint smell. Lemon balm is widely used as an herbal tea. 

MintMint (Mentha sp.) 

This is culinary mint, the king mint of spreading. It’s excellent at reproducing through its creeping roots. It’s a hardy, aromatic herb with good flavor for tea and culinary use. 

Note that mint grown from seed produces plants that vary widely in flavor and appearance, from spearmint to menthol mint to peppermint. We recommend sowing it in pots and transplanting your favorite plants. 

White HorehoundWhite Horehound (Marrubium vulgare) 

Horehound is another aggressive spreader. Its pleasant fragrance, menthol-like flavor, and medicinal benefits make it a popular choice for lozenges and candies.


The mints are hated by some for their aggressive tendencies and beloved by others for their incredible fragrance and hardiness. If you’ve always wanted to add mint to your garden, you needn’t give up the idea entirely, just because it may spread. Try some of our control tips and select the right mint for your garden to enjoy these fun herbs.

Viral Trend: Chaos Gardening

If you spend time browsing gardening sites or scrolling TikTok and Instagram, you may have noticed a trend: chaos gardening. This gardening style is touted as easy, affordable, and environmentally friendly, and all you need to do is toss some seeds. What’s not to love? In today’s post, we’ll explore chaos gardening, its pros and cons, and how to practice it in your garden.

What is Chaos Gardening?

Chaos gardening is a carefree style in which the gardener randomly throws seeds over their selected space. You can use flowers, vegetables, herbs, or perennials and mix them together. There’s no planning a layout or careful seed sowing; just give them a fling!

The idea of chaos gardening is to ditch the idea that lawns and gardens must be highly organized and maintained. You can create a beautiful, full-looking garden without a lot of work or amendments.

Obviously, in this gardening style, some plants do much better than others. Proponents of this garden style enjoy the surprise and thrill of what thrives rather than planning for certain crops. This also means that they don’t use a lot of resources, like water, in dry parts of the country to keep plants alive that just aren’t thriving.

RudbeckiaDoes Chaos Gardening Work?

Yes, chaos gardening does work, but as we mentioned above, some plants will do much better in this style than others. If your goal is large heads of broccoli or killer slicing tomatoes for sandwiches, this may not be the right style for you. Maybe you can try it in one bed or section. 

Here are some of the great things about chaos gardening as well as some of the issues with it:


  • It can take the stress out of garden planning and layout.
  • It can be a great way to support pollinators.
  • You can use up old seeds.
  • These gardens don’t require maintenance. 
  • It may help with pest issues.
  • You can rewild part of your lawn.
  • You can use this style to create pollinator strips within a vegetable garden.


  • It is less productive for certain crops, particularly vegetables.
  • You may still feel the need to weed, and it can be challenging to distinguish plants.
  • You still need to do solid soil prep work. 

Generally speaking, chaos gardening works, but you need to be okay with less production and a garden that tends more toward a wildflower meadow than a vegetable patch.

How to Chaos Garden

While chaos gardening is usually advertised as less work, it’s important to remember that there’s still plenty of work to be done outside of sowing to ensure your plants thrive. Work begins with the soil. 

Choose an area that gets plenty of sun unless you’re working with shade-tolerant seeds. Then, you’ll need to prepare a bed and keep it free of weeds and grass. I always like to add a couple of inches of finished compost. 

Once your soil is prepared, you can begin sowing your seeds. Chaos is the name of the game here, so give them a toss! 

If you have a lot of larger seeds, like cucumber or bean seeds, for best results, I recommend sowing them first and then scattering some compost over top of them. Then, you can move on to the finer seeds, like poppies and dill.

After you sow all of your seeds, you should walk on them to press them into the soil. This will help them stay moist and improve your germination rate. For best results, water them in and then keep a consistent watering schedule, at least until all of your plants are established. 

Peruviana Red Zinnias
Peruviana Red Zinnias

What Seeds Should I Use?

Native species and wildflowers for pollinators are good choices because they generally perform well in this gardening style and have ecological benefits. Don’t let that limit you, though. You can try chaos gardening with any seeds you have on hand. Of course, some seeds will perform better than others.

Chaos gardening can also be a helpful way to use up extra seeds or seeds that are years old and have less-than-ideal germination rates.

Note that aggressive spreaders and invasive varieties should be avoided. Before seeding, consider what’s appropriate for your areas. 

If you want to purchase seeds for a chaos garden, here are some crops that chaos gardeners like to use and a few we think are well-suited to this style:

  • Rudbeckia
  • Echinacea
  • Bachelor’s Buttons
  • Cleome
  • Calendula
  • Sweet Alyssum
  • Cosmos
  • Bee Balm
  • Phlox
  • Carrots
  • Looseleaf Lettuce
  • Matt’s Wild Cherry Tomatoes
  • Everglades Tomatoes
  • Peruviana Red or Peruviana Yellow Zinnias
  • Long Island Mammoth Dill
  • Bread Seed Poppies
  • Sunflowers
  • Cucumbers
  • Chamomile
  • Amaranth
  • Cilantro
  • Creasy Greens (Upland Cress)
  • Fennel
  • Hyssop
  • Parsley
  • Yarrow

These all tend to be sturdy, easy-to-grow crops that tolerate a bit of crowding and weed pressure.

Do I Need to Tend My Chaos Garden?

After seeding, how much work you put into your chaos garden is up to you. Some growers try to pick out any weeds or do a bit of thinning, while others are entirely hands-off. One of the great things about this style is that you will probably still get some flowers and other crops even if you don’t have time for a traditional garden. 

Chaos gardening can be a fun way to use up old seeds, rewild parts of your lawn, support pollinators, and grow a mix of crops. We’re not saying you should give up on your traditional garden, but if you’ve got some lawn to get rid of or a little space you can’t decide what to do with, give chaos gardening a try!

Saving the Past for the Future