There seems to be no limit to the number of urban legends about gardening. I heard a new one just the other day.
Apparently, when if you want to get rid of ants, all you have to do is to provide them with a package or two of sweetener containing aspartame and the colony will quickly die. According to this tip, aspartame was originally developed as an ant poison before it was discovered it could also be used as low-calorie sugar substitute for humans. According to the tip I heard, it is important use a sweetener containing a blend of aspartame and dextrose, as the ants will not touch aspartame when it is presented alone.
Looking for Truth
Although this is the first time I’ve hear this urban legend myself, it turns out it’s been around since 2006.
That’s when the satirical website The Spoof ran an article called “FDA certifies Aspartame as Ant Poison“, an attempt to parody the many anti-sweetener sites that claim various sugar substitutes (aspartame, sucralose, saccharin, etc.) are toxic to humans.
Unfortunately, even if the article ended with the phrase “The story above is a satire or parody. It is entirely fictitious”, several sites took the article seriously and began to spread the information that aspartame is toxic to ants. And so a new urban legend was born!
According to Wikipedia, aspartame is not a an ant poison and cannot be used to control ants. Whatever you may believe when it comes to the effects of aspartame on humans (I have no intention of discussing that issue, which is in no way related to a blog about horticulture), ants are not poisoned by aspartame, nor does it repel them. Sites that claim otherwise are merely spreading yet another urban legend about gardening, making life more difficult for gardeners everywhere.
My Homemade Ant Poison
Personally, in the rare cases where I have a confrontation with ants (usually, I consider them harmless to helpful denizens of my garden), I use the old borax and sugar treatment featured in the article Controlling Carpenter Ants Indoors. Borax and sugar are still the main ingredients of most commercial ant traps and are used by professional exterminators to control of ants. If the combo is good enough for exterminators, it’s good enough for me!