Gardening Laidback Gardener Tip of the Day Plant pests

Can You Kill Ants with Boiling Water?

20160724AAmong the methods you often hear about how to destroy ant nests in the garden is to pour boiling water on them. More specifically, into the hole in its center, the one ants come in and out of.

Before I explain any further, though, I feel you really ought to consider whether you really need to kill the ants, because most ants are harmless or even beneficial. Of course, there are exceptions (fire ants, European red ants and other imported species, for example) and even “good ants” can be a problem under certain circumstances. I recommend you read the blog “Help! Ants are Destroying My Lawn” (a somewhat satirical title, I must confess) before acting.

If you do decide that, in your specific case, the ants really do have to die, will pouring boiling water on the nest help?

The answer is: sometimes.

That’s because even water at a full boil cools down rapidly in contact with the soil. If the queen of the little ant colony is just under the surface (and to destroy an ant nest, it is imperative to kill the queen, because even if you kill 100 worker ants, if the queen survives, she’ll just produce more workers), the water may still be hot enough to end her life and then, yes, the nest will be destroyed. If she has wisely installed her nest deep down in the ground, however, the water will probably have had time to cool off before reaching her.

You’ll know soon enough whether the treatment worked or not: if the nest is quickly rebuilt,  the treatment didn’t work.

Note that you should use boiling water with discretion, since it can damage surrounding plants. Thus the boiling water treatment is one you’d more likely want to apply to a terrace where ant nests have cropped up between the paving stones than to a lawn, a flowerbed or a vegetable garden.

A Better If Slower Method

A more successful (but much slower) way of controlling ants is to put out ant traps or to create your own (a half and half mixture of boric acid [or borax] and icing sugar poured into an empty soft drink can makes a great home-made trap). It can take two weeks or more to kill an ant colony with boric acid, but when the job is done, it’s done.

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He has written for many garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 60 other titles in English and French. He is a past president of the Garden Writers Association (now Garden Communicators International) and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. He resides in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

6 comments on “Can You Kill Ants with Boiling Water?

  1. Chris Brennan

    Just yesterday I read that the Health Canada is planning to limit BORAX and products containing its active ingredient (boron) due to health concerns. They say to never make your own baits as it can lead to overexposure to boric acid or boron. See http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/cps-spc/pubs/pest/_fact-fiche/cancelled_boric_borique_revoquee/index-eng.php

  2. Olive oil spray also works good at keeping ants away in the first place………for instance, I give my hummingbird feeder a spray of olive oil on the top and the line that holds it to the tree……..No ants……………currently experimenting with spraying my pots too………..no definitive results on that yet…….but the olive oil is surprisingly long lasting………not forever, of course…..but longer than anything else I have tried………

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