Nobody’s home is 100% insect free and having a few bugs around is to be expected. That doesn’t mean we all don’t look for ways to get rid of them, and to keep them out of the house in the first place.
Ants are a particularly annoying pest that no one wants around. You can use your love of houseplants to your advantage, and choose a few varieties that can repel ants for you.
Plants That Repel Ants
The key to keeping out ants is scent. They rely on smells to communicate with each other and to find new routes to food sources. Having houseplants around with very aromatic oils in them can deter ants from exploring any further in your home.
1 – Lavender
Lavender can get a little large for a houseplant, but it’s definitely possible to grow this lovely aromatic plant indoors. You’ll need a place that gets a lot of bright sun through the day, and expect to either split or repot this perennial as it continues to get bigger each year.
Not only do you have to consider the light levels, lavender needs a breezy spot as well. Without regular air flow, it won’t thrive. A small fan would work in a pinch.
For the novice, try to find French lavender. It’s known to be the easiest strain to keep as an indoor houseplant.
As I mention in this article about health-promoting houseplants, lavender has other benefits that you should be aware of as well.
2 – Mint
You can take your pick from a a whole bunch of mint varieties, and all can help deter ants in the house. Stick with the usual peppermint or spearmint, or get creative with apple mint, chocolate mint or even pineapple mint. All of them would provide very lovely tea at the same time.
Get your mint seeds (as well as other herbs) delivered to your door from Urban Leaf.
For growing mint as a houseplant, you need well-draining soil (add some peat or perlite if necessary), and a spot with 4 to 6 hours of indirect light. If you are looking for plants that don’t need high sun (see my recommendations), this is a good choice.
Water your mint just before it starts to get dry on the surface, and turn the plants frequently as they have a tendency to bend toward the light.
3 – Rosemary
Not as aromatic as lavender or mint, but potent against ants just the same. Rosemary isn’t the easiest plant to grow indoors and if you are just getting started with houseplants, it might be better to choose one of the others from our list.
Otherwise, find a spot with as much sun as you can manage for your pot of rosemary. If it’s not enough, add a small grow light to make up the difference.
You also have to be a bit more careful about watering. Don’t overdo it, and wait until the soil is completely dry on the surface. Give it a thorough drink, with a well-draining pot so that the roots don’t stay wet for too long.
To overcome overwatering, check out my tips for fixing overwatered plants.
4 – Thyme
Like mint, you can grow thyme in indirect light so it will do nicely indoors even if you don’t have ideal sunny conditions. Avoid over-watering, letting the soil dry right out before adding more water.
One trick to keep your thyme from getting soggy roots is to have it in an unglazed ceramic pot that will allow moisture to evaporate more quickly.
Don’t let your thyme get too chilly though. They may not need full sun but they won’t do well in cold temperatures.
5 – Marigolds
Not all ant-repellent plants are kitchen herbs. Marigolds bring ant-repellent aromatics as well as a pretty splash of orange color to your home. Compared to the other plants, these can be a little tougher to keep as houseplants.
Marigolds need warm temperatures and a lot of sun to stay healthy. If possible, keep them indoors for the cooler months but move your pots outside for the summer to give them a chance to really recharge in the heat and sun.
Alternatively, try out this unique Edible Flowers Bottle Garden Kit from Urban Leaf. With this kit, you can grow marigolds, zinnia, and cosmos in glass bottles in your kitchen – and did you know you can eat them?
6 – Tansy
A little less common than the others, and a bit on the big side for a houseplant. If you have enough space, with either full or indirect sun, you can try tansy to repel ants.
Don’t let your plants sit in wet soil for too long and you will be rewarded with clusters of little yellow flowers. It’s the flowers you want as a repellent with tansy, not just the leaves.
7 – Garlic
While not a plant you are likely going to start growing as an indoor houseplant, it is still an excellent one for repelling ants (and pretty much any other insect pest).
If you’re looking to utilize plants for bug control, you can’t ignore garlic. You don’t even have to grow it. Just buy an extra bulb or two from the supermarket if you have to.
Since it’s not a houseplant, you’ll need to take a different approach to using it, as we’ll explain in a moment.
Using Herbs to Repel Ants
In some cases, just having these aromatic plants in the right spots can be enough to keep out the ants. For a more direct approach, you can use the leaves of your indoor plants for spot pest control away from the plants themselves.
Take a few leaves or flowers, crush them in your fingers to release their scented oils, and put them where you see ants coming in. For garlic, just crush up a clove.
For tips on growing your own herbs, check out my post about growing herbs and veggies indoors.
You can also help nip the problem in the bud by adding some of these repellent plants outside the house, especially if you know the areas where the bugs tend to enter. An added line of defense never hurts.
All of these plants can be grown outside as well as indoors, and can keep other insects from getting into the house too.
Plants That Attract Ants
Houseplants generally don’t attract a lot of ants. Some flowering plants can get infested with aphids, and that can be an attractant to ants though.
Aphids suck juice out of a plant’s stem, and excrete a sweet liquid waste. This is basically sugar water for ants, and will always draw them once they discover it.
So if you do start to see some aphids, you should clear them out as quickly as you can with a simple spray of insecticidal soap.
For more tips to combat indoor plant pests, see my in-depth post about getting rid of bugs on houseplants.
Other Items That Attract Ants
While we’re talking about identifying things that might be drawing ants into the house, we should mention a few other non-plant attractants you should be wary of. Ants are strongly drawn by the scent of food, which is why they so often make their first appearance in the kitchen.
So clearly, you need to keep all food away and under cover. That means no open containers and definitely no ignored spills or crumbs on the counter.
When you do wipe down tables or countertops, use a strong-smelling cleaner to eliminate any possible traces of food scents. Even a dilute mixture of water and vinegar can work well for this.
Other Natural Repellents
You can take your search for natural ant repellents beyond just the houseplants you are growing. There are a few other options you can add to your exterminating arsenal that are natural and non-toxic too.
First up is insect spray made with pyrethrin as the main ingredient. Derived from chrysanthemums, it’s a very natural way to keep out the ants. Just spritz some in the areas where they come in, as well as where you are seeing them the most.
Next, you can sprinkle diatomaceaous earth where you see any ants, especially around baseboard or along the back edge of the kitchen counter. It is a fine white powder, so you’ll want it to be placed out in a way where it will stay put and not be disturbed.
One more option to get rid of ants without artificial chemicals is with a sugar and Borax solution. Borax is a naturally-occurring mineral and is found in the detergent section of the grocery store as a laundry additive. Mix 1/2 cup of sugar with 1 1/2 tablespoons of Borax, and dissolve in 1 1/2 cups of warm water.
Fill a shallow dish (a jar lid works very well) with this solution, and add a cotton ball or two so the ants can get at it without drowning. They’ll be attracted to the sweet liquid, and take droplets back to the main colony.
After a few days, the Borax will kill off the ants that consume the mixture. The catch is that you have to leave the ants you see in the house alone in order for this to work effectively.
With these ideas, as well as using the plants listed above, your home will be much better protected from an unwanted ant infestation.
Growing up with a mom who filled her home (inside and out) with all sorts of plants, Lisa got her start in gardening at a young age. Living now on her own with a home and yard full of plants (including an indoor greenhouse), she shares all the gardening tips she’s gained over the years.
Saturday 21st of May 2022
Just so you know, thyme does NOT repel ants. In fact, both of my outdoor potted thyme plants are always infested with them. The plants ARE infested with a tiny black pest I can't seem to eradicate, and the ants are obviously congregating to dine (thanks, guys!), but the ants are not remotely deterred by the thyme smell. They crawl all over it all the time.
Friday 4th of March 2022
Hi Lisa.. I like to put flower boxes on my front porch. Usually I plant impatients. I always have so many little ants all around them. What kind of flowers can I put in my boxes that do not attract ants? Thanks...Fed up with the ants.
Tuesday 15th of March 2022
Hi Patty, Marigolds would look great in your flower boxes and also help repel ants. Best of luck!
Happy Planting! Lisa
Saturday 29th of January 2022
Hi Lisa, I'm a new gardener, growing outdoors in USDA hardiness zone 10a. I look forward to trying your ideas. What modifications (if any) would you suggest for repelling ants in the outdoor food garden?
Tuesday 1st of February 2022
Thanks for the question. These plants can certainly be planted around your outdoor garden as well. Just be sure to check the hardiness zone on the plant tags (or search online) to make sure they will do well in your area. A couple of other things you can try if you'd like are adding cedar mulch or sprinkling diatomaceous earth in a border around the garden.
Happy Planting! Lisa
Wednesday 23rd of June 2021
Thanks for your article. You didn’t mention cinnamon ( because it’s not a house plant ;-) Like DE, cinnamon is a fine powder and the ants who get it on them suffocate. Others will detour trying to find a way around it. Like Diatomaceous earth, it’s an excellent barrier. Unlike DE, the dust doesn’t tend to irritate human lungs as much and it smells better. I found it was easier to camouflage brown dust in the house than white powder.
Tuesday 5th of May 2020
Lovely list, I will try out some lavender soon. Some advice to those recommending an exterminator instead, I'd say you are experiencing an infestation, or at least, a war with existing ant neighbors. I've had my best luck keeping pests away by using Mint as a PREVENTATIVE measure at the corners of my garden.
An unorthodox tip, bugs hate cigarettes. Turns out, tobacco has it's own natural pesticide. I don't smoke but I keep an ash tray in the garden for guests, and I tell them "please don't litter, help me defend my plants instead!". Two birds with one stone. I got the idea from an article I read about birds using cigarette butts in their nests from St. Andrews University.
Lisa | The Practical Planter
Monday 11th of May 2020
You make a good point about the possibility of an infestation. It can be difficult to get rid of ants with those plants if you're already overrun. They are definitely great preventative measures! The cigarette butt idea is great. Those that do smoke, or even those that don't, can try that as well!