Many times, the pests capable of the most damage are those who remain unseen. Ants are busy little insects that live below the soils in a colony of thousands of individuals. These underground nests, along with ants themselves, can cause some hefty damage to your lawn.
Ants damage your lawn in several ways, some more obvious than others. Their mounds can smother and damage grass, and underground tunnels can damage grassroots, leading to brown spots. Ants eat grass seed and protect garden pests like aphids and mealybugs, who damage your lawn and garden themselves.
Below, we will go over all how those pesky ants can damage your lawn. We will also check out the different ways you can put a stop to your lawn damage.
Is It Bad To Have Ants In Your Lawn?
It is not surprising to learn that ants prefer well-drained, dry soils for building their nests and tunnel system. It is not common to see tons of ants in lawns that are constantly wet or submerged. After all, they live underground, right?
So, if you live in an area suitable for ants, is it so terrible to have them on your lawn? Or should you bust out the ant spray at the first sign?
According to the University of Massachusetts, ants rarely have a significant impact on lawns. Or, if they do, it is negligible damage that quickly heals itself.
Significant damage from these tiny pests only occurs if they come in large numbers. We are talking hundreds of thousands of ants in a single lawn. This is when things can get a bit dicey.
A large number of ants means those small bald patches or brown spots on your lawn increase tenfold.
If you have normal numbers of ants, you should not have a problem with your lawn. In fact, they can be good to have around as they are a natural pest controller of insects like fleas and termites.
How Do Ants Damage Your Lawn?
Signs you have an ant problem can come as little mounds around your lawn, brown or bald spots in your grass, and an increase in aphid populations. While grass damage from ants is usually mild, if large numbers are present, you could have a lawn looking starved and unhealthy.
No one wants that!
But how do ants damage your lawn? How can you put a stop to these small but mighty pests?
Ants Can Harm Grass Roots
Ants that find their way into your home typically do not live inside your home. Instead, most ants live underground in nests that consist of a network of tunnels.
According to the Nebraska Department of Entomology, nests can extend as far down as three or more feet below the surface. While ants are tunneling, they have no problem ripping through tough soil, pebbles, and grass roots.
Grass established above an ant colony can become damaged when ants tunnel below, destroying grass roots and churning up the soil. This typically results in brown spots on your lawn with no apparent cause.
Once the roots are destroyed, the grass will slowly wither away. Many things can cause brown spots, so it is important to look for other clues that confirm it is, in fact, your pesky neighborhood ants.
Ant Mounds Will Smother Grass
While there are many species of ants out there, most ants have a single queen in each colony. At certain times of the year, female and male ants will grow wings and fly from their original nest to start a new colony.
Once a new queen has established a nest underground, she will lay eggs and care for them until they hatch. After that, it’s off to work!
Some workers will forage for food while others will be busy digging more tunnels to support a fast-growing new colony. This excavation project will produce small dirt mounds that are the telltale sign of ants living below the surface.
Whether it is a new colony establishing a nest, or a large colony excavating more tunnels, dirt mounds pose a threat to your lawn.
Dirt mounds can cover the grass, smothering it from sunlight. Pair this with tunneling through grass roots and you could have a serious dead spot on your lawn.
Ants Eat Grass Seeds
We’ve talked about grass roots and grass stalks, now let’s move on to grass seeds! Ants just are not very nice to grass, huh?
Ants eat a wide variety of food from sweets and starches to meats and fats. They’ll eat plants, seeds, and some species even eat other insects. According to the University of Minnesota, ants don’t feed on grass stalks themselves, but they will feed on grass seed.
When grass seed is available, ants will take the seeds and move them back to the nest to either eat or store for later consumption. This can be a real problem if you are trying to grow grass over an established ant colony.
It is not likely the ants will take every seed, but your newly planted grass may come in patchier than you expected.
Ants Eat Your Fruits
Whether you have an orchard or just have a few fruit trees in your backyard for yourself, ants can pose a potential problem to your fruit trees.
Ants love sweet foods. It is one of the main reasons ants invade our homes – to find spilled juice or eat rotting fruit. Fruits are often sweet or citrusy, which is attractive to ants. Even a crabapple tree can attract them!
It would not be as bad if ants just munched on the fallen fruit that’s a little overripe. However, these little pests will climb fruit trees and feast on fruit right off the branch! Bold!
This can be especially damaging if you only have one or two fruit trees in your yard as ant colonies can quickly make a meal out of your fruit trees.
Ants Protect Lawn Pests & Eliminate Good Predators
We mentioned before that ants like a variety of foods. One of their favorite foods is the honeydew produced by soft-bodied pests like aphids and mealybugs.
Honeydew is a sticky substance excreted by some of the worst lawn and garden pests: aphids, mealybugs, and soft scales. This sugary substance provides sustenance for the ants.
In return for their honeydew, ants will protect these pests by harassing and even killing the predators of the pests. This includes helpful predators like ladybugs and wasps, which can be good for the lawn and garden.
So, what does this have to do with your lawn?
Pests like aphids and mealybugs can cause significant damage to the leaves of your trees, as well as the leaves of your garden vegetables. When the honeydew is not eaten by ants, it can turn black, causing unsightly spots on your lawn trees, and garden plants.
Aphids are leaf-feeders. If protected by ants, their numbers can increase enough to leave your tree leaves nothing more than skeletons waving feebly in the wind. Not good…
Ant Soil Mounds Can Damage Lawnmowers
There is nothing worse than mowing your lawn and running over something that makes a loud enough noise to make you cringe. Was it a gulf ball? Plastic bottle? That watch you lost last week?
Believe it or not, ants can make dirt mounds large enough to affect lawnmowers. They can be up to a foot or more in diameter, which can certainly cause issues for lawn maintenance.
Ant mounds can be especially troublesome on golf courses where an even surface is necessary.
How To Stop Ant Damage On Your Lawn
Ants can be annoying pests who do not want to go away. It can be frustrating to have these pests, but there are solutions to your problem that will get your lawn back to glorious green in no time!
When it comes to ant defense, you have a few options. You can go the chemical route and use insecticides directly on the mounds. You can go a more natural route, such as scents and smells. Finally, you can apply habitat modification to make your yard less attractive to ants.
Let’s get into some details on how to stop ants from damaging your lawn!
Use Insecticides To Get Rid of Lawn Ants
Insecticides are probably the harshest option, but also the most effective at eliminating ants long-term. You’ll want to concentrate your efforts directly on or near dirt mounds.
A product like Ortho Home Defense Insect Killer for Lawn & Landscape works effectively on ants and will not harm your lawn or flowerbeds. It also comes ready to use, so no need to mix it with water.
Another option is to use insecticide granules instead of a spray. Spectracide Triazicide Insect Killer for Lawns Granules is an excellent alternative if you do not want to mess around with a spray. You can spread them uniformly and they just need a little water applied to make them stick.
NOTE: Always be sure to read the label and directions of your product before use.
While insecticides are very effective at eliminating ants, they come with a caveat. The insecticide does not know how to differentiate between good bugs and bad bugs. While using this product, you might harm bees, ladybugs, and other good guys out there.
Use Natural Repellents To Stop Ant Lawn Damage
Natural repellents include scents and smells ants dislike. This will discourage these pesky critters from coming around and building mounds all over your yard.
While it can be difficult to control outdoor ants, using something like Mighty Mint Insect and Pest Control directly on ant mounds can convince them to make their home somewhere else. This product uses the power of peppermint essential oil, which works as an ant repellent.
Concentrate your efforts in places where you notice ant damage, such as brown spots, dirt mounds, or near fruit trees. You can also use this product around the perimeter of your home to keep ants out of your indoor spaces.
Another option for a natural ant repellent would be to use other scents and smells that repel ants. You can check out our article 12 Scents That Ants Hate (and How to Use Them) to find out all the clever scents you can use to repel these annoying bugs.
Habitat Modification To Reduce Ant Lawn Damage
Your yard may be unintentionally attracting ants, making your lawn more susceptible to damage. Some of the things that attract ants can be as simple as some lumber laying in your yard.
Taking steps to keep your yard clean and organized will avoid future ant problems, as well as other pest problems.
Clean Up Unused Materials Where Ants Can Hide
Having tree stumps, mulch, fallen branches, and piles of leaves near your home is a sure way to attract these six-legged pests. Ants will use these areas as hiding places and nesting areas, making them feel safe and secure.
Be sure to pick up any unused building materials or lumber you have around the yard and keep your firewood stacked neatly. If possible, keep firewood off the ground.
Bring Pet Food Inside
If you have ants in your lawn, then your pet food may actually be attracting them. When your pets aren’t outside, make sure to bring your pet food in so that ants cant find it.
Trim Trees & Bushes
We mentioned before that ants are crazy about fruit trees. But they are not the only trees they will climb! In fact, you can find ants on all types of trees and bushes while looking for food.
If you keep your bushes trimmed so that the bottom area is open, ants are less likely to use that bush to search for food, as it will be too visible to watchful predators. This tactic works as a deterrent for many other pests as well, including raccoons and snakes.
Keep Ants Out Of Your Home
You may wonder what keeping ants out of your home has to do with your lawn damage, right? The fact is, if ants are finding food and other items in your home, they are likely to stick around and keep building tunnels and nesting areas nearby. Like in your lawn.
To make your home less attractive to ants, keep your home clean and orderly. Quickly wipe up spills and keep all food in sealed containers. General sanitation practices will likely keep ants away.
Be sure to prune any trees or shrubs that are close to your home. This can act as a highway system for ants to reach your home and sneak inside.
If you see ants inside your home, and you have the patience, follow the ant trail back to the opening where they are getting inside. Seal this up to prevent further break-ins.
To learn more about things that may be attracting ants into your home, read our guide: 9 Types of Smells That Attract Ants (Avoid These Scents)
Wrapping Things Up!
For how small they are, ants can be a tremendous problem if their numbers are large enough. When colonies reach up to thousands of individuals, you can certainly feel their presence.
Ants can damage your lawn in several ways. To recap, here are the 7 ways ants can ruin your lawn:
- Ants damage grass roots with tunnel systems
- Ant mounds will smother grass
- Ants eat grass seed, leaving bald/patchy spots
- Ants eat your fruit from fruit trees
- Ants protect garden pests
- Ants harass/eliminate helpful predators
- Soil mounds can damage lawnmowers
If you notice any of the signs of an ant problem, you have a few options to combat those picnic-ruining pests. You can use insecticides, natural repellents, or modify your yard to make it less attractive to ants.
The best way to get rid of lawn ants is to combine a few different tactics. This will give you the most effective results and hopefully keep your ant population under control.
However, if you have tried these tactics and still cannot get rid of your ants, you can always get help from a professional. Our nationwide pest control finder can get you in contact with a professional near you instantly!
Espinoza, D.N., Santamarina, J.C. Ant tunneling—a granular media perspective. Granular Matter 12, 607–616 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10035-010-0202-y
Greve, M. E., Hager, J., Weisser, W. W., Schall, P., Gossner, M. M., & Feldhaar, H. (2018, June 20). Effect of forest management on temperate ant communities. Ecosphere, 9(6). https://esajournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/ecs2.2303
Lei, W., Yongyue, L., Ling, Z., & XiaoFang, H. (2012). Nest distribution and dynamics of colony movement of red imported fire ant in lawn. Journal of South China Agricultural University, 33(2), 149-153. https://www.cabdirect.org/cabdirect/abstract/20123223953
Zack is a Nature & Wildlife specialist based in Upstate, NY, and is the founder of his Tree Journey and Pest Pointers brands. He has a vast experience with nature while living and growing up on 50+ acres of fields, woodlands, and a freshwater bass pond. Zack has encountered many pest situations over the years and has spent his time maintaining and planting over 35 species of trees since his youth with his family on their property.
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