Rinse ants out of rootball (c) Debra Lee Baldwin

Ants in Your Succulents? What to Do

Late summer into fall, Argentine ants like to nest in the root balls of potted plants. Haworthias, aloes (especially dwarf varieties), gasterias and gasteraloes are highly vulnerable. Ants overwinter in the soil and consume the plant's juicy core. Leaves eventually fall off and the plant dies.

Ant-infested succulent

Ants push soil up from below.

The first line of defense is to create a barrier around your pots using ant powder or diatomaceous earth. The latter, available at garden centers and online, is the best "green" solution. (Go to my Useful Tools page for more about it.)

Rinse ants out of rootball

Rinse ants out of the rootball. Click to see the video. 

If an infestation is well underway---ants swarm when you water the pot or tap it on a hard surface---unpot the plant and wash the roots until pests are gone (you may want to wear gloves). Btw, I tried soaking plant and pot in a bucket of water, but ants will burrow, cling, float and manage to survive.

Before replanting in fresh soil, place a square of fine-mesh screen in the pot to keep ants from re-entering the drain hole. A roll isn't expensive and you can share it with gardening friends.

Pot in a moat of waterMove the plant to a different location and/or surround it with a moat (ants can't swim). Add water to a bowl or other shallow container and, to keep the drain hole above water, set the pot atop rocks or gravel. Be vigilant until the weather cools in October.

Mealy bugs on aloe

Ants "farm" other pests for their sweet secretions. The best preventative is good air circulation. Aphids attack new growth, and mealy bugs (shown below) nestle under leaves and in leaf axils. Spray with isopropyl alcohol (70%). Isolate plants you've treated, and trash any that are badly infested. Indoor plants are especially susceptible. If you find pests on one plant, be sure to check its neighbors.

More info on this site 

Agave snout weevil damage (c) Debra Lee Baldwin

Agave Snout Weevil Prevention and Treatment

Agave snout-nosed weevil is a half-inch-long black beetle with a downward-curving proboscis that enables it to pierce an agave’s core, where it lays its eggs. Grubs hatch, consume the agave’s heart, then burrow into the soil to pupate.

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Autumn care for aeoniums & other succulents (c) Debra Lee Baldwin

Your Autumn Succulent Checklist

This autumn succulent checklist will help you keep your prized plants snug and healthy during the fall and winter months.

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  1. Jacquelyn de Graaf on September 29, 2020 at 12:49 pm

    Ants…they want our house and entire garden! We were losing the kitchen until I took out a bottle of “dr. Brommer’s Peppermint soap’. I laid a line in pure soap around the entrance to the counter and just let it sit there. The ants eventually try to cross it, get stuck, their friends join in, and ….you can either leave it there [husband will let it sit for weeks] or wipe it up, and start a new line. Eventually, that batch will stop.

    The same ants in the garden, when you find the nest, I pour diluted peppermint soap over the entire nest. It’s non toxic and effective.
    It’s a big yard, but neither one of us will quit. I am buying the soap by the gallon-size now. Just started this technique this year.

    I think I have also had luck using corn gluten at my parents house. Ants eat it and their hour-glass waistlines can not handle the swelling corn grain. The entire yard used to wiggle. It has been about 10 years since the house became mine, but I am just now starting to think about using the corn gluten again. I am going to try corn glulen at my “home” garden, but not in kitchen. Let me know if you try it.

    • Debra Lee Baldwin on October 1, 2020 at 3:13 pm

      Hi Jacquelyn — Your sense of humor is delightful. The whole yard wiggles, LOL. I’ll try Dr. Bronner’s peppermint soap. Here’s a bit of trivia for you: Dr. Bronner (who clearly was eccentric, but on to something) was from my home town of Escondido, CA. He and my dad knew each other.

  2. Lynne on March 7, 2022 at 8:04 pm

    Thanks for the heads up about ants. I thought they were just nesting there, in my succulent pots, and didn’t know they were actually eating the core! I will try Dr. Bronner’s soap and would like to add that in the house I use Murphy’s Oil Soap in the spray bottle (it’s diluted from the concentrate). I spray it in the corners of the kitchen and all around the trash can. Ants hate it. It kills them on contact. They won’t step in it. If you spray their access hole they won’t come in that way anymore. But don’t put it on floors where you walk. It is very slippery! I have also used Terro, which is borax based, which is toxic in large doses, and it worked. But before it was even used up the dispenser filled up with dead ants and their buddies started cruising the kitchen again. They can become insensitive, immune, avoid it, or in some way it stops working. I spray aphids with rubbing alcohol. It kills them, but the ants just walk away and live to farm another day. Stronger and more effective, is Windex. Yes, like in My Big Fat Greek Wedding! It works! It might kill the ants, and it for sure kills the aphids, and as I understand it, it doesn’t harm the plants and in fact has nutrients that benefit them.

    • Debra Lee Baldwin on March 7, 2022 at 8:17 pm

      Hi Lynne — Sometimes it seems like ants are cells that make up a giant brain determined to invade and conquer, LOL. I know a succulent nursery owner who uses Windex on mealy bugs, maybe aphids too. I didn’t know about the nutrients…surprising bonus! Thanks for a great comment.

  3. MT on May 26, 2022 at 5:57 pm

    Hi, question for you on the Diatomaceous Earth …is it ok to put it directly in the soil of a pot? Will watering it with it on top harm the plant itself or roots?

    Also the same question with cinnamon, is that effective and can that be put directly into the soil in a pot? Thank you!

    • Debra Lee Baldwin on May 26, 2022 at 6:24 pm

      As far as I know, neither silica nor cinnamon—being harmless natural substances—won’t have any impact on plants or their roots, wet or dry.

  4. Desirea on November 14, 2022 at 8:54 am

    This is a lifesaver I live in South Florida and so it’s always raining I’m always fighting root rot and all the pest theme to gang up on me. The cinnamon works but I never knew if the oil was harmful. I’m going to try the Windex as well. I finally have my arsenal,so perfect! thank you thank you thank you.

    • Debra Lee Baldwin on November 15, 2022 at 12:45 pm

      Hi Desirea — I’m glad you found it helpful! Thanks for letting me know. Now…go get ’em!

  5. Beth on August 23, 2023 at 12:18 pm

    Hi, my name is Beth and I have a very old Jade plant that is INFECTED with ants. I went on vacation for a few weeks and came back and boom! I have a obligation to keep this plant alive, its been in our family for at least 25 years. I will feel horrible if it doesn’t make it. I tried spraying alcohol on it, it seemed to kill off alot, I will wait and see, any advice? Except for the usual soil changes, I was going to change the pot too.

    • Debra on September 4, 2023 at 10:49 am

      Hi Beth — Hm. I’ve never had ants infest jade. They must be in the soil, because there’s nothing in the plant’s tissues to attract them (unless someone spilled a sugary drink on it, ha). Alcohol wouldn’t do much, except kill any secondary pests the ants might be “farming,” like mealy bugs. Yes, change the soil and hose the roots. Jade’s very resilient, it should bounce back just fine. Ants are looking for places to overwinter, so make sure they don’t find their way back into it. I used to use all kinds of barriers and set up moats, but honestly, nothing keeps the critters away like Raid Ant Spray. Don’t use it on your plants, just the surrounding area. They won’t cross it.

  6. Mandy on September 23, 2023 at 2:54 pm

    HI Debra! I’m a huge fan and know that you are an encyclopedia of knowledge. I have a few questions for you regarding pests. I have your books and I’ve watched your videos on pest control, but I need more help. My issue is twofold…snout weevils and ant infestations. Here’s my situation…I hired Laura Eubanks (who I also love!) to do some landscaping on my property in north Poway, in March 2022. I have many large specimens including agaves and aloes. I have already lost 3 huge agave mediopicta albas to the evil snout weevils!!! My friends, The Gleesons (who you also know, small world!) have kindly gifted me two of their larger ones, as replacements. I am wondering if there is something you’d recommend that I do to preemptively treat all my vulnerable plants? I have a lot and I can’t keep losing them. I have used a topical pesticide (imidacloprid) to treat plants reactively once I have seen them look “off” and I have been able to save a few. I have found several snout weevils cruising around my property looking for their next victim. I kill them when I find one. I need to be more proactive and pre treat plants if possible. Any advice?

    And the ants….they keep going after my large Agave Hercules. I have 3 big ones and I have tried rubbing alcohol, blasting them off with a hose, Raid on the base of the trunk. They are too big to dig up and rinse the rootball so I’m trying to figure out what I can do to eradicate the ants without harming the plant any more than it is already suffering. I can send you pictures if you’d like. I welcome any advice you can provide me. Please help! Thank you!!!

    • Debra on October 4, 2023 at 8:03 am

      Hi Mandy — Hi Mandy —

      Re snout weevil, I do have the most comprehensive info on my site for homeowners, so I’m pretty sure you’ll find any and all questions answered there. Sounds like you need to be more aggressive. Btw, ‘Mediopicta Alba’ is snout weevil candy. One agave expert told me that having them in a garden would attract snout weevils. Well that doesn’t stop me, but ouch!

      Re ants…I don’t think there’s an “Agave Hercules,” maybe you mean “Aloe Hercules?” Treat it with a solution of Safer Soap—really blast it into the crown of the plant, soak the soil, and add a ring of diatomaceous earth around the trunk. Check for ant highways from neighboring plants, and make sure there are no bridges… the entire Hercules should be open to the air with nothing touching it.

      Say hi to the Gleason’s for me. Good for you, working with Laura!

      LMK how the patient progresses.

      Debra Lee Baldwin

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