It’s easier to prevent ants than it is to get rid of them. Each fall when yearly ant problems tend to disappear, many homeowners forget their ant woes until they suddenly appear in the home again the following spring, quite often in the same places they always cause problems. Ant colonies don’t die off over the winter; they simply go into hibernation mode during a period of low nutrition intake and egg laying when conditions aren’t favorable to support the colony.
Protecting your home from ants means learning a little bit about the types of ants you have around your property and the conditions they prefer. Limiting the food and environments they like, as well as keeping an eye out for signs of colonies, can help keep ant problems at bay as well.
Tip 1: Identify your ants.
Which types of ants do you have living near your home? Even though Southern California is home to about ten different species of common ants, chances are you only have a few different kinds thriving around your property and even fewer making their way into your home. Here are the types of ants that most commonly make their way indoors.
- Argentine ants: are the little house and picnic ants that are attracted to sweets. While these ants seem harmless and don’t bite, they sometimes carry diseases. When there’s a colony nearby, you’ll start seeing Argentine ants everywhere around your home, especially in the kitchen. These tiny ants support vast and multiple colonies that position themselves in several locations within a small space in order to dominate an area.
- Carpenter ants: are known for destroying wood. While they do not eat wood and are actually attracted to sweets, they build their nests inside hollowed out wood, which they are perfectly happy to hollow out themselves by chewing through any wood in their way. Carpenter ants can do significant damage to a wooden structure if they’re not discovered, but they are significantly larger than Argentine ants and easy to spot.
- Odorous house ants: help transport aphids which produce a byproduct called honeydew that they use as their primary food source. You’ll see these scavengers transporting aphids and other bits of food back to the nest. They prefer to build nests outside under rocks and soil, but will build them anywhere, including inside insulation in walls. They are highly resistant to heat, cold, and injury, and tend to make their way indoors after it rains, as the rain washes away their food source.
Tip 2: Keep food in the kitchen and keep the kitchen clean.
Ants are looking for two things: a protected place to build a nest and food. Limiting their access to these resources can help keep ants out of your home. The number one way to prevent ants according to exterminators and other experts is to keep the kitchen clean and food put away at all times. Even if your kitchen is always sparkling clean, look around for some of these common kitchen items that attract ants and other unwanted pests like cockroaches:
- Fruit baskets: they look nice on countertops, but attract all kinds of unwanted pests.
- Fresh flower arrangements: these attract aphids which have a symbiotic relationship with ants; try moving them to an outdoor table instead.
- Tiny spills of sugary substances: most ants prefer sugar and even a tiny drop of honey or grain of sugar left on the countertop can attract dozens. Don’t forget that items like wine and bread are high in sugar too.
In addition, keep food and eat food only in your kitchen to limit ant problems from spreading to other areas of the home.
Tip 3: Properly seal exterior walls and windows.
While it’s impossible to shut ants out entirely, homes that aren’t airtight tend to have more ant problems. A few home improvement projects that can help limit the number of ants that get in include re-caulking trim, replacing the weather stripping around doors, and replacing old windows. These projects will help keep your heating and cooling costs down too.
Tip 4: Landscape properly to limit aphids.
Ants and aphids work together to help each other survive. Ants feed off sweet tasting aphid excrement called honeydew, and in turn the ants harbor the aphids to protect them from predators like ladybugs and help them grow their colonies, which means more food for the ants.
Aphids thrive in gardens where they feed off a number of domesticated plants that offer them a good food source. Aphids damage and eventually kill the plants they live on, spread to other plants, and facilitate the growth of ant colonies, so there are many reasons to keep aphids out of your garden. Planting aphid-resistant plants and checking plants for aphids regularly are two chemical-free ways to keep populations down.
Tip 5: Exterminate in the winter.
Ant colonies reproduce the slowest in winter and the most rapidly in spring. Ants can be hard to stop once they have multiple queens and colonies. Exterminations are more effective when numbers are down and should be performed before a problem reaches infestation levels. By stopping ant nests and populations around your property before ants come indoors looking for food, you can prevent an extermination inside your home.