If you have clay soil and you are struggling with ants and what to do about them, you may want to take pause before pulling out the poisons. I’ve dealt with these pests a lot and while I understand the frustration, their presence isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Ants burrow through the soil allowing for essential aeration of the clay. In addition, their presence can accelerate the decomposition of organic material under the ground, improving the soil’s overall quality. Ants are also an essential part of your yard’s natural pest management.
Let’s look at each of these benefits and consider whether you should break out the ant killer or just let nature take its course.
Ant Vs Man – The Eternal Struggle
Each summer we get overtaken in Southeast Texas with fire ants. They build mounds all over the lawn. In the past, I was quick to walk the yard spreading ant poison in a me-against-them battle that I somehow always felt I was losing.
At best, I think I was encouraging them to relocate to my neighbor’s yard. 🙂
I’ve come to find peace with the ants for the most part. I don’t want them directly around the house but in the back portion of my yard, I let them run wild and do their thing.
Here’s why I conceded to the peace treaty.
Ants Aerate Clay Soil
Tightly compacted clay resists water permeation. Water will literally sit on top of the soil once the ground reaches a certain moisture level. This can be extremely frustrating for gardeners or homeowners who are trying to grow and maintain a lawn.
Ants are not a cure-all for this by any means but the fundamental act of tunneling through the dirt and creating the network of pathways under the ground is a means of aeration. In fact, ants can turn over more soil than earthworms (source).
They work tirelessly to break apart the thick clay. I appreciate the free labor.
Ants Break Down Organic Material
I learned about this during my research and was very surprised. Worker ants are constantly taking beneficial organic material into the ground for feeding purposes.
Some of these materials are used, some are left to decompose on their own. In either case, organic matter is produced which then integrates with the clay soil to improve its quality and texture.
Sure, these are small particles and your lawn is not going to transform overnight from organic matter produced by ants. At the same time, there is a legitimate beneficial aspect to ants in clay soil.
Ants Are A Part Of Your Yard’s Natural Pest Control
There is a whole world of biological activity taking place on and under your lawn. Grub worms, centipedes, and countless other invasive creatures all fighting for dominant population control. When we eliminate one species from the equation, we offset the balance and tip the scales in another species’ favor.
So, while we may reduce the ant population, another population will likely grow out of control. Obviously, we can’t just let all the pests in our yards fight it out without our intervention from time to time.
If things are getting out of control we need to take appropriate actions. But if there is no harm coming to us, nature has a pretty good history of keeping things in balance on its own.
Every year or two we suffer from a millipede infestation in my area. They proliferate and become a huge nuisance climbing the exterior walls, getting into homes, and even in food if it’s left out.
But guess what? Ants eat millipedes. If I’m focusing my pest control efforts on ants, I’m only improving conditions for the millipede population to get out of control.
Fire Ants – The Exception To The Rule
While the majority of ants can be left to their own affairs, fire ants are an especially aggressive species and are not exactly harmonious in their behavior. With children often playing in our backyards and the tendency of kids to run barefoot in the summer, I’ve had to take measures to keep the fire ants at bay.
Fire ants can cause serious medical issues (source), especially for someone with an allergy. For these ants, I tend to rely on Amdro Fire Ant Bait which you can purchase from Amazon or any hardware store. I’ve tried a lot of different baits but this one has always worked the best for me.
One thing I have noticed however is that it helps to rotate ant bait types. I’ll use granules for a while, then switch to a powder. I’m not sure if the ants get smart or just resistant but rotating the type of bait I use seems to help. In the end, despite my willingness to live and let live when it comes to most ants, the battle between myself and the fire ants rages on.
Despite their annoyances, ants provide genuine benefits to the quality of clay soil over time. I’ve learned to leave them alone unless they are getting close to house or inside. Otherwise, I try to leave them be.
If you do decide that you need to control the ants in your yard, don’t limit your pest control efforts to them. Make sure you understand the concept of integrated pest management and how the interdependency of insects, rodents, and other pests all play a part in the ecological system of your backyard oasis.
If you have clay soil and want to learn more about improving it, be sure to read our articles on how you can improve clay soil in your yard or garden.