How to Deter Ants From Your Garden (or Anywhere) Using Coffee Grounds

Posted on Nov 7 2011 - 2:12am by Mike Lieberman

There has been a bit of an issue on my balcony garden lately with some ants. One of the swiss chard containers dried up and ants have gotten to it. I’ve been using coffee grounds to help deter them.

I’m not sure why exactly this works, but when the ants go near the grounds, they freak out and won’t cross them.

The first thing that I did was line the bottom of the container with the grounds. Then I had to follow the trail of ants to where they were going, which was into holes that were at the bottom of one of the rails.

A few coffee grounds were sprinkled around the rail, but also into the holes which the ants were using. After grounds were sprinkled into one of them, I watched as they went to the next and filled that one too. Grounds were put directly into the holes, otherwise they would just go around it.

Since putting the grounds down, I’ve definitely noticed a decrease in the ants.

Bonus Tip: If you don’t drink coffee, you can hit up your local coffee shop or cafe. If you ask, they will usually give you the grounds for free.

What are some other ways to deter ants from your garden?

  • Sales

    Hi, can I use it in my worm comppost bin? I have it outside and I found an ant nest twice in there.

  • Jes

    Great tip! I am constantly battling with these little suckers.

  • Mike Lieberman

    I’m not sure on that. I would think it’d be ok in moderation in the worm bin. Might want to look it up.

  • Mike Lieberman

    Yes. They are mad annoying.

  • Mary P.

    I’ve had great luck with using diatomaceous earth.  I just sprinkled in on the trail I saw coming into the house or around on the patio, left it for a few days, then swept it up – no more ants.

  • Mary C.

    I hear worms like a bit of used coffee grounds, but that too much is bad for them. Maybe you could just sprinkle it out around the base of the bin.

  • Mary C.

    Hmm.. never thought of it. If it’s new grounds then they probably don’t like them because they’re micro sharp like DE. Maybe it’s the strong scent or acidity…

    I don’t really bother with trying to drive ants from my containers; the couple times I’ve found them there they weren’t really doing anything bothersome.

  • MaryssaGC

    This is so much better than those crazy expensive ant killers.  I worry about having things like RAID in the house with kids.  Thanks for the tip.  I hear that baby powder works as well.  Is this true?

  • Mike Lieberman

    Thanks for sharing that tip!

  • Raven

    They dislike cinnamon for some reason too. 

  • Mike Lieberman

    If they ain’t hurtin ya, no need to mess with em…

  • Mike Lieberman

    Yea you wanna stay away from that toxic Raid stuff. Never heard anything about baby powder. Cinnamon or baking soda seem to be other popular options.

  • Mike Lieberman

    That just proves they are dumb. Who can dislike cinnamon?!

  • Dee

    Living in a tropical region (Thailand), we have massive ant problems, and have lots of different types of ants. It’s a never ending battle with them, but I can confirm coffee grinds will keep most of them away. Some types of ants also dislike distilled white vinegar. Cinnamon also works well for some types. I think it all depends on what type of ants you have, but I’ve yet to find one solution to get rid of them all. You really have to have a full arsenal to battle them all.

  • Mike Lieberman

    yes. They are mad annoying.

  • Rgbowman

    I had some spare peppermint oil I sprayed on areas the ants were, and they stayed away. Any very strong smelling thing like that will probably work. The kind of ants we have here are very small, and they colonize in the walls near places they find food. So, we got very strict about food sources and used the peppermint oil, and they moved on. I also wonder if habanero hot pepper tea applied with a paint brush would have them hot footing it away from the area. Has any one tried that?

  • Rgbowman

    Err, maybe you should try a better brand so the worms can enjoy their coffee breaks better?

  • Mike Lieberman

    Good to know. Never used the peppers for ants.

  • Gettingtheregreen~Amanda

    today I disturbed a large ant colony that was apparently inside a bag of mulch.  I sprinkled the mulch all over the walkway leading to my gardens before I noticed the millions of ants.  yikes!  so I have now sprinkled cayenne pepper throughout the mulch walkway (ants apparently don’t like it) and made a line of used coffee grounds at the end of the walkway in hopes they decide it isn’t worth crossing into the garden… though I bet they are smart enough to walk the long way around…

  • Mike Lieberman

    Ugh. Way to go 😉

  • Lori

    An entomologist friend explained to me that to kill off the ants, you need to kill the colony.  Those are often impossible to find so he suggested to take Borax (yes the old powder form of laundry detergent–still found at many grocery stores in the laundry detergent section) and mix it with peanut butter or honey.  There are two basic types of ants, sugar loving and oil loving–so you can experiment with what to mix into your borax concoction.  The ants eat it (let them swarm around it and do not kill them) and they then take it back to their nests and feed the young.  Within a few days you should notice a great reduction in #’s.  Also, I found an easy already mixed solution under the brand name of Toro Ant Baits.  They come in drops or in little ‘stations’ that you cut the tip off of and the ants visit, drink it up and bring it back to their nests.  Be sure to read the label as some Toro products carry harsh chemicals, look for the ones w/Borax as the main ingredient.  Still remember to keep away from kids and dogs!!!  Peace and happy growing!  Lori

  • Mike Lieberman

    Awesome. Thanks for the suggestion!

  • Diane Rabinowitz

    Thanks for this article and the ideas posted. I noticed the leave of my cherry tomatoes growing as a bush in a container have been drying up. Yesterday I found a bunch of ants on one section of a branch. I hosed them down, which may just be a temporary solution, but the plant looked healthier yesterday afternoon.

  • Mike Lieberman

    Good job!

  • joanna

    Peppermint oil is another barrier that works very well if they are rampaging in doors

  • cardswho

    Why not just put the container in a tray of water?

  • Sue

    We had ants crossing the the telephone wire from the tree to our second floor apartment. Hubby put a glob of petroleum jelly around the wire. No more ants. The ants will not put their feet in petroleum jelly.

  • Roxie

    if you are growing tomatoes in a container, you wouldn’t want to sit your container in water because tomatoes do NOT do well if they are overwatered… they can actually develop purplish stems from getting overwatered or develop damp-off which makes the stems break off at the soil line. It is a soil borne-pathogen from becoming too wet. Also, most ants can swim.

  • Dixie Redditt

    Coffee has GMO so ants don’t like it. :(

  • Dani Massey

    I use simple, cheap, bulk cinnamon. It’s harmless to people and pets, like coffee grounds, but has the added effect of deterring furry creatures, as well. Cats, squirrels, and moles don’t like it. Insects don’t like it because it is ground so fine that it clings to their bodies, and even the smallest part has some of the natural cinnamon oil in it. This oil, as you know, has a distinct smell. Believe it or not, ants, grasshoppers, leaf hoppers, and other scent-orientating insects don’t like it because it does two things, it hides the smell of their trail they were following, and makes the ones who come in contact with it not smell ‘right’, so nestmates think they are intruders and attack them. This gets the stuff on the attackers, who in turn are attacked,…soon, the entire nest has either died or moved on. I use cinnamon for fire ant nests, too. Just scatter a good bit all over the mound you see. You will find no more active ants in it in about three days’ time. Sure, sometimes the nest just moves, but after awhile they are either moved out to other lands or died out completely. Since plain black ants and sugar ants don’t harm much, and they can be beneficial to other parts of the ecology, I only sprinkle the trail leading to where I don’t want them to be and leave the main nest alone. These nest entrances will have small mounds, or no mound at all. Be selective so a balance can be achieved. :)

  • Lindsey

    baby powder

  • Laurie

    Food grade diatomacious earth is safe for my pets and grandchildren, and just as easy to sprinkle around plants (I use my flour sifter), and indoors around my windows and doors. I can even sprinkle it directly on the cat food to keep ants off and it is perfectly safe for my cats to eat. It is extremely cheap to buy. I get it on Amazon. Coffee grounds are dangerous for pets and small children. I put my used coffee grounds inside my compost bin so it doesn’t go to waste.

  • sarah howard

    The coffee grounds burn the ants, so they don’t like it.

  • Correction

    Caffeine is an insecticide. Coffee is not genetically modified.

  • gloriamaria

    Yea.. :( Ants totally ravished my potted kale. :(

    I’m gonna try again w/ the coffee idea. I don’t drink coffee, but my office is next door to a starbucks. :) Thanks so much for this.. I was going to give up on my potted garden. XO!