Having a cactus plant at home has become trendy over the years.
Apart from its pleasing and distinct appearance, the plant is highly durable and can live almost anywhere!
Cacti are also great starter plants as they are not too fussy or needy.
Like with most houseplants, cacti attract pests that can be difficult to get rid of.
Ants are easily attracted to the cactus plant, as well.
This guide will help you understand why cacti attract ants and how to get rid of them.
Do Ants Eat Cactus?
To answer simply, yes, ants feed on cactus.
The relationship between the two is a little more complicated and rooted in biological factors.
Cacti are outwardly sturdy plants, and it is difficult to imagine pests infesting these plants regularly.
However, ants and cactus have a distinct relationship.
Cactus have tissues known as extrafloral nectaries, which are not unique only to cacti but to multiple other types of plants.
While most insects prefer to stay away from the prickly cactus, ants have found a way to circumvent this plant to obtain sweet nectar.
Four different types of extrafloral nectaries have been found in the cactus family, and usually, the nectar is secreted from their spines.
The nectar secreted is irresistible for ants.
With their sheer numbers and strength, ants aggressively defend their source of nectar from other small insects.
Small insects are also the reason why ants roam around the houseplants.
Insects like mealybugs, aphids, and gnats secrete honeydew when they feed on plants.
The ants consume honeydew, and in some cases, they even eat aphids for their honeydew!
Bigger insects have trouble exploring the cacti because of their spines, but smaller insects can do this easily.
Apart from consuming the nectar, ants also protect the cactus from bacteria and fungus by cleaning the plant regularly.
In arid conditions, cacti also act as water reserves for the ants.
The mutual partnership between these organisms is strange but intriguing, to say the least.
How Do I Keep Ants Off My Cactus?
Ants are attracted to the honeydew that cacti produce, which makes it difficult to keep them away from the cacti.
Once you notice ants on the plant, it is almost certain that there are other smaller insects like aphids, scales, and mealybugs on it.
You cannot kill smaller insects unless you remove ants from the cacti first.
So, here is a list of things you can do to keep ants off your plant –
- The first thing you must do is hose your entire plant with a steady stream of water. Ensure you shower the entire plant well and check each part of the plant thoroughly.
- Mix half a cup of sugar and half a cup of water with ½ tablespoon of Borax and place this mixture around the base of the plant. This bait will attract ants, drawing their attention away from the cacti.
- Once the cacti are ant-free, examine the plant to see if there are other pests on it. You can remove these pests by wiping a cotton ball dipped in rubbing alcohol on the cacti’s surface.
- To prevent the chances of recurrence, change the soil of the cacti and disinfect its pot.
- If you have more than one plant at home, isolate the cactus from other plants. You should also do this when you bring a new plant home. The chances of new plants carrying unwanted insects are high.
Now that we have seen the prevention tips, let’s take a look at the ways to fix this problem.
Ways To Fix The Ants Issue In Your Cactus Plant
Ant or other insect damage on cacti causes the leaves to go soft and mushy.
Cacti are low-maintenance and quite durable, but pests can cause the plant to deteriorate rapidly.
Cacti rot should not be allowed to fester for long as it can kill the plant entirely.
If the damage from the ants is minimal and the roots look good, you can easily revive the plant just by giving it plenty of sunlight, warm temperatures, and low moisture conditions.
Temperatures around 70° to 75° F, and gritty soil is ideal for your cactus plant.
Also, ensure that the pot has drainage holes so that the root system does not remain moist.
Here are a few other things you can do to revive the plant once you remove the ants or pests –
- Replace its soil so that the cactus can grow well again. Be sure to wash the diseased or damaged soil off the roots before planting it in fresh soil.
- Do not expose the plant to direct sunlight for a couple of days if you have used rubbing alcohol to treat the plant. Alcohol can increase the sensitivity of the plant when exposed to the sun, causing the surface to burn.
- You can also take a cutting from the soft and mushy plant and use it to grow a fresh plant. Let the cutting form a callus before planting it. The cutting may take several weeks to form roots.
4 Natural Repellents That Help Prevent Ants in Indoor Plants
During summers, ants come out in huge numbers to swarm plants like the cactus.
This can be annoying for indoor plant parents as ants are nuisances and can damage the plant if not exterminated.
If you want a quick solution to get rid of ants, try using household or natural items that you might have in your home:
1. Lemon Juice
You can sprinkle freshly squeezed lemon juice diluted with water on the plant as ants tend to stay away from citrus.
Do not do this regularly because lemon juice is acidic and can burn the leaves of the plant.
You may spread out spices such as cinnamon, chili powder, cloves, dried mint tea, and coffee grounds near the base of the plant to deter ants.
3. Dish Soap
A method that most plant owners swear by is using dish soap solution.
You can make this solution easily by mixing dish soap liquid with warm water.
Mix the solution well and spray it at night.
The next morning, spray only water on the plant to remove the soap from it.
4. Neem Oil
Using neem is also an effective way to deal with pest issues.
Neem oil ensures that the plant remains safe and that pests are deterred from flocking to the cactus.
Apply neem oil weekly until the pests have completely disappeared.
In their natural environment, cacti can benefit from ants as ants keep away sizeable pests.
Ants also help keep the cactus clean.
However, indoors, ants can pose a problem to plant owners and cacti alike.
When an entire colony of ants attacks your cactus, the plant can weaken and turn soft or mushy.
This happens because ants disrupt the root system of the plant and cause dehydration.
It is better to keep ants away from cacti indoors.
Cactus produces sweet nectar, which pests are attracted to.
These pests can be spider mites, scales, aphids, gnats, lacewing, ants, or mealybugs.
Unfortunately, most of these insects cannot be seen with the naked eye, and their damage is only apparent when the cacti start showing signs of rot.
If you want to find out which specific insect is damaging your plant, you can examine the plant with a magnifier or simply wipe down the surface with a wet wipe.
Ants are attracted to nectar that is secreted from the spine of the cactus.
Ants are also attracted to pests like aphids and scales that secrete honeydew.
Since cacti attract various pests, ants are naturally drawn to the plant for nectar and prey.
There are only two reasons why ants are found anywhere: food and shelter.
If there are ants on your plant, it is because they are building a nest to lay eggs and house their families.
This may sound harmless, but the ants will soon begin bringing soil from underground to the surface.
This mound of soil can bury smaller plants nearby.
It is very likely there are other insects on the plant as well when you find ants in the soil.
Ants in the soil can loosen the soil and increase aeration in outdoor gardens or lawns.
However, too many ants can lead to a loss of moisture around the roots.
Houseplants attract pests, and pests, in turn, attract ants.
When pests feed on the plant, they secrete honeydew, which is what the ant looks for in any plant!
So if you keep your plant pest-free, ants will not trouble the plant any longer!