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April 18, 2024

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    Carpenter ants can be a problem inside of a home as well as in trees or wooden structures outside of the home. This species of ant is also unique in how it prefers to have two sets of nests: a parent colony and satellite colonies. Getting rid of carpenter ants inside the home is one thing, but how do you get rid of carpenter ants in a tree?

    Getting rid of carpenter ants inside of a tree can be easily handled by the average DIY homeowner. A combination of pesticides, ant baits, and prevention of excess tree moisture and decomposition are the best methods to use for keeping carpenter ants out of trees. 

    We have extensively covered how to get rid of carpenter ants inside of the home, so this guide will explore how to treat an infested tree. Read on to discover our steps for getting the ants out of a tree and preventing future damage. 

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    • Carpenter ants prefer wood that has an ample amount of moisture and is easy to tunnel through, which usually means rotting wood.
    • Proper identification of the pest and knowing what signs to look for in and around a tree are crucial steps in assessing treatment options.
    • Once you confirm the activity of carpenter ants, there are a few different treatment options you can consider.
    • Pesticides and ant baits are the best methods to use once you have confirmed that the problem is indeed carpenter ants.

    Why Are Carpenter Ants in My Tree?

    Like termites, carpenter ants are a pest that is closely associated with wood. Unlike termites, this species of ant does not eat wood but actually tunnels through the wood to establish its nests. 

    First, it’s important to know how and why carpenter ants create their nests. This ant species prefers to nest inside of wood due in large part to the moisture content. Carpenter ants prefer wood that has an ample amount of moisture and is easy to tunnel through, which usually means rotting wood.

    Once the ants find moist wood, two types of nests will typically be developed. The parent nest or, the main nest, houses the queen and workers who forage for food to feed the queen and the colony. 

    Satellite nests are secondary nests that workers will scout for a good place to expand once a parent nest fills to capacity. These nests can be hundreds of feet apart, or even just several feet away

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    Once a decomposing or moist wood structure like a tree is found, the worker ants will excavate tunnels into the wood to build their nests. Therefore, if you find carpenter ants in a tree, the tree is likely decomposing or has sections that are rotting. 

    For this reason, a carpenter ant nest is unlikely to be found inside of a living, healthy tree. Carpenter ants are most likely in your tree because it’s unhealthy, dying, or dead. Acting quickly to get rid of carpenter ants in your tree is the best way to try to save the tree.

    Steps To Identifying if Carpenter Ants Are In Your Tree

    Getting rid of carpenter ants in a tree can take some work, but it’s manageable if you have the right products. Proper identification of the pest and knowing what signs to look for in and around a tree are crucial steps in assessing treatment options.

    Let’s take a look at 4 steps you can take to determining carpenter ant activity and then some suggestions for treating the problem. 

    1: Properly Identify the Ants

    The first step to take is to be absolutely sure that carpenter ants are in the tree. This ant species shares many common traits with termites including an infestation of wood, tunneling and the creation of exit holes, the production of frass, as well as the slow deterioration of wood from their activity.

    Carpenter ants can have color schemes ranging from black, brown, and red and typically measure upward of 13mm in length. This species is larger than house or sugar ants, and if you see ants crawling around wood and especially inside of wood, this is a good indication of carpenter ants. 

    2: Look for Frass

    Carpenter ants produce a substance known as frass as the ants tunnel through wood. Frass is essentially pulverized wood, soil, and even parts of dead ants that are expelled from inside of the nest. Frass resembles saw wood, and this is basically what it is since the ants shred wood as they burrow deep within a structure. 

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    You can find carpenter ant frass along the base of a tree or even around tiny exit holes on the surface of a tree. 

    3: Look for Entrance Holes

    Carpenter ant entrance holes or exit holes are also a tell-tale sign of this species of ant. The holes are small and can be found on the outside surface of the wood. The ants use these holes to leave the nest and to eject dead ants and frass outside. 

    Looking for entrance holes may not be enough proof since termites also leave entrance and exit holes for the same reason. 

    4: Look for Signs of Deteriorating Tree Health

    Lastly, you can also observe the overall health of trees. Trees that have dying branches or discolored leaves are a sign of poor health, and can possibly be from tunneling carpenter ants.

    Additionally, this can be observed if a tree was previously in good health but now shows signs of decomposition. This could possibly be a carpenter ant satellite nest causing the damage. 

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    Best Pesticides for Carpenter Ants in Trees

    Once you confirm the activity of carpenter ants, there are a few different treatment options you can consider. Pesticides generally will not harm vegetation. 

    Pesticide Sprays

    Phantom is a powerful termiticide that can also be used to treat carpenter ants. What makes this pesticide work so well is that carpenter ants cannot smell or detect the chemicals, therefore, if you spray the product on the entrance holes, along the tree, and the ground surrounding the base, the ants constantly crawl through it and transfer the poison to the interior nest. 

    Phantom can be mixed in a one-gallon sprayer which allows you to spray all areas where the carpenter ants crawl for superior horizontal treatment. 


    • Strong residual effect
    • Transfers to an entire nest
    • Can be sprayed on every surface on which the ants crawl


    • Takes time to destroy an entire nest

    Demon WP is another great option to consider if you prefer spray insecticides. The product comes in the form of a powder that can be mixed with water in a one-gallon sprayer. The main chemical in Demon WP is cypermethrin which attacks the central nervous system of carpenter ants resulting in death within minutes of exposure. 

    The best aspect of this product is the strong residual effect once it dries onto applied surfaces. The residual remains effective for up to 3 months and will spread to carpenter ants that cross through it and pass the chemical to other ants within the nest. 


    • 3-month residual
    • Can kill an entire carpenter ant nest
    • 1 packet makes 2-4 gallons of solution


    • Leaves a powdery residue on surfaces


    Fuse Foam is a great option to consider if you’ve found entrances to the tunnels and want to get the fastest results possible. The product is a foam formulation that contains fipronil and imidacloprid that attack the central nervous system of insects. 

    Not only can this work to destroy an active nest, but it can also help to prevent reinfestation of a tree once a nest has been destroyed. 


    • Contains two powerful chemicals
    • Perfect for entrance holes and tunnels
    • Easy-to-use


    • Treats inside tunnels and galleries, not outside of the tree.

    Additionally, you can also consider using Diatomaceous Earth to treat carpenter ants but this product is most effective on surfaces and structures that are not wet. However, the product can regain effectiveness if it is allowed to dry out. 

    Carpenter Ant Bait

    Treating your tree can be easy to do since applying pesticides around it should do the job. If that’s not where the main carpenter ant colony is, however, you’re likely to have carpenter ants come back.

    For this reason, using carpenter ant bait is a great option that gives you the best chance at wiping out the entire colony.

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    Using a product like Advance Carpenter Ant Bait is a great way to follow an ant trail back to the main nest. You can drop the granules or a piece of food along a carpenter ant trail and keep following the trail all the way to its endpoint which is likely the main nest. 

    Now you know where the main nest is and you can apply the granules all around the nest to slowly but surely destroy the entire nest. Try and keep the bait as close to the main nest as possible since outdoor ant baits can also attract other types of ants. 


    • Kills an entire nest within a matter of days
    • Easy-to-use
    • Dual-action chemicals
    • Can lead to the main nest


    • May draw other outdoor ants

    After Treatment: Monitor the Tree’s Health

    Another important step to take is to monitor a tree’s health. Carpenter ants are not typically equipped to make a nest in any regular, healthy tree which means that there is likely some kind of excess moisture or rot that draws the ants to the tree. 

    Calling on an arborist to come take a look and give an assessment of your tree is a smart move at this stage.

    Natural Methods to Get Carpenter Ants Out of a Tree

    Natural methods for treating carpenter ants are difficult to be successful but can certainly be tried. As mentioned, using DE powder is one natural option to consider.

    The only problem with this product is its ineffectiveness when wet, but you can cover the tree and all entrance holes with the product but be prepared to wait a while for the process to work. 

    To coat the areas with the powder, you can use a dust applicator or you can even apply DE powder as a wet application but the product will need to dry to become effective. 

    Additionally, you can also use a DIY borax bait to apply along the trails. The workers can spread the product to the nest that will eventually reach the queen. It may help to add sugar or some sort of protein to the mixture to encourage the ants to spread the product to the nest. Carpenter ants regularly crave either sugar or protein so a combination is best. 

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    Frequently Asked Questions

    Do carpenter ants eat trees?

    Carpenter ants do not eat trees or wood of any kind. This ant species eats sugars and proteins much like many other species of ants. The destruction to trees comes from the ants tunneling into the tree to build and house their nest.

    Do carpenter ants damage trees?

    Yes, carpenter ants certainly damage trees. Even though they are not eating the wood, the constant tunneling slowly destroys a tree by stripping it of its components. The ants will tunnel enough into the tree to supports a nest of thousands of ants before moving to find another satellite nest.

    Do I need to cut down my tree if it has a carpenter ant nest?

    You do not need to cut down a tree that is infested with carpenter ants. Trees can sometimes regenerate once the problem-causing decomposition is removed. By using pesticides and baits, you can slowly destroy a carpenter’s ant nest and avoid having to cut down the tree just to solve the issue.

    Final Thoughts

    In summary, getting rid of carpenter ants in a tree takes time but certainly can be done. Pesticides and ant baits are the best methods to use once you have confirmed that the problem is indeed carpenter ants. 

    Also, remember to monitor a tree’s health and keep an eye out for any moist or rotting wood on your property to keep the ants from infesting nearby trees. 

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    Sam Wasson

    Staff Writer

    Sam Wasson graduated from the University of Utah with a degree in Film and Media Arts with an Emphasis in Entertainment Arts and Engineering. Sam brings over four years of content writing and media production experience to the Today’s Homeowner content team. He specializes in the pest control, landscaping, and moving categories. Sam aims to answer homeowners’ difficult questions by providing well-researched, accurate, transparent, and entertaining content to Today’s Homeowner readers.

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    Lora Novak

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    Lora Novak meticulously proofreads and edits all commercial content for Today’s Homeowner to guarantee that it contains the most up-to-date information. Lora brings over 12 years of writing, editing, and digital marketing expertise. She’s worked on thousands of articles related to heating, air conditioning, ventilation, roofing, plumbing, lawn/garden, pest control, insurance, and other general homeownership topics.

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