Boy, I hope not.
There are all kinds of pests that can wreak havoc on your plants, ruining all of your hard work in the garden, but for your sake, I hope aphids aren’t one of them. Not only are these pests highly destructive, but it seems like they can attack just about any kind of garden plant, too.
Aphids are super common, finding their way into every garden. As tiny, soft-bodied insects, you wouldn’t think that they could do a lot of damage – but that’s definitely not the case. These pests multiply quickly and can rapidly destroy your garden.
Here’s what you need to know about aphids – as well as tips on how you can get rid of these pesky pests naturally!
What Are Aphids?
As I mentioned, aphids are small, soft-bodied insects that feed by sucking liquids out of plants. While an aphid here or there is likely not going to cause any problems for you, these pests tend to travel in groups.
Aphids can be found just about everywhere. They’ll live on most fruit and vegetable crops as well as on some flowering plants and shrubs. They suck nutrients out of plants and can quickly destroy their fruits and flowers. Plus, they multiply quickly.
Aphids are small, with adults only growing to about ¼ of an inch long. They are often invisible to the naked eye, or nearly so.
These little bugs can vary in their appearances, ranging from brown to white, yellow to green, or even gray or pink in color. Some aphids have coatings on their bodies that look like thin layers of wax or wool.
Some aphids have bodies that are shaped like pears, with long antennae to pull things together. Nymphs are slightly smaller than adults, but otherwise, look pretty much the same. Some aphid species have a couple of short cornicles projecting out of their back ends, too.
Most aphids do not have wings. Some, however, can develop wings when their populations become overcrowded. That way, the aphids can take flight to get to other plants and more food. There, they will start a new colony. These pests tend to feed in large groups.
There are several types of aphids, most of which are identified by the type of plant they prefer to feed on. However, one other type of aphid worth being aware of is the root fid.
Root aphids are similar to other aphids in the damage they inflict. However, they also cause plants to be more susceptible to root rot, mildew, and other diseases. Unfortunately, many of the treatments don’t work as well on these pests.
It’s important to know how to get aphids under control before they start to reproduce, or you’ll have some serious problems on your hands. Luckily, there are several steps you can take to control their populations in your garden.
The Aphid Life Cycle
Part of the reason why aphids are so widespread, particularly in warm or moderate climates, is because they don’t have to mate before they can reproduce.
In fact, female adult aphids give birth to live female nymphs in a unique process known as parthenogenesis. Therefore, in mild climates, aphids can live year-round, and the reproductive cycle is virtually never ending.
Aphids don’t typically lay their eggs during ideal weather conditions. Instead, the adult will give birth to her nymphs, each of which will go through four developmental stages and reach adulthood in as little as seven days. Since aphids can produce as many as 80 young in one week, the population growth is rapid.
Symptoms of an Aphid Infestation
Why are aphids a problem? Let’s count the ways – there are several!
There are a few signs to watch out for if you suspect an aphid infestation.
The first and most obvious is that you may see the pests on the plants themselves. Although aphids are tiny, they aren’t invisible, so a watchful eye may be able to detect them before they wreak havoc on your plants.
You might also consider the type of plant the aphids are feeding on, although this might not be much help (it can, however, help you to rule out other types of pests).
Aphids will eat just about anything, including flower and vegetable crops and they’ll usually attack the stems, buds, leaves, fruit, roots, and flowers of the plants.
If you notice that the leaves of your plant are curling, misshapen, yellowing, or stunted, check the backsides. There’s a good side that aphids are hiding out here, and that they’re to blame for the leaf damage.
Anytime you notice that your plants are failing for no explicable reason (for example, if you’re already doing a good job of minding your watering, sunlight, fertilizing, etc), particularly in regards to the leaves, aphids can be to blame.
Aphids can spread other diseases, too, so if you can’t seem to get an outbreak under control, that could be why. Sometimes, aphids will even produce small bite marks along the edges of leaves. These signs are much more common during the warm summer months.
You might also want to check for a sticky substance on the stems or leaves of the plant. This is generally a good sign that aphids have been by. This sticky liquid is known as honeydew, and it’s produced as a waste byproduct of the insects after they have been eating sap.
Believe it or not, the sap is a problem in and of itself. Not only does it indicate that you have an aphid infestation, but it can attract other kinds of insects, too, like ants.
Plus, the honeydew can drop onto outdoor furniture, your car, and other surfaces, leaving behind quite the mess for you to deal with.
Honeydew can also encourage fungal problems – in particular, honeydew can cause something called sooty mold. Sooty mold can cause the leaves and branches of your plants to appear black and dying.
You might notice that the fruit or flowers of your plant appear deformed. You might see galls forming on leaves and roots, and you may have an increased incidence of viruses spreading among your plants, too.
Galls are abnormal growths that appear on the outside of infested plants. They often look like spots of mold or discolored raised spots. Left untreated, as mentioned, galls can spread other, more serious diseases.
Now do you see why aphids are such a problem?
How to Prevent Aphids
As you might expect, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure – and that’s particularly true when it comes to pest problems in the garden. The best way to cure an aphid infestation is to prevent them from ever becoming a problem. Here are some tips.
Introduce Beneficial Insects
There are certain insects, like ladybugs, parasitic wasps, and lacewings, that will feed voraciously on aphids. You can buy populations of these insects online and introduce them to your garden to help control aphid populations (as well as the populations of other pests) before they get out of control.
You may not even have to buy these insects online. Some bugs are attracted to flowering ground covers like stonecrop. These supply the insects with the nectar they need during the growing season.
By planting these crops, you may be able to attract beneficial predatory insects and keep aphid pests at bay, too.
Other plants you can grow to attract beneficial insects include sunflower, Queen Anne’s Lace, parsley, Sweet Alyssum, and geraniums.
Don’t rush to pull every weed you find in your garden, either. Leaving a few species of weeds, like dandelion, can help attract some types of ladybugs. This will help keep aphids away.
At the same time, be aware that leaving too many weeds in your garden can encourage populations of aphids to flourish, too – there is a tradeoff here!
Avoid Overwatering or Over Fertilizing
While you’ll need to avoid underwatering and nutrient deficiencies in your plants, too, overwatering and over fertilizing are two common problems that can lead to or increase the likelihood of aphid infestations.
Try to care for your plants in a balanced way in order to prevent aphid and other pests.
Get Rid of Ants
Wait, wasn’t this article about aphids? If you’re confused, just hang on one second. Aphid infestations often go hand-in-hand with ant infestations. This is because ants eat many of the insects that feed on aphids, which can prolong your aphid infestation if you aren’t careful.
Ants also have been witnessed herding and protecting aphids – after all, they use the honeydew as a source of food. Get rid of the ants, and you might be able to get rid of your aphid problem.
Utilize Companion Planting
There are certain plants that aphids absolutely hate. In order to make the most of your gardening space and keep aphids away in an organic way, consider using their abhorrence of certain plant types to your advantage.
For example, aphids hate catnip. They also are repelled by chives and garlic. These plants can be incredibly effective when planted near crops that aphids love, such as peas, lettuce, and rose bushes.
On the other hand, aphids love nasturtium and mustard. You can plant these crops near more valuable plants to serve as traps for the aphids! Check them regularly to make sure these plants actually aren’t attracting aphids to your other crops, too.
Another benefit of nasturtiums? These plants ruin the taste of fruit tree sap for aphids – they’ll also keep aphids away from your broccoli.
Rotate Your Crops
One of the best lines of defense against any kind of pest is to rotate your crops on a regular basis. This will make it less likely that overwintering insect eggs will hatch and harm the same favored crop type, year after year. Try not to grow similar vegetables in the same spot between growing seasons.
Be Careful When Disposing of Infected Plants
Unfortunately, you may find that none of the treatments I recommend work for your plants – and that you need to dispose of the dead or dying plants as a result.
When you’re doing this, be very careful. You need to make sure you don’t drop any soil near your surviving plants, as this can spread aphid eggs and larvae to previously unaffected plants.
How to Get Rid of Aphids Naturally
Cold Water Blast
Evict the aphids with a cold water blast. If you’re following good watering habits, you might be doing this already, and so aphids might not be able to get a foothold in your garden.
If you can, blast your plants that are covered in aphids with a dose of cold water. This should dislodge the aphids and often, they’ll be so disoriented that they aren’t able to find their way back to the same plant.
If your plants are severely affected by aphids you may need to hose your plants down on a more regular basis- sometimes up to twice per day. Be careful blasting your plants, as using a high pressure setting can sometimes be strong enough to damage the plant itself.
Make sure you let the leaves of your plant dry completely between waterings, too, as wet foliage increases the likelihood of rust and blight in sensitive plants.
Manually Remove the Pests
If you have a good eye, you may be able to spot aphids as they dance across your plants. Simply pluck them off your vegetables and drown them in a bucket of soapy water.
Aphids typically feed in colonies, but you may find just one or two aphids on a plant at once – meaning it will be relatively easy for you to get rid of them.
Be careful plucking them off the plants as they have soft bodies that you can crush easily. Although this isn’t exactly problematic for your plants, it can be a bit unpleasant to get all that “goop” all over your hands!
Cut Back the Plant
Cut your plant back to remove large colonies of plants. Pruning can help your plants in other ways, too, since it will allow the plant to focus more on the growth of new foliage rather than maintaining dead or dying growth.
You might want to remove entire branches or simply pluck away small fruits or leaves.
Once you’re done cutting back the plant, make sure you douse it with water or an aphid repellent spray for best results.
Dust With Flour
If you have a large population of aphids, you may be able to dust the plants with flour. This will constipate the pests and can kill them – or at the very least, make them quit eating so much.
A good flour dusting works at preventing and getting rid of other kinds of pests, like grasshoppers, too – all without harming your plants or nearby wildlife.
Use Soap and Water
Spray the leaves of your plant with a mild mixture of water, and several drops of dish soap. Just apply it every few days for a couple of weeks – the aphids should be evicted at that point.
For an added boost of effectiveness, consider adding in a dash of cayenne pepper. Again, it won’t hurt your plants – but it will keep the aphids away.
Use Neem Oil
Neem oil is a great natural solution that can be incredibly effective against aphids. It has organic compounds that repel aphids along with other insects, like cabbage worms, mealy bugs, leafminers, beetles, ants, and even several types of caterpillars. It can also be used to combat various types of fungus.
To use neem oil, dilute it in water or apply it as a ready-to-use spray.
DIY Essential Oil Sprays
There are some essential oils that aphids aren’t particularly fond of. For example, you may want to make a mixture of water and five drops each of peppermint, rosemary, clove,and thyme. These will keep adult aphids away and can prevent them from laying eggs, too.
Introduce Beneficial Nematodes
If it’s root aphids you’re struggling with, try introducing some nematodes. Nematodes will protect your plants against a wide variety of soil-borne pests like root aphids – plus, they won’t harm beneficial soil dwellers like earthworms.
Make a Garlic Spray
Garlic is another great natural insecticide because it doesn’t kill good bugs but it keeps the bad ones at bay. Your plants might be stinky for a while, but trust me – it’s worth it!
To make garlic insecticide spray, all you need to do is crush a head of garlic into two cups of hot water, let it steep overnight, then strain out the pieces of garlic and put the water in a glass spray bottle with some hot pepper and dish soap. You can then use the spray to coat the undersides and tops of your leaves.
Encourage Birds to Visit
Consider setting up a bird feeder or bird bath to attract aphid-loving birds to your garden. You can entice them even further with a nice birdhouse!
Try Diatomaceous Earth
Diatomaceous earth is a tool that every gardener should have in his or her toolbox! This natural compound is made out of the fossilized skeletons of microorganisms.
When ground up into a fine powder, it is nontoxic and will not harm children, pets, or wildlife – or you, of course. It is only harmful to soft-bodied insects.
You can make a diatomaceous earth spray, but it’s usually more effective when used as a powder anywhere in the vicinity where aphids like to hang out.
Use Mulch Cloth
Mulch cloth, particularly silver or reflective mulch cloth, is also effective at repelling aphids during the hotter months of the year. Summer squash and other ismlar plants have fewer aphid infestations when this cloth is present.
Add Row Covers
Row covers are incredibly effective at keeping aphids away. You can simply pop these covers on your plants when you think aphids might be a problem.
The covers will keep the aphids away from the tender leaves and shoots of your plants, but as soon as they begin to flower, you can remove the covers for pollination.
Use Rubbing Alcohol
Rubbing alcohol, or isopropyl alcohol, is another tool you can use against aphids. Just make sure it is free of additives. You will want to use ethanol for best results.
Make an insecticidal spray out of equal parts 70% alcohol, and water. It can also be added to the soapy mixture I already told you about.
One word of caution, though – alcohol can be quite potent, so you may want to test a small area first and apply the solution in the morning, when the sun isn’t beating down on your plants. Watch the plant you applied the alcohol to for a few days to make sure there aren’t any negative reactions.
The most important tip when dealing with an aphid infestation? Be patient! These pests settle in for the long haul quickly, but it can take seemingly forever to get rid of them. Take your time, and you’ll find that you get rid of them with a bit of determination and vigilance.
Rebekah is a part-time homesteader. On her 22 acres, she raises chickens and bees, not to mention she grows a wide variety of veggies.