Dorothy is a Master Gardener, former newspaper reporter, and the author of several books. Michael is a landscape/nature photographer in NM.
Aphids Are Plant-Munching Garden Pests
If you're an experienced gardener, you are probably very familiar with aphids—the small, soft-bodied insects that just love to munch on your plants. They are tiny and range in colors from yellow to red and black, with the black-bodied aphids being the most common. This little critter has a white, wooly coating and lives by sucking the juices of the new growth on your plants, which damages a plant's ability to properly process food.
This article will show you where to look for aphids (luckily, they are pretty easy to detect) and how to get rid of them.
What You Need to Eliminate Aphids
- Yellow bowl
- Insecticidal soap
- Water hose
- Ladybugs (if you don't have them in your garden, you can buy thousands of them for a few dollars)
Where to Look for Aphids
Because aphids love new, juicy growth, that's where you'll usually find them. If you have new leaves forming in early spring, turn them over so you can spot the aphids. If your leaves are yellow with a gray cast on them, you can just about bet that those are signs of this little pest. They will also excrete a sticky residue on the leaves.
How to Eliminate Them From Your Garden
There are several ways to get rid of aphids.
- Wipe them off. The first method is to rub an infested leaf between your thumb and forefinger and wipe the aphids off manually. Be careful, however, not to damage the leaf.
- Wash them away with soapy water. You can always just wash the aphids away using a mixture of insecticidal soap and warm water. You can use this method right up until harvest time (if they are on your vegetables).
- Use yellow-colored lures and traps. The color yellow attracts aphids, so try setting out a bright yellow bowl in your garden full of soapy water. The intent is to lure them away from your plants. Some nurseries also sell sticky yellow color traps that are also effective.
- Let ladybugs and lacewings eat them. If you examine your garden and find ladybugs on your plants, by all means leave them there because they love to eat aphids! The same goes for lacewings.
If you have serious aphid infestations, don't be afraid to bring out the big guns: chemical insecticides. If you spray the insecticide on your plants in early spring, when the aphids suck out the plant sap, they will die when they ingest the insecticide.
Tips and Warnings
- You could use a natural insecticide, such as Pyrethrum or Rotenone. Both are highly effective and available at most nurseries.
- If attempting to get rid of aphids on fruit trees or vegetables, avoid insecticides during growth or harvest time.
Check Your Garden Regularly for Aphids
During the active growing season, you need to check your plants on a regular basis (at least a few times a week) for aphids so you will be able to discover any infestations quickly, allowing you to either prune them off or hose them off with water. Be aware that the greatest amount of damage is done by these pests in late spring and early summer when temperatures are warm, but not extremely hot.
If they've been left in large numbers to inflict their damage (enough for leaves to begin to curl), it might be too late, as the curled leaves offer them shelter from their natural enemies and your insecticides.
How to Make Your Search for Aphids More Effective
- Turn over leaves. When checking for aphids, be certain to turn leaves over since some of the species prefer the underside of leaves. Plus, they are most prevalent when close to other infested plants of the same species.
- Check multiple leaves. If you are checking for them in trees, you should cut off leaves from different areas of the tree for inspection.
- Follow the ladybugs. You can also look for the natural enemies of aphids, which includes lacewings, soldier beetles, and ladybugs. If you see them in your trees, more than likely you have aphids somewhere because those bugs are in the tree looking for food, and they don't usually show up until there is a significant infestation. They might be enough to take care of ridding the tree of aphids, avoiding the need for treatment; natural treatments are always preferred.
- Follow the ants. If you see ants in your trees, they are also associated with an aphid infestation, as the aphids provide the ants with a valuable food source and they tend to protect their food by warding off the natural predators, so the management of ants is considered an important part of aphid management. Large numbers of ants climbing tree trunks might indicate that the aphids are up higher in the tree on leaves or limbs.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2011 Mike and Dorothy McKenney
morgan968 on May 02, 2013:
Thank you for your brilliant article, not many people know that you can use insects to beat your pest problem. Aphids are so common around the world I don't understand why people aren't using ladybugs more. Your article helped me beat my aphid problem and I also wanted to share another article which helped me beat them.