Aphids are among the most damaging, overwhelming, and unpleasant pests that plague gardens throughout the season. They seem to multiply overnight and can easily invade a garden, leaving you with sticky, stunted plants that struggle to thrive.
While we prefer to think about aphids negatively, they are really nature’s sign that something is out of balance. Aphids aren’t really “bad” bugs; they only let you know when something isn’t right in the garden.
Aphids normally occur on plants that are stressed in some way, such as drought or heat stress, overwatering, or overfertilization.
Luckily, aphids are one of the easier pests to manage if you catch them early before their colonies grow too large.
What Do Aphids Look Like?
The bulk of aphids are pear-shaped, with long antennae and legs. Some varieties, including the wooly aphid, tend to have a wooly or waxy covering. This is attributable to a secretion that they make. The secretion is absent in other varieties. They come in several shades and colors, including black, white, green, red, pink, brown, and even almost-colorless.
Adult aphids typically lack wings, but most aphid species have certain winged varieties. This makes it easier for them to disperse to other places, particularly when the population is high or they need to spread out to find more food.
Many aphids can gather in groups on the underside of a leaf to sap it. And if the leaf is moved, they are barely interrupted. Occasionally, you’ll come across leaves with hundreds and hundreds of them stuck to the back.
How to Eliminate Aphids With Natural and Organic Sprays
A. Neem Oil
Aphids and other insects, such as mealy bugs, cabbage worms, beetles, leafminers, ants, and various forms of caterpillars, are repelled by the organic compounds in neem oil. It can, however, repel beneficial insects, so practice vigilance when and where they are present. Spray the infected areas after diluting the oil in water according to the box directions by using a ready-to-use neem oil spray. Neem oil may also be used to combat various forms of fungi.
B. Soap and Water
Mix a few tablespoons of pure liquid soap in a little bucket of water to make a homemade aphid spray. (Avoid detergents and items containing degreasers or moisturizers.) Spray directly on aphids and infected plant parts with a spray bottle, making sure to soak the undersides of leaves where eggs and larvae prefer to hide. The soap dissolves aphids’ and other soft-bodied insects’ protective outer coat, gradually destroying them. It is not detrimental to birds or beneficial insects such as lacewings, ladybugs, or pollinating bees. Ready-to-use insecticidal soaps can also be bought online or at a nearby nursery.
C. Essential Oils
Create your own essential oil spray mix. In a small spray bottle, add 4 to 5 drops of peppermint, clove, rosemary, and thyme with water. Spray on the infected plants to destroy adult aphids as well as larvae and eggs.
D. By Hand
Put on your gardening gloves and knock them off of stems, leaves, flower buds, or anywhere you see them and drop them into a bucket of soapy water to destroy them. You may also remove the infected areas by cutting or pruning them and dropping them into the bucket.
You can also spray a steady stream of water from a garden hose to remove aphids from plants. This technique works well early in the season before an infestation has taken hold. It may not be suitable for younger or more fragile plants, but it works well on plants that can withstand higher water pressure.
Use Natural Predators
Provide habitat for insect-eating birds such as wrens and chickadees, and they will reward you by helping to keep the insect population under control. Plant small trees and shrubs where they can hide and make their own nests.
B. Green Lacewings
Green lacewings: Green lacewing eggs are also available for purchase online and sometimes at a nearby nursery.
C. Lady Beetles
Adult lady beetles (ladybugs) do not consume almost as many aphids as they do as larvae, which is why many people are dissatisfied with the lack of regulation they see after introducing purchased live ladybugs into their garden.
Since it is the larvae that consume the most aphids, there must be a large enough aphid population to keep the ladybugs fed long enough for them to mate and lay eggs. Ladybug larvae do not resemble the adults we are used to seeing, so detection is critical. You can buy live ladybugs online or at the nearest nursery.
Tips for achieving better results:
- Plants should be lightly misted before being released to allow them to pause for a drink as they are likely dehydrated.
- Release them during cooler times of the day, such as the early morning or late evening.
- Repeat applications are needed since most can fly away in a couple of days.
How to Prevent Aphids
Keeping aphids off your plants begins with proper gardening techniques that keep them out of your yard in the first place. Prevention is easier than intervention.
A. Keep Your Plants Well Hydrated
Plants are more vulnerable to stress during drought, so high summer is a peak time for aphid infestations. Plants are more defenseless in hot, dry weather because they can’t manufacture the chemicals they need to fend off pests.
Drought can also improve the quality of plant sap, making it more appealing to aphids. Sugars and nitrogen become more abundant in drought-stricken plants, allowing aphids to access more usable food in a shorter period of time.
To keep aphids at bay in your garden, stop underwatering (or overwatering) to keep your plants healthy and strong.
B. Avoid Over-Fertilizing Your Plants
Aphids are attracted to juicy, delicate young shoots, so avoiding over-fertilizing the plants is one of the keys to keeping their numbers in check. Excess nitrogen triggers a flush of fresh growth, which aids in the survival of new generations of aphids.
C. Grow Plants With Natural Pest-Repelling Properties
Plants with strong aromas are known to actively repel aphids and other pests, and all you have to do is plant them around your yard.
Aphids are particularly repulsed by the powerful fragrance of marigolds and catnip, so they make excellent companion plants for valuable crops that you want to protect.
Herbs that we know to be wonderfully fragrant, such as dill, fennel, cilantro, chives, and peppermint, also have aphid-repellent scents. Place them in pots or in garden beds next to your vegetables to benefit from their pest-repellent properties.
D. To Attract Aphids, Plant a Trap Crop
A trap crop is a sacrificial plant (or decoy) used to lure aphids and keep them away from your more valuable plants.
Trap cropping is another form of companion planting because it performs better when grown around or next to the plants you want to protect.
Since pests tend to come in from the outside, plant trap crops around the perimeter of your garden early in the season (at least a few weeks before your other plants) so they have time to disperse and flower before your main crops appear.
Aphid populations in the low to moderate scale seldom cause serious harm and rarely consume mature plants. Large infestations, on the other hand, will decrease plant yields and produce sticky “honeydew,” necessitating pest control. Aphids are better handled by working with nature’s predators and using low-impact strategies.