Aphids are garden pests that can inflict severe damage on all kinds of crops. They carry viruses that plague plants and reproduce rampantly. These soft-bodied insects seek out many varieties of plants, so you are more than likely going to encounter them in the garden at some point. They are tiny and range in colors from green, gray, white, and black, only measuring a mere 1/8 inch in length.
These garden pests can leave plants in a weakened state that makes them more prone to other diseases, some of which are carried by the aphids themselves. Follow along and learn everything to know about aphids, so you can protect your tender crops from their destructive ways.
How Aphids Affect Plants
Nymphs and adults actively extract the sweet sap from plant leaves and stems, significantly disrupting the plant’s growth capabilities. This destruction results in yellowed, curled, deformed leaves and, consequently, undernourished plants. Just as they suck the life out of many plants, they release sugary secretions onto plant leaves and stems, providing a feeding source for fungus and mold spores. If they’re are allowed to congregate on your garden treasures, they may eventually cause the demise of your plants.
Where to Look for Aphids
Aphids are very good at playing hide and seek, and if you don’t know where to look for them, you may not know that they are there until it is too late for your plant. Examine your plants often and look for clusters of tiny insects that huddle together in places like:
- Leaf crevices
- New shoots and newly formed leaves
- Centrally located leaf clusters
- The undersides of leaves
- Along stem lines
How to Get Rid of Aphids
There are many things that you can do organically to control the aphid population in your garden. With everything to know about these pests, be sure to check plants regularly to identify when these pesky bugs are present.
- If you spot them, squish them with your fingers.
- If you find a cluster of aphids on the sprouting of new shoots, pinch the whole tip of the branch off and destroy the entire leaf far away from the garden bed.
- Use a strong spray of hose water directed at the plant’s leaves in short bursts.
- Spritz the plant leaves with soapy water. Fill a spray bottle with water and add a couple of drops of dish liquid and mix well. Then spray the tops and undersides of the leaves of the plant liberally. You can even add a couple of teaspoons of cayenne pepper to the mixture to further deter them.
- Treat leaves with neem oil to suffocate the aphid colonies and deter them from feeding on tender leaves.
- Use fabric row covers to cover plants that these pests seem to flock to.
Before Spraying Plants
Plants at varying stages of growth can react differently to homemade or organic pest deterrents, the best approach is to build up a healthy ecosystem in your garden so you will not need to use sprays. And yet even in the healthiest gardens, a little outside assistance may be needed.
To protect your plants and the good bugs:
- Test your mixture on a small area of the plant to see how the plant reacts.
- Spray plants in the early evening so the sun does not intensify sprays and burn plants.
- Look out for beneficial insects before spraying. Oils, soaps, and other natural remedies can smother any soft body insects on contact.
One plant can host a whole colony of aphids, which offers predatory insects quite the feast on which to prey. Lucky for gardeners , there are many insects that are known to devour aphids readily. By companion planting specific plants that draw these predatory bugs, you can create a feeding frenzy that can eliminate the aphids from your crops.
- Companion plant calendula, marigolds, alyssum, and echinacea in the garden beds to encourage beneficial predatory insects like hoverflies, parasitic wasps, and ladybugs who feed on aphids.
- Plant herbs like parsley, mint, thyme, and fennel nearby to also attract these predatory insects that feed on aphid bugs.
You can also plant sacrificial trap crops in the garden, which aphids love to feed on. Aphids will seek out these favorites and hopefully avoid your vegetable crops altogether.
Beneficial Insects for Aphid Control
Attracting beneficial bugs to help you wage war on aphids and other ravenous insects in your garden can take time. Predator bug populations can maintain aphids at low levels, but predators do not show up until there is a food source, so there can be a gap between when the aphids appear and when the predator insects show up to help.
Building a healthy sustainable ecosystem is important and you will reap the benefits for years to come but you may need help now. Each predator insect kills prey in different ways and at different stages of development, here is a list of predator bugs, how they kill, and whether you can purchase beneficial bugs for immediate assistance in the garden.
Hoverflies – The adults, are not predaceous, but the larvae are aphid predators. Hover or syrphid flies are not available for purchase.
Lacewings – Some adult lacewings species are predaceous while all lacewing larvae are very active predators. Lacewings in nearly all life stages can be purchased.
Ladybeetles or Ladybugs – There are many ladybeetle species, and both the adults and larvae eat aphids. Ladybeetles are available for purchase.
- It can be tricky keeping ladybeetles in the garden after you release them. A ladybug can consume up to 50 – 60 aphids per day, so make sure you have enough for them to eat.
- Release ladybugs in the early evening they sleep at night and they will be less likely to fly away right after release.
- Make sure there is plenty of water for them they will be thirsty and hungry when they wake up.
Parasitic Wasps – There are several wasp species that parasitize aphids. Female wasps have a modified stinger to deposit eggs. The egg is injected into an aphid for the larva to develop inside. Parasitic wasps are available for purchase.
Soldier Beetles – Adult soldier beetles eat aphids. Soldier beetle larvae live in the soil and help to control soil-borne pests. Soldier beetles are not available for purchase.
Controlling these prevalent garden pests is essential, but you never want to eliminate an insect population entirely. Eradicating a species from your yard can negatively impact the natural balance of the ecosystem. Now that you know everything to know about aphids, identifying the impacted plants and implementing organic pest management strategies can go a long way to ensuring that your plants thrive and the circle of life is kept intact for garden inhabitants.