What Are Aphids
Aphids seem to find their way into every garden. They are small, soft-bodied insects that feed by sucking the nutrient-rich liquids out of plants. In large numbers, they can weaken plants significantly, harming flowers and fruit. Aphids multiply quickly, so it’s important to get them under control before reproduction starts. Many generations can occur in one season.
Aphids are tiny (adults are under 1/4-inch), and often nearly invisible to the naked eye. Various species can appear white, black, brown, gray, yellow, light green, or even pink! Some may have a waxy or woolly coating. They have pear-shaped bodies with long antennae; the nymphs (young aphids) look similar to the adults. Most species have two short tubes (called cornicles) projecting from their hind end.
What Does Aphid Damage Look Like
Nymphs and adults feed on plant juices, attacking leaves, stems, buds, flowers, fruit, and/or roots, depending on the species.
- Look for misshapen, curling, stunted, or yellowing leaves. Be sure to check the undersides of leaves; aphids love to hide there.
- If the leaves or stems are covered with a sticky substance, that is a sign that aphids may have been sipping sap.
- The honeydew can sometimes encourage a fungal growth called sooty mold, causing branches and leaves to appear black.
- Flowers or fruit can become distorted or deformed due to feeding aphids.
- Some aphid species cause galls to form on roots or leaves.
- Aphids may transmit viruses between plants, and also attract other insects that prey on them, such as ladybugs.
How to Get Rid of Aphids
- Try spraying infested plants with a strong stream of water; sometimes all aphids need is a blast to dislodge them. Typically, they are unable to find their way back to the same plant.
- Neem oil, insecticidal soaps, and horticultural oils are effective against aphids, but these substances need to come into contact with the aphids in order to work.
- You can often control aphids by wiping or spraying the leaves of the plant with a mild solution of water and a few drops of dish soap. Soapy water should be reapplied every 2-3 days for 2 weeks.
- Diatomaceous earth (DE) is a non-toxic, organic material that will dehydrate aphids.
How to Prevent Aphids
- For fruit or shade trees, spray dormant horticultural oil to kill overwintering aphid eggs.
- Beneficial insects, such as ladybugs, lacewings, and parasitic wasps, will feed on aphids.
- Companion planting can help to keep aphids away from your plants in the first place, or to draw them away from the plants you really want to grow. For example:
- Aphids are repelled by catnip.
- Aphids are especially attracted to mustard and nasturtium.
- Nasturtiums spoil the taste of fruit tree sap for aphids and will help keep aphids off of broccoli.
- Garlic and chives repel aphids when planted near lettuce, peas, and rose bushes.
Using Alcohol to Control Aphids
Isopropyl alcohol (also called isopropanol or rubbing alcohol) works fine and is easy to find, but be sure it doesn’t have additives. Ethanol (grain alcohol) seems to work best. Alcohol usually comes in 70 percent strength in stores (or 95 percent strength purchased commercially). You can also add alcohol to a soapy emulsion to make it more effective.
These types of solutions should NOT be sprayed over the entire plant at once. Spray or wipe down only the infested areas. It will only kill the aphids it comes into contact with, so repeated applications may be necessary.
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Almanac. (n. d.). Aphids. Retrieved June 6, 2022, from https://www.almanac.com/pest/aphids