Aphids are tiny sap-sucking insects that are one of the most troublesome garden pests. Nearly every plant species has a different aphid species that preys on it, but knowledge of specific species isn’t necessary to control aphids and protect your garden.
Aphids are tiny, about 1/8-inch long, with a pear-shaped body, long legs and antennae. They can be any variety of color, depending on region and plant type, and younger aphids have wings.The most distinguishing characteristic is two tube-like appendages that stick out from the aphid’s rear end.
Aphids inflict damage to the plant directly by sucking out sap, which weakens the plant. A more threatening, although indirect, means of attack is through transmitting disease, which they do when they move from plant to plant. Small number of aphids won’t usually cause much damage, but these insects reproduce quickly—leading to infestation. You may not know that aphids are present until damage (like drooping or curling leaves) is present. Check for aphids on stems and the backs of leaves; they generally won’t move like other insects wen you shake the plant. If you see them, take one (or more) of these actions:
- Spray the plant with a hose to knock aphids off. This measure is temporary, but effective. Not recommended for diseased plants because splashing water can also spread disease among plants.
- Look for aphids on weeds or other nearby plants before planting new crops.
- Beneficial insects can help control aphids. Lacewings and ladybugs are natural aphid predators.
- Ants can be an indicator of aphids, since ants love to eat the sweet liquid aphids secrete. Control ants to reduce aphid populations.
- Grow decoy plants. Some plants are more attractive to aphids, including nasturtiums, asters, cosmos, hollyhocks, larkspur, begonias, verbena, dahlias, and zinnias. Grow these flowers away from the crops you wish to protect, but be willing to lose these decoys when aphids arrive.
- Pesticides can eliminate aphids, as can homemade controls. An easy solution using ingredients in every home is 2 cups of water combined with a few drops of blue dish washing soap and some vegetable oil. Spray this homemade solution on leaves and stems where aphids are present.
Look for aphids in your garden every two weeks, and apply controls as necessary.