If you’re a gardener — flowers, vegetables, or otherwise — you are engaged in constant battle. I’m not talking epic Mel Gibson in Braveheart battle necessarily. No. I’m talking Bruce Willis in every movie he’s ever been in battle: one guy against the mass hoards of greed and corruption. Sure, you’ll get your butt kicked a little. You’ll probably end up with a broken nose, a couple cracked ribs and at least one bullet hole. But in the end, you will kill everybody. That is, unless you’re dealing with aphids. With aphids you need to pull out a little bit of Arnold vs. Predator. You have to play it smart, because if you’re not paying attention, it’s all over.
Aphids are sneaky and inconspicuous little beasties. They can show up, breed like crazy and completely destroy your flowers, vegetables, and even trees before you ever know there’s a problem. There are many species and colors of aphids. They come in shades of green, red, brown, black, and yellow, and almost all have fat little pear-shaped bodies with several little tubes poking up out of the back end called cornicles. They feed by piercing plants and sucking their juices. In doing so, they can transmit viruses that cause yellowing, curling, and distorted growth. Aphids also secrete a sticky substance called honeydew that often results in colonization by an ugly, sooty black fungus. The following are suggestions to help keep your gardens and plants safe and healthy.
Frequent Inspection. Catch them early. One “colonizer” can produce up to 80 offspring in as little as a week and is capable of doing so several times. Slowly walk through your garden several times a week, paying close attention to the undersides of leaves. Also check for aphids on newly purchased plants and transplants.
Don’t over-fertilize. Aphids prefer the new growth that is found in abundance in overly fertilized plants. Use only slow-release fertilizers. It is also a good idea to grow plants inside or under a cover until they are large enough to be a little more tolerant of pests.
Spray with water. A strong spray of water is an effective way to dislodge aphids from your plants. Most dislodged aphids will be unable to return to the plant. The Bug Blaster is a hose attachment that works great for this.
Home remedy for aphids. You can kill aphids by spraying, especially under the leaves, with a solution of 2 tsp mild dish or laundry soap to a bottle of lukewarm water. The soap washes off the aphid’s protective waxy coating and causes dehydration. You can also mix three parts lukewarm water to one part vegetable or horticultural oil and a couple drops of dish soap. This mixture can be sprayed on to clog the respiratory spiracles of aphids. Spray once a week, taking turns between solutions. If using these solutions on food plants, be sure to wash them before eating. If using the oil solution, don’t spray on very hot and sunny days, as the oil can magnify the sun and possibly harm the plant.
Prune away colonies. Aphids maintain the right to assemble. If you see a section of the plant containing aphids galore, snip it off and dispose of it. It doesn’t cure the problem, but it will slow the advance while giving other methods time to work.
Natural Aphid Control
Diatomaceous earth (food grade only!) is a natural insecticide safe for people and pets. Scatter around the garden and plants. You can get a 10 lb bag from Amazon for a decent price.
Neem Oil. This oil is extracted from the seeds and fruits of an Indian evergreen and is used for repelling aphids without bothering beneficial insects such as ladybugs and bees.
Yellow traps. A yellow glass filled with water and a couple drops of soap to break water tension will lure aphids to it and cause them to drown. A yellow sheet of paper or tag board with a sticky substance such as double-sided tape on it also works for trapping aphids.
Biological Aphid Control
Ladybugs and lacewings are both highly effective predators of aphids. These insects can easily be purchased live from many online vendors or lured to your yard using Safer Ladybug Lures. Keep ladybugs in the neighborhood by supplying them with a ladybug house (yes, that’s a real thing).
Wrens are also known to eat aphids. Accommodate these birds by placing houses in trees.
Aphid Insecticides & Sprays
Getting rid of aphids, if you play it smart, does not have to be a terrible ordeal. There are about a million and a half products available that kill aphids. The most common and effective types are IGRs, insecticidal soaps and oils, and pyrethrins. IGRs, or insect growth regulators, can work in several ways. They can mimic juvenile hormones so the aphid doesn’t reach sexual maturity, they can interfere with the production of chitin for the exoskeleton, and they can interfere with the process of molting. Azatin, Enstar AQ, Neemix and Preclude are all effective IGRs. If you want to use something a little less harsh for controlling aphids, you may wish to look into insecticidal soaps and oils such as Safer Insecticidal Soap (which you can get at Amazon), Bon-neem Insecticidal Soap or any horticultural oil. These products are sprayed directly onto plants and aphids and work by trapping and suffocating, washing away the aphid’s protective waxy coating or by altering the permeability and structure of the cell membranes. This can cause the contents of cells to leak out, dehydrating the aphid. Pyrethrins are another type of aphid treatment that are commonly found in sprays. Pyrethrins are an extract of the chrysanthemum flower. Synthetic and equally effective forms are called pyrethroids. The brand Safer uses these in their insecticidal soaps. Bonide, Schultz and Pyola are other good brands. So, now you know how to get rid of aphids. Hop to.