If you have plants, you might have aphids at some point. They’re one of the most common pests found in gardens, and while they’re tiny, they can do a serious number on your plants.
To keep your garden growing strong, here’s everything you need to know about these pesky little critters, and how to get rid of aphids for good.
Aphids are small—so small, in fact, that you likely won’t see them unless you’re looking for them.
What are aphids, anyway?
“You’ll know you have aphids by looking at your plants’ leaves, specifically the undersides,” says Kevin Espiritu, founder of Epic Gardening. “Aphids like to cluster together.”
Aphids are soft-bodied, pear-shaped insects with long antennae. They’re colorful little buggers and come in a variety of hues, including white, brown, yellow, pink, and black, but they’re most commonly green. While they can be found anywhere in the United States where there are plants, they like temperate and tropical climates the best, and they come out strongest in the spring.
Signs of an aphid infestation
Regina Caligiuri, an alternative gardening expert with Maximum Off Grid, says although aphids can be hard to spot, there are some telltale signs that will help you identify an infestation.
“Holes in leaves, yellowing leaves, deformed leaves, the dying of young shoots are all signs of aphid attack,” she says. “Oftentimes, you can spot them in clusters by turning over leaves or spotting clusters where the leaf meets the stalk of the plant.”
While there are a ton of species of aphids (4,400-plus), only a fraction of them—about 250—are destructive to common garden plants.
“They suck the sap out of your plants’ leaves, and the plants die,” Espiritu says.
What plants do aphids eat?
So, why did they pick your garden? Aphids can enter your garden when you bring in new plants that are already infested. And some species of aphids can fly, making it easy for a swarm to make a new home in your garden.
While they can feed on any type of plant, some species of aphids have evolved to specialize in specific plants such as bean aphids, green peach aphids, apple aphids, cabbage aphids, potato aphids, and melon aphids. They also tend to proliferate on unhealthy specimens.
“You have them because, well, pests like plants,” Espiritu says. “But plants that are sick or less than healthy typically have them more often, similar to how a person with a weakened immune system gets sick more often. You can also get them more often if you don’t have an abundance of other beneficial insects that munch on your aphids.”
“It could also be that the plant is weak, the soil is too dry, or the plant is growing out of season,” adds Kevin Rodrigues, founder of GardeningMentor.com.
How to get rid of aphids
The bad news: Aphids multiply quickly. The good news: In most cases, getting rid of aphids is pretty easy. In fact, all you might need is water.
“The easiest way to get rid of aphids is to splash them with a stream of water from a hose,” Rodrigues says. “Make sure to target all parts of the plant to get all of them off.”
Caligiuri says adding some cayenne pepper to soapy water adds an extra aphid knockout punch. But will that harm your plants? Probably not.
“Cayenne and soap are not harmful to plants, but test it on a few leaves first before spraying the whole plant,” she says. “If you are spraying on your vegetables, make sure to rinse thoroughly before eating so you don’t get a mouthful of spicy dish soap.”
You can also dust the affected plants with flour, which deters the aphids from feeding off them.
Spraying plants with organic insecticidal soap can help, too. Apply it every two or three days until you don’t see any more signs of aphids.
How to prevent aphids from taking over your garden
Your best bet is to keep aphids from entering your garden in the first place. Introducing ladybugs to your garden might help as they feed off aphids.
Espiritu says diatomaceous earth and neem oil are also good aphid repellants. Diatomaceous earth, while harmless to humans and pets, is made up of finely powdered shells that slice the bodies of insects that crawl over it when it’s dusted on the surface of plants. Neem oil can also be used on the surface of the plants where it smothers aphids to death and keeps them from coming back.
Rodrigues says you can also add some plants to your garden that can help prevent an aphid infestation.
“You can consider growing flowering plants like cosmos and stonecrop,” Rodrigues says. “These attract beneficial insects like lady beetles, lacewings, and parasitic wasps that feast on the aphids. There are also plants like garlic, onion, oregano you can grow in the garden. These have a strong smell and can deter aphid attacks.”
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