When aphid populations explode, they can decimate plants. But if you catch them early, they’re pretty easy to get rid of with natural remedies. I’d much rather have them than leafminers.
Aphids, also called greenfly or blackfly, are 1 of the most common garden pests you’ll find, whether outside or inside.
Luckily, they’re really easy to identify and mostly harmless, except in large quantities. However, since they breed rapidly (female nymphs are born pregnant), they can get out of control if you don’t catch them early.
Some ants even farm aphids for the honeydew (a sticky sugar sap) that they produce. Ants protect the aphids from predators and milk them by stroking them with their antennae.
They may even gather and store aphid eggs over the winter. If you find ants crawling over your plants with some damage, then you probably have aphids. Get rid of the aphids, and you’ll get rid of the ants.
Aphids are tiny (under ¼-inch) soft-bodied insects that, while we most commonly think of green, can also be black, brown, pink, or almost colorless. Because of their green, almost transparent bodies, they’re hard to see unless you’re looking closely.
Their bodies are pear-shaped with long antennae, and most species of 2 tubes coming out their hind end.
Most aphids are wingless, but they may develop wings when conditions become too crowded. Then the winged aphids can fly to other food sources.
Like other common insect pests, aphids like to hide underneath leaves, so lift the leaves when checking your plants.
Host plants depend on the species of aphid. Some species feed on a lot of different plants, while others target specific host plants.
They may even prefer different host plants at different times of the year. With over 4400 species of aphids, there’s an aphid species that will feed on every plant or tree you have.
Aphids feed on sap, most commonly from leaves, but they can also attack stems, blossoms, and roots. Because aphids move from plant to plant, they may transmit viruses between plants.
Signs of aphid damage include:
- Shiny, golden, sticky spots on leaves (this is the honeydew)
- Transparent patches where aphids have fed
- Misshapen, curling, stunted, or yellowing leaves
- Misshapen or deformed flowers or fruit
- Galls on roots or leaves
- Ants milling about on plant leaves
In this video, Tricia offers some tips on keeping your organic vegetable garden free of aphids:
All the following natural solutions will work on your outdoor garden. If aphids have infested a houseplant, then spray cold water, soap, water, rubbing alcohol, or neem oil.
Sometimes aphids just need a little encouragement to leave your plant alone. Spraying the leaves with cold water will get them gone in a hurry.
My favorite trick is to mix water with glycerin soap and spray leaves, especially underneath the leaves. Reapply every 2 or 3 days for 2 weeks. The fatty acids in the soap will dissolve the insects’ exoskeleton, causing dehydration.
If soap and water are not enough, try spraying with rubbing alcohol, that’s at least 70%. You’ll need to talk to the pharmacist to get the good stuff, as it’s usually kept behind the pharmacy desk.
Go easy on the leaves when applying and target where the aphids are. Rubbing alcohol is pretty hard on a plant. You may even want to test it out on one leaf first.
Ladybugs and lacewings prey on aphids, and so long as you have a healthy population, they’ll keep aphids and other garden pests under control.
Plants that encourage ladybugs and lacewings include:
- Sweet Alyssum
Depending on your current situation, you may also want to order ladybugs online.
Before releasing the ladybugs at dusk or the early evening, Mist plants encourage them to stick around long enough to take care of the aphids. Growing their favorite plants will also help keep them around even after the aphids are gone.
Frogs and toads also eat aphids and other garden pests (as well as beneficial insects), so if you find a frog or toad living near your garden, make a toad house.
You can repel aphids naturally by interplanting with a few specific plants:
- Catnip (although you may end up with more neighborhood cats)
- Nasturtium near fruit trees (it ruins the taste of fruit tree sap)
- Nasturtium near broccoli
- Garlic and chives when planted around lettuce, peas, and rose bushes
Or grow mustard and nasturtium as trap plants. Aphids love these 2 plants, so they’ll head straight for them and leave your other plants alone.
However, you need to keep checking your trap plants to see if they’re infested and apply treatment, or they’ll end up migrating to your other plants, anyway.
If none of the above works, then it’s time to pull out the big guns. These 2 solutions will work on many insects, including any butterflies you’re trying to attract, which is why it’s a last-case solution.
Diatomaceous earth is made of a sharp powder that cuts through the soft-bodied insects and causes dehydration. It’s human and pet safe, however, wear a mask and keep pets and small children away when working with dry diatomaceous earth. Always use food-grade.
A neem oil spray will coat aphid bodies which causes them to smother and die. It’ll also keep other soft-bodied insects at bay.
While aphids can cause a lot of damage, with a few precautionary methods, like attracting beneficial insects and a few simple natural remedies, like soap, rubbing alcohol, and simply spraying them off, you can keep them at bay.