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When it comes to houseplants and outdoor garden spaces, there are a number of factors that can come into play and cause damage to those plants. This can be through common mistakes such as overwatering. But it can also be the result of dealing with pests of some sort.
If you enjoy having plants in your home or have a garden outside, there is a strong chance that you have dealt with aphids before. These tiny black or light green insects are known as plant lice or greenflies. They can also be brown, white, gray, or yellow in color.
Aphids are less than a quarter inch in length and are typically found on the bases of stems, backs of leaves, on fruits and flower buds, and can even be found on roots depending on what species of aphid you are dealing with.
A pain they may be, aphids can be controlled in many different ways. One of the most common ways is using a chemical spray to get rid of them.
But there are many who are wary of using chemicals in their garden. After all, many of them contain ingredients that can be dangerous to the plant, the soil, or to people.
Thankfully, there are natural ways to get rid of this little (quite literally) insect problem and allow your plants, fruits, and vegetables to grow freely and without harassment. The aphid has several natural enemies, too.
This can include insect larvae, other types of insects, and birds. Since they are slow movers, that makes them easy targets for natural predators or removal methods that may be implemented.
Keep in mind, however, that aphids reproduce quickly. What may begin as a small problem can grow into a rather large one before you know it. So, it might take a couple of treatments or a combination of different methods to get them completely under control.
The key with aphid removal is to be patient and persistent. Even if it takes a little extra time to begin to see results, you will be able to get rid of those nasty little pests before long.
Here are a few natural ways you can keep your aphid problem under control.
Know the Enemy
To properly combat aphids, it is important to know more about them. The first thing to know is that aphids tend to feed on branches, soft stems, fruit, and buds.
Generally, they like tender new growth that is easier to eat than some of the established, tougher foliage that a plant can offer.
They actually manage to pierce the stem and suck out the sap which is rich in nutrients. This is how plants end up looking either yellowed or curled in nature. Sucking out the sap can also result in deformed flowers and damaged fruit, too.
Most aphids out there aren’t picky, either. They will feed on whatever is available but there are some types of aphids that will only feast on certain kinds of plants.
Moreover, aphids don’t like to eat by themselves. This is why you will see them in large groups on various parts of the plant.
Depending on how serious the infestation is, they can actually cause major damage to not only individual plants, but entire crops if they are left unchecked.
Aphids will produce several generations in just one year and it is all too common that infestations get out of hand in short order. The key is to treat them early if at all possible, before they really get the opportunity to reproduce.
This can also make a serious difference when it comes to controlling an aphid problem. They also will carry viruses with them, spreading them from plant to plant, and can prove to be fatal to certain crops such as grains, potatoes, and citrus plants.
Aphids will also secrete a substance that is sticky in nature known as honeydew. Honeydew attracts ants, so there is a good chance that following ants will lead to an infestation of aphids.
Ants are actually known to protect aphids from their natural predators and can herd them into colonies to harvest that honeydew more effectively. Honeydew is also the kind of environment that is good for soot mold to both manifest and spread.
Generally speaking, most kinds of aphids will lay their eggs in the colder months of the year and then hatch them in the springtime. In warmer climates, though, aphids can be a real problem throughout the year, so keep an eye on them if you live in warmer areas.
There are also aphids that can reach down to the roots, causing damage, yellowing the leaves, and keeping those plants from thriving. Root aphids are most common in plants that have mildew, root rot, and a plethora of other diseases.
Unfortunately, above-ground treatments aren’t possible to get rid of root aphids. Also unfortunate is that root aphids can be problems for both indoor and outdoor plants.
There are a few specific methods that you will want to implement to get rid of root aphids. Again, using methods that you would use on above-ground aphids will not work for root aphids.
The first is to find natural predators. For plants that are outdoors, birds can eat the aphid eggs. Parasitic wasps will also target the aphid eggs and ladybugs will eat any of the aphids that make it to the top of the soil.
Introducing beneficial nematodes into your soil can help to protect against aphids and any other pests that are soil-borne. Even better, this will work without harming beneficial insects such as earthworms and they can be introduced on both outdoor and indoor plants.
You will also want to prevent any potential spread of infestation. Repotting or transferring a plant that has an aphid infestation can just spread the problem to other plants that are in the nearby area.
The last thing you want is to have an aphid problem in one area and to bring it with you into another area, creating a larger infestation issue.
Lastly, you can use neem oil. It won’t actually result in those root aphids dying, but it can keep them away and prevent any potential infestation from beginning to spread.
As you will see, part of handling aphids is simply managing the infestation and keeping it at levels that aren’t dangerous or detrimental to the plants as a whole.
Whether above or below the ground, aphids can become a serious issue for some of the plants both in your garden and home.
Keep a watchful eye when you water and tend to your plants. That is when you will likely see the aphids in action, giving you enough time to take action and get rid of them or at least handle them in a manageable way.
Remove Them by Hand
There are two methods of removing the aphids manually. The first is by using your hose. Using a stronger stream from your hose can be enough to knock the aphids from the various portions of the plant they inhabit.
The most effective time to use this method would be early in the season. This is generally before infestations will wind up taking hold and means that you can get rid of the problem before it becomes a major problem.
If you have more delicate plants, it might not be a good idea to use this method. It could result in leaves being pulled off and can even bend the entirety of the plant depending on what it is.
Be aware of the structural integrity of your plants before using this method. But for plants that can stand up to higher water pressure, this is a good method to get rid of those pesky aphids.
You can also try literally removing them by hand. Throw on some garden gloves and start knocking them off of the leaves, stems, flower buds, and any other areas where you see them setting up shop. You’re not just knocking them down, though.
Make sure that when you clear them from these areas, you knock them into a bucket filled with soapy water. This will kill them and keep them from simply escaping only to come back again.
Another variation of this method is that you can prune or cut off the areas that are greatly impacted and simply drop them into the bucket. This has two benefits: you get rid of the aphid problem and you can also effectively prune off the bad areas of the plant in question.
Organic and Natural Sprays
Neem oil has organic compounds in it that can act as a natural repellant for both aphids and other kinds of insects. This can include cabbage worms, mealy bugs, ants, beetles, leafminers, and a number of caterpillars.
The downside to using neem oil is that it could keep beneficial insects away. These are the kinds of insects that have positive impacts on the soil or the plants directly, so use caution and know where they are before implementing neem oil.
Also, follow the directions explicitly when it comes to properly diluting the neem oil into a spray.
Another effective (and homemade) aphid spray can be made using just a few tablespoons of liquid soap like castile mixed into a small bucket or container of water. You will want to avoid using products or detergents that have moisturizers or degreasers in them, however.
When your mixture has been concocted, pour it into a spray bottle and spray it directly onto the aphids as well as the parts of the plant impacted. Be certain to properly soak the underside of the laves. This can be a breeding ground for things such as eggs and larvae to both hide and grow.
The soap works to dissolve the outer layer on the aphids and soft-bodied insects that are meant to protect them. Eventually, this will kill them.
Even better, it doesn’t harm any birds or hard-bodied insects that are actually beneficial to some plants such as pollinating bees, lacewings, or ladybugs. There are also insecticidal soaps that can be purchased that are basically this concoction.
Another growing trend is the use of essential oils. While they are generally being used for aromatherapy and other health uses, they can be used as a natural insect treatment. Clove, rosemary, peppermint, and thyme are the most common essential oils to use in instances like this.
Use a handful of drops, four or five, and mix it in with some water in a spray bottle to properly dilute it. Then, all you do is spray it onto the areas that have been impacted.
The spray will not only target the larger, adult aphids, but the larvae and eggs as well. It will kill off the aphids that are already there and repel any future aphids from coming back.
Natural Predator Deployment
As mentioned previously, there are many natural predators to the aphid that can either eliminate them or keep them from coming back. The ladybug is one of those beneficial insects that was mentioned earlier.
Keep in mind that adult ladybugs won’t eat quite as many aphids as ladybugs that are in their larvae stage. People who implement ladybugs for this reason tend to be disappointed that the ladybugs aren’t controlling the aphids quite as well as they thought. This is the reason why.
The key here is that the aphid population has to be fairly large. This will not only give the ladybug ample targets but it will give them time to mate and lay eggs.
Again, the larvae are the ones that eat the most aphids, so giving them time to reproduce can be highly beneficial to keep the aphids away.
If you do use ladybugs, there are a couple of things to keep in mind. For better results, you will want to mist the plants lightly before releasing the ladybugs. This will encourage them to stay hydrated, preventing them from dying due to a lack of moisture.
You should also deploy your ladybugs at cooler times of the day. They do better with a cool space to work and will likely hide during the hotter parts of the day.
You may also want to repeat the application process as you need to since ladybugs will probably fly away within the first couple of days. For larger infestations, that can mean needing to redeploy your ladybugs a few times.
Green lacewings are similar to ladybugs in many ways. They naturally eat aphids, but the larvae do more of the eating and controlling of the aphids than fully grown adults do. Like ladybugs, you can purchase them both online or even at a local nursery in some instances.
Lastly, birds can be used to keep the aphid population under control. You will need to provide housing for birds that eat bugs, things such as chickadees and wrens, so that they can live near the space of the infestation.
In return for the housing, they will return the favor by eating a variety of insects that can be detrimental to your garden or plants.
To further the bird solution, you can grow a couple of small trees or shrubs around the garden area. This will not only give them cover but provide space for them to build nests in.
That means that they will stay in the area and keep the population of pests well under control.
Make Sure You’re Growing the Right Plants
If you’re aware of aphids and the problems they create, you can actually begin combating the issue by planting the right kinds of plants to begin with. There are plants that naturally attract those beneficial insects (which eat the aphids) or that have natural repellents that will keep the aphids away.
There are even trap plants that can lure the aphids away from the plants that you actively want to protect. Keep your garden free of any dead plant materials that can both attract and harbor those aphid eggs that can lead to infestation over the wintertime.
The plants that naturally attract beneficial insects are yarrow, fennel, mint, clover, and dill. The ones that repel aphids are onions, chives, garlic, allium, and even catnip if you have cats in your home. Lastly, the trap plants can include mustard, asters, dahlias, zinnias, cosmos, and nasturtium.
Do not plant roses if you don’t want aphid problems. Aphids absolutely love roses and can begin to manifest rather quickly, so if you plant rose bushes, keep an eye on them.
They gather both on and below the leaves and rosebuds, so you may need to take preventative measures to keep your rose bushes safe from an aphid infestation.
Whatever the case, knowing that aphids are there can be part of the path to a solution. Taking preventative measures and keeping them from growing into a full-blown infestation can be enough.
Anything that you can do to protect your plants is important when it comes to aphids.