I’ve always been quite lucky to not have to worry about too many pests in my garden. I’m not sure how I’ve avoided this common predicament – it’s something I hear echoed by so many gardeners near me. They struggle with all kinds of garden pests, including cabbage worms, cutworms, and of course – aphids.
I’ve experienced the devastating results of aphids from time to time, but luckily, I’ve always been able to get rid of them by implementing a few simple natural methods of control.
I firmly believe that the best way to get rid of garden pests is to consider what’s attracting them there in the first place -and then use that “intel” to keep them out!
Here are some of the best methods of aphid control you can follow – as well as tips for eliminating an infestation if it does happen to arise.
What Are Aphids?
If your gardens’ plants look stunted or have leaves that are yellowing, curling, or shriveling, aphids could be to blame.
You’ll want to do some research and exploration around your plants, of course, since the symptoms of an aphid infestation often mimic those of other garden problems, like underwatering or overwatering.
However, if these two issues are not to blame for your garden’s sudden demise, aphids might be the culprit.
Aphids are small, quarter-inch long garden pests that have pear-shaped bodies that are soft and usually red, brown, white, green, or yellow. These pests suck the sap out of your plants and feed voraciously, destroying their buds, leaves, flowers, stems, roots, fruits, and more.
Unfortunately, aphids reproduce rapidly, producing multiple generations in a single season. Once you finally spot these irritating little bugs on your plants, it’s probably too late – you have a full-blown infestation on your hands.
No matter how big or small your garden might be, there’s a good chance that you’ve had to deal with aphids from time to time. Often referred to as greenflies and plant lice, these pests move slowly, but can cause some serious destruction.
Usually, aphids are wingless. They can occasionally develop wings when their populations become overcrowded, and food is scarce. The wings help them travel to new plants.
There are all kinds of aphids, each of which feeds on a variety of plants. Some of the most common include cabbage aphids, green peach aphids, bean aphids, and woolly apple aphids.
Signs of an Aphid Infestation
There are several signs of an aphid infestation that you should be on the lookout for.
Both adult and nymph aphids feed on plants, attacking all the parts they can get to. Many aphids prefer new, succulent growth, while others will feed on just one part of a plant.
Either way, you’ll want to be on the lookout for leaves that are stunted, yellowed, curling, or misshapen.
You may also want to check the fruits and flowers. These, too, can become deformed or distorted. Some species of aphids cause galls to form on your leaves and roots, too.
Usually, you’ll notice widespread damage, either to individual plants or entire crops. They leave behind a sticky substance as they feed. This substance is known as honeydew, and it attracts ants.
This is one of the biggest things to be aware of when you are dealing with an aphid infestation. When you have aphids in the garden, you don’t just have aphids – you also have ants.
The ants feed on the honeydew and then also protect aphids from their natural predators, herding them into tight colonies so they can harvest the honeydew more easily.
Not only that, but the honeydew left behind by aphids creates a favorable environment for sooty mold to spread and grow. This alone is enough to kill your plants. There are even certain viruses that can be spread by aphids.
Aphids can overwinter and hatch in the spring, but in warmer climates, you may have to deal with aphids year-round.
Not usually known to dine alone, aphids tend to feed in groups. If you see one aphid, there’s a good chance that there are hundreds more nearby. Treat your infestation early, as it’s easy for a problem to grow rapidly out of hand.
Aphids can attack any kind of plant, but roses are known to be exceptionally vulnerable. They can kill your roses rapidly, and will destroy all parts of your plants – they are more or less indiscriminate killers.
How to Prevent an Aphid Infestation
Clean Things Up
At the end of each growing season, it’s important that you take the time to clean up your garden. Make sure you remove any dead plant matter, as this can harbor aphid eggs. They have been known to overwinter.
Introduce Beneficial Insects
One of the easiest ways to prevent aphids from becoming problematic in your garden is to introduce beneficial insects.
There are all kinds of creatures, including lacewings, lady beetles, and parasitic wasps, that are more than happy to make a meal of the aphids in your garden. You can encourage them to stop by for dinner in a variety of ways.
The easiest way is to grow a few flowering ground cover plants, like stonecrop and cosmos. Both of these supply nectar for the entire growing season and are very attractive to pollinators as well as ladybugs and lacewings. They’ll attract these insects, who will then also feed on aphids.
Other plants you can grow to attract aphid predators include clover, mint, yarrow, fennel, and dill.
If you want to invite them in more quickly, you can buy them online, and then just release them into your garden that way.
When you release insects into your garden, do so at the cooler times of day, like the early morning. Mist your plants with water before you release them, too. This will encourage them to stop by for a drink. When they do, they’ll probably find some aphids to munch on, too.
There are several plants you can grow that will naturally repel aphids. In fact, I think it’s this method of aphid control that has been the most successful in my garden, even though I didn’t necessarily do it intentionally!
Plants like sage, chives, oregano, leeks, onions, and garlic all give off very strong aromas. If you plant these in spots of your garden where aphids have been problematic, you won’t have to worry about them anymore.
You can also grow “trap crops,” which are plants that attract aphids instead of repel them. The idea here is to plant these crops far away from the plants that are being devastated by aphids.
Growing things like nasturtiums and calendulas will draw aphids away from your more vulnerable plants. Other trap plants to grow include asters, mustard, cosmos, dahlias, and zinnias.
Companion planting is another way you can keep aphids at bay. It requires some long term planning, but is a great way to control aphids in the garden nonetheless.
Be Careful When Moving Plants
As you’re moving plants to and from your garden, be mindful of what you are doing with them. Try not to drop any soil, either, as this can spread an aphid infestation without you realizing it.
Don’t compost plants that were damaged by aphids (the eggs can sometimes survive), but instead throw them out.
You can even track aphids into new parts of the garden with your shoes, so you need to be very careful about sanitation if you want to prevent an aphid problem from occurring.
How to Get Rid of Aphids
First, hose the plants down. You can often kill a large number of aphids simply by covering them with a strong stream of water from your garden hose.
Spray water all over your plant, being sure to target the bottom of each leaf. Repeat every few days or so until you’ve gotten rid of all the aphids.
Be patient, though, as this can take up to two weeks.
You can also simply walk among your plants and pull them off by hand. Don’t just release them onto the ground, though – drop each one into a bucket of warm, soapy water. This should kill them instantly.
You may want to prune damaged areas of your plants and drop the entire piece into the bucket, too.
Use a DIY Insecticidal Soap
If spraying your plants every day to get rid of aphids just isn’t practical, don’t worry – your list of options doesn’t end there. You can also make a homemade insecticidal soap out of liquid dish soap.
You’ll just mix a few teaspoons of soap with a quart of water. Then, wipe the solution onto all the infested parts of the plants.
When you do this, you’ll want to be mindful of where the bugs like to hide. Aphids are known for hiding out between plant leaves and on their undersides, so make sure you thoroughly coat every last inch of the plant.
Don’t worry – the dish soap won’t harm the plants. However, what it will do is dry out the bodies of these soft-bodied pests. It will kill them almost instantly.
To make sure you’ve reached every last one, continue applying your dish soap mixture every couple of days for a few weeks. That way, you can be sure you’ve totally killed all the aphids on your plants.
Use Diatomaceous Earth
Diatomaceous earth is a natural compound made out of the crushed-up, fossilized pieces of microorganisms. It is non-toxic, and doesn’t pose any hazards to pets or gardeners.
However, when soft-bodied insects like aphids crawl across an application of DE, they become desiccated and die very quickly.
If you use diatomaceous earth, you will want to apply it in a perimeter around your plants. Try not to apply when your plants are in bloom, though, as it can kill any pollinators that happen to stop by, too.
Try Neem Oil
Neem oil contains natural compounds that can help repel all kinds of insects, like leafminers, beetles, mealy bugs, ants, cabbage worms, caterpillars, and of course, aphids.
You will want to apply neem oil after diluting it in water. You can then spray the affected areas of your plants.
Neem oil is also known as one of the best ways to control various fungal diseases, but keep in mind that it can repel some pollinators and beneficial insects you might want around, too.
Spray Essential Oils
You can also make your own aphid control spray with essential oils. Some of the best options for controlling aphids include rosemary, clove, thyme, and peppermint.
Just mix a few droplets with some water in a small spray bottle, then apply to the affected plants. This method will not only get rid of adult aphids, but it can kill their eggs and larvae, too.
If you’re really getting frustrated by aphids, just kick back and have a drink.
Kidding of course (just a little!) but keep in mind that aphids can be controlled by using alcohol. You’ll want to use rubbing alcohol or isopropyl alcohol for best results.
Make sure it doesn’t have any additives and then mix equal parts of alcohol and water to create an effective insecticide spray.
When you use this spray, only apply it first thing in the morning (if you apply when the sun’s beating down on your plants, it can dry them out and kill them).
Aphid Control the All-Natural Way
There are plenty of pesticides you can use to get rid of aphids, but I don’t necessarily recommend them. Systemic pesticides, particularly those that are meant to be used on a wide assortment of garden pests, will definitely get rid of aphids for you.
However, they’ll also kill other insects that you might not mind having around, including beneficial pollinators like butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds.
Aphids can easily be controlled with natural methods – I’ve always found the least toxic methods of aphid control to also be the most effective. With a little bit of patience, you can easily eliminate these pesky pests from your garden for good!
Rebekah is a high-school English teacher n New York, where she lives on a 22 acre homestead. She raises and grows chickens, bees, and veggies such as zucchini (among other things).