How to Identify Aphids
Your prize winning roses are looking a little worn. Or the tomatoes and beans just aren’t what they should be. Be warned – you may be experiencing an aphid infestation. Aphids feast on many different plants, from flowering shrubs to vegetables, annuals and perennials. They even attack some trees. Wrinkled or wilted leaves and yellowing foliage are major indications that aphids are living in your garden.
These tiny, 1/10 inch long warriors are most often wingless. Interestingly, some can actually grow wings and fly away if their habitat becomes too crowded or uncomfortable. The winged aphids you see in the fall are likely males contributing to next year’s aphid population.
Female aphids hatch out of eggs that overwintered on your plants. After only ten days they can produce another generation of female aphids, which then produce another and so on. If left undeterred the population of these pests will balloon in a short time. Small aphid families are tolerated on hardier plants, but your flowers or vegetables will suffer when the crowd gets thick. Aphids suck sap out of the plant, causing puckered leaves and stilted growth. Some even deliver viruses directly to the host plant, opening the door to many other problems.
Attack these critters as soon as you suspect their presence. If you notice a parade of ants, they are likely after the sticky, sweet honeydew that aphids leave around during feeding. Honeydew is also a breeding ground for sooty mold – a harmless fungus that will detract from the host plant’s beauty. Watch for curled or cupped foliage and inspect the underside of leaves on a regular basis. Pay more attention during the spring so you’ll have a better chance to destroy them before too much damage occurs.
How to Treat Aphids Organically
Encouraging their natural predators is one way to attack aphids in the garden. Parasitic wasps, lady bug larvae, lacewings and spiders are some to have on your team. Refraining from pesticide use – which destroys these creatures – will help to keep a balance of predators in your garden.
You can physically remove aphids from the plants, one tiny bug at a time. If this nitpicking doesn’t suit your patience level, try spraying the infected plant directly with a hose. The force of the water will knock the aphids off and ground dwelling bugs will take over and consume the aphids. Rubbing the plant knocks the pests off as well. Pruning in late fall can deter the growth of the aphid population, as then you may be removing the overwintering eggs from the garden.
Aphids are strangely attracted to the color yellow. Aphid traps are often simply coated yellow materials that attract and catch the bug. Make one yourself with yellow card stock and petroleum jelly, but be sure to change it frequently. Some people use aluminum foil laid out at the base of the plant – the brightness confuses the pest as they try to land. Also available for vegetable gardens is a thinly woven mesh that covers the plants, allowing air, sunlight and water through, but deterring aphids.
Choose an organic method to combat aphids first. If that doesn’t succeed, try spot applications of insecticide soap or destroy eggs by applying dormant oil to plants in the fall.
Aphid infestation can cause serious damage to your garden, but take heart. There are ways to attack the pest with a watchful eye, some handiwork and a few, simple tricks. The bugs will never win.