Fewer things in life are more enjoyable than growing your own plants. From showy annuals to hardy perennials, the plants we choose to put in our garden bring a lot of joy. Even taking care of plants is a lot of fun, and gives us a reason to be outside taking in the fresh air. But there’s one aspect of continuous plant care that is arguably the most frustrating part of plant parenthood — aphid management.
If you’ve been growing plants for any time at all, you are likely very familiar with the sight (and resulting effects) of aphids. Not only are these creatures some of the biggest downfalls of our prized plants, but they can turn into cyclical issues that limit the growth and expansion of our home gardens.
It can be extremely tempting to use high-powered chemicals or strong pesticides to address aphids around the garden. However, high concentrate toxins are not always the best solution for insect-based problems, especially not for growers who intend to eat, cook, or sell their plants. So what else can be done about aphids in the yard? Glad you asked!
Today, we are going to take a closer look at these garden-destroying pests, and outline some of the ways to control their numbers without using harmful chemicals. We’ll discuss:
- The nature of aphids
- Why avoid harmful pesticides
- 10 ways to control aphids naturally
- What to do if aphids keep coming back
Identifying an Aphid Problem
Sometimes referred to as a ‘sap-sucking’ soft-bodied insect, aphids are a type of plant pest that destroys vegetation from the inside out. By injecting their mouthparts into the soft stems of plants, these insects drink the nutrient-rich fluids flowing inside your flowers, herbs, and vegetables. One aphid’s feeding is not likely to affect your garden in any significant way, but multiple aphids will begin to stress your plants significantly, even to the point of killing them. Even carnivorous plants can struggle with aphids!
Plants affected by aphid attacks may show tell-tale signs of insect presence:
- Misshapen or curling leaves
- Yellow-patterned plants
- Sticky leaves or steams from honeydew (aphid secretions)
These signs and symptoms may be too ambiguous to identify aphids right away, especially during the hot and bug-heavy summer season. Here are a few easy ways to identify aphids while active on your plants.
- Small pear-shaped insects (less than 1/4 an inch in size)
- Six legs, a pair of antenna, and long cornicles (small tubes on their abdomen)
- Pests that seem to hide on the undersides of leaves
- Waxy or wooly exoskeletons
- Colors that range from white, black, and brown to yellow, green, and pink
Once you have positive confirmation of aphids on your property, you can set to work finding ways to get them out of your lawn. You can choose one of two paths: pesticides or natural methods.
Why Controlling Aphids With Pesticides Is A Bad Idea
Is it possible to control aphids with over-the-counter chemicals? Yes, but it may not necessarily be the best possible option for you.
Pesticides are not miracles, and despite their packaging and marketing campaigns, they cannot always save you from pests like aphids.
At high concentrations, pesticides could severely affect the health and wellness of you, your pets, and your children. Worse, it can have negative reactions with rare pollinators and endangered plants around your property.
There are several other damaging effects of using pesticides in your yard:
- Less organic produce
- Short and long term health effects
- Soil contamination
- Groundwater pollution
- Harming vulnerable bees
- Stressing threatened biodiversity
If you do choose to use pesticides against aphids in your lawn, please seek responsible counsel with your nearest local extension office. However, if you would rather pursue natural methods of aphid control, continue reading.
10 Natural Ways To Control Garden Aphids
Preventing aphids with natural methods is a lot easier than you might think. Be warned: some natural materials can be dangerous or caustic without proper dilution. Be sure to wear gloves and eye protection while handling any substance. It’s better to be safe than sorry!
1. Spray leaves with water every morning and evening to blast aphids off the plant.
2. Mix Castile soap with water and spray plants every evening.
3. Use duct tape to hand-remove aphid eggs from the undersides of leaves.
4. Purchase predator bugs (like ladybugs, praying mantis, etc) and introduce them to your yard.
5. Dilute Neem oil and spray liberally on leaves. This will deter pests from feeding as regularly as before.
6. Prune or rip out heavily infested plants, wrapping them up for trash disposal immediately.
7. Clump together companion plants to deter pests (oregano, onions, leeks, etc).
8. Pick off aphids by hand and drop them into a bucket of soapy water.
9. Sacrifice some flowers to be your aphid trap plants. A few of their favorites are zinnias, cosmos, and nasturtiums.
10. Consider purchasing beneficial nematodes for use in your soil. Be sure to do research before making any commitments!
What If All Else Fails?
At the end of the day, these natural methods may not be able to control the high volume of aphids in your garden. If this is the case, you may need to take a more involved approach.
Integrated Pest Management, also known as IPM, may be a great place to start. You may be able to try some of these techniques on your own if you feel so inclined. Thankfully, you can also look for eco-friendly pest control specialists in your area to develop a plan of action. It all boils down to your time and ability, and how much you care about managing aphid populations in your yard.
The bottom line: be gentle with yourself. It may take some time to start seeing results from your natural aphid control methods, and if you aren’t willing to stick to a plan, you may not see much progress. Stay dedicated, work hard, and above all else, stay the course. Your plants will thank you very much.