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Aphids: Where They Come From and How to Treat Them


July 14, 2021

Small Aphids on Green Leaf

Have you ever been tending to your garden casually minding your business only to find an infestation of tiny little creatures on your plants? That, my friend, could be an aphid infestation. Those pests on the undersides of leaves of plants can be hard to kill because they produce so many eggs. It can be difficult to keep up with their fast rate of reproduction. 

Aphids feed on numerous plants such as eggplant, tomato, cucumber, and more. As they begin feasting on your precious plants, you may be completely unaware if you do not know to watch out for them. The aphid populations can grow almost unnoticed because they are so small. 

You may be wondering if they have any natural enemies or predators, how to control your plant’s aphid population, and minimize aphid feeding and reproducing in your garden. We will share a few fool-proof ways that you can get rid of aphids for the long haul, so take some notes and let us take a closer look at this tiny creature that can cause major destruction.

Where Do Aphids Come From?

Many Aphids on a Branch

Aphids can cause a lot of chaos and damage by sucking the sap out of your plants and significantly weaken your plants if you have an infestation on your hands. But, where do these troublesome bugs come from? 

Aphids are a worldwide phenomenon but are more commonly found in temperate zones. It might seem like aphids magically come out of nowhere simply to destroy your garden but chances are they have been there, traveled there, or were transported there long ago. 

Flying

Yes, aphids can fly. Not all aphids can fly, but it does not matter because the ones that can have a good chance of flying to a suitable plant host. Although they are tiny creatures, they are able to travel great distances too. 

Sometimes they do not even have to fly, they can just crawl or get blown by the wind from one plant to the next, ravaging their way through your entire garden without you even knowing it. Signs of an infestation include yellowed, twisted, and curled leaves, stunted shoots, and an overall unhealthy-looking plant.

Since aphids tend to hang out on the underside of leaves, or all over new rose stems and buds, you might not spot them feeding right away. Monitoring your plants early in the season can help prevent an infestation. You will often see aphids on perennial plants, vegetables, and fruits. 

Bringing Them Home

Aphids might already be feeding on the plants if you are buying the plants at the grocery store, nursery, or garden center. Take a good look and check in their favorite hiding/feeding spots before you buy. You might be able to see a visible aphid and can avoid the purchase right then and there. Then again, they can be so tiny and if you cannot see them right away, you may bring aphids home with you. 

You can always quarantine your plants in a particular area of the house or far away from any other plants in your garden to avoid spreading the aphid population in your garden. This is a good way to test the waters and have some element of initial aphid control and monitoring.

Your Own Garden

Aphids may already be having a feast in your garden for some time before anyone spots them or their trail of destruction in the form of damaged fruit and yellowed leaves. In some instances, aphids can mate and then produce eggs on the underside of leaves, then travel to new trees and shrubs for their next meal. 

The eggs are so minuscule, you might not even be able to see them until there is a full-blown infestation and then the aphid parents are already on their way to feed on a new plant. In just a few weeks, aphids can produce tens of thousands of little ones.

Plant Viruses 

Aphid numbers can multiply quickly and they may transmit viruses from plant to plant making it hard to stay ahead of them. Aphids can carry viruses on their mouthpart acquired from previous plants and transmit it to a new plant, infecting the garden you’ve been working so hard to care for. If they are already infected it does not take long to make a healthy plant into a sick one. 

Damage

If you only have a few aphids, they probably will not cause a significant weakening of your plants. If there is an aphid infestation with generations of pests and eggs, however, the plant, flowers, buds, or fruit can ultimately become deformed due to the aphid horde piercing several layers of plant tissue to reach their favorite meal: the phloem sap. Aphids may stunt plant growth altogether. You might notice a permanent curl to the leaves and an abundance of sticky honeydew that aphids excrete.

All About Aphids

Close Up of Aphids on a Plant

Aphids are small, soft-bodied insects that you see on a variety of plants, leaves, trees, and shrubs. Most aphids have a pair of tube-like projections on the abdomen, which are called cornicles. 

These voracious insects feed on the sap of plants. They produce something called honeydew which attracts ants. Ants can also help kill the natural predators of aphids, thereby, letting the aphid problem continue. 

Size

Aphids are tiny in size. Adults are usually under ¼-inch, about the size of a pinhead. The young ones might be impossible to see with the naked eye. Do not let their petite size fool you. Although it might not look like it, your plant could be heavily infested with aphid eggs just waiting to mature.

Species

There are over 4,000 different aphid species, all of which are attracted to particular plants. Some only feed on a single plant species, while others may not be as picky and feed on hundreds of plant species. 

In terms of appearance, aphids come in an array of colors such as white, black, brown, gray, yellow, light green, pink, all depending on the species of aphids. Some popular aphid species are green peach aphid (Myzus persicae), woolly apple aphid, black bean aphid, soybean aphid, and oleander aphid. 

Life Cycle

Aphids are somewhat complicated insects despite their miniature size. Their lifecycle can be a bit confusing. Depending on the aphid species as well as the season, aphids can give birth to live young or produce eggs. 

Once the leaf with the stem mother and her gaggle of babies becomes overcrowded, it is time to move on to a different host. 

Some adults develop winged forms to fly off in search of uncharted territory to suck more plant sap and spread the family even further. 

For the most part, they are annoying in low amounts, but in large quantities can completely weaken your plant through nutrient loss. Aphids are relatively slow so it is possible to manage if you have infested plants.

Natural Enemies

Lady Bugs and Aphids on Plant

Aphids may feed on a wide range of plants, but they do have natural enemies to keep them at bay. Insect predators like ladybugs or lady beetles, aphid lions, and lacewings are known to feed on aphids. There are also other helpful predatory insects that control aphid populations such as the many species of braconid wasps, soldier beetles (leather wing) and Damsel Bugs.

Ladybugs have a hankering for aphids and can feed on up to 50 a day. You can buy insects such as ladybugs online to get rid of aphids on plants. This is a great natural way to kill aphids. 

It is reassuring to know there are beneficial insects and that nature has ways to take care of herself. 

Honeydew

While tending to your garden, you might find that the leaf or tree has a sticky substance. This is a mark of the sap being sucked out by feeding aphids leaving what is called honeydew. 

The honeydew is a sugary liquid produced by insect waste. It is pretty gross if you think about it so try not to think about it too much. 

You might even see ants eating the leftover aphid sap, or even ants working with the aphids to protect them in exchange for the sticky honeydew sap. Honeydew might be dark brown or black in color since mold and fungi have been known to grow on it.

It is an interesting cycle that is beneficial for both the aphids and ants. Nature is quite unique that way, but you are probably wondering how in the world you can control aphids and kick them to the curb.

Ways to Get Rid of Aphids: How to Treat Them

These little soft-bodied insects can be difficult to kill, especially once their populations grow. You can find a bit of hope in knowing there are several ways to control them from sucking out the vital nutrients from your plants. We will share a few ways to control them and kill them, including plenty of natural options.

By Hand

Gently remove the aphids from the leaves by hand or with a wet paper towel. You will not want to damage the leaves any further than they are, so take your time to have a delicate touch. 

This method works particularly well if there is only a small amount of aphids on your tree or plants. You can wipe them off with the paper towel away or crush them between your fingers. You will not want to leave any survivors behind on your plant or they can multiply.

Water

Spraying Aphids With Bug Spray

Water always seems to do the trick. Use a strong spray of water to knock off as many aphids as possible. You would be surprised how many come off, and how easily. 

Depending on the size of your plant, you can spray them off using a hose or something smaller like a spray bottle if you have sensitive plants. Hose off the aphids a few times before trying different methods. You might be able to get rid of a decent amount of them with a few good tries.

Dish Soap

If water alone is not enough to combat the growth of multiple aphid populations, the next thing you can try is a little dish soap and water combination. 

Spray the leaves of the plant or the infested parts of the tree with a mild solution of water mixed with a couple drops of gentle dish soap. Keep the soapy water spray in a ready-to-use container and reapply every three or four days for a couple of tries. 

You do not want to damage the leaves too badly with overuse of soap. If aphids persist after a few uses, move on to the next method.

Companion Planting

There are so many great reasons to consider a companion planting for multiple types of plants in your garden. Pairing certain plants together can be beneficial, whether it is for reproduction, shade control, or getting rid of bugs and pests. 

Aphids do not like catnip or marigold if you want to plant something next to it to repel them. Aphids are attracted to mustard and nasturtium, which you can use as a lure to attract the aphids to snack on instead of your prized plant. 

Aphids will often take the bait and it might save a plant or two. You will want to check on your lure plants to make sure that the aphids do not hop onto the valued plant.

Neem Oil

Neem oil is pressed out of the seeds of the neem trees and can be used as a way to get rid of insects like aphids or mites.

Spray the neem oil onto your plants and leaves. It suffocates the aphids since they cannot breathe through the oil. It is an organic insecticide spray that is safe for humans to use, making it a great option for aphid control.

Bonide Neem Oil Spray, 32 oz.

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Cutting Back the Plant

Trimming Branches With Scissors

You might have to prune the plant or cut back some of the leaves in order to get rid of a particularly bad infestation or yellowed, curled, and twisted leaves. If you tried multiple options multiple times and you still find there are a lot of aphids, cutting off the infested entirely might be your best bet. 

Place the removed leaves in a bag and then immediately dispose of them. You will not want them hanging around your yard to fly off to the next plant.

Predators

Sometimes nature can take care of itself, including the beautiful harmony of companion planting. As we mentioned earlier, aphids have some natural enemies such as ladybugs or lady beetles, green lacewings, and even birds that eat bugs. You might be able to find ladybugs for purchase at your local nursery. You can buy green lacewing eggs online. 

Insect Killer

You can also opt for a fruit and vegetable insect killer to get rid of aphids on your plants. You will want to read the directions completely and check that it is okay to use on your particular plant.

There are organic aphid control sprays that do not contain synthetic chemicals so you can feel comfortable using them on your edible plants. Your plant will naturally break it down and will not damage it.

You can utilize other solutions such as wettable sulfur and lime sulfur that are effective at aphid control that, at the same time, control powdery mildew and other fungi.

Bayer Advanced Complete Insect Killer, 32 oz.

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Aphid Control

Closeup of Aphid

Keep a consistent eye on your plants because once there is a full-blown aphid infestation, it is hard to control them. Aphids and ants often team up together to protect the sweet honeydew created by feeding aphids. 

Aphids are powerful insects capable of stealing the plant’s nutritious sap wherever they go. You can find them all over trees, leaves, and a variety of plants. There are few natural ways to deter them and keep your garden free from aphids such as spraying soapy water or neem oil onto the plants.

Navigating these little insects can take a few tries since they can breed by way of live birth and by eggs. You never know if they have been in your backyard for months or for a couple of days. 

Aphids can be found all over the world and will not be going anywhere anytime soon. All you can do is keep a watchful eye, try a few removal and prevention options, and do your best. 

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