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Aaarrgghh!.... APHIDS!

Updated on October 12, 2013

advice from the front lines of the aphid battle!

One of the most common garden pests is the aphid. Many fruits and vegetables can be easily damaged by this small insect. However there are a variety of natural pest control techniques that can make managing your aphid infestation much easier and lessen the impact on your summer garden. And don't forget, aphids HATE winter, so over-wintering some veggies may be your best bet!

The real "trick" to dealing with aphids is to catch the problem early before they spread throughout your entire garden. Most often aphids start in one section or on a favorite plant and then as the population grows, they expand their range all over your flowers and veggie beds. Making a daily survey of the garden is key, as aphids start out on the undersides of leaves. It's easy to miss them if you aren't paying attention and they will quickly go from being on one plant to several and then from there they just keeping advancing.

My Aphid Battle Techniques

Although it's early in the gardening season, we've already found aphids in our garden.

One of the biggest reasons the backyard gardener gets aphids is that no one really has enough room to practice proper crop rotation. This involves letting areas lie fallow (unused) for a season or two, planting cover crops that deter pests and replenish soil nutrients. At my house, that would pretty much amount to not gardening for a year or two. So, we vary and rotate our crops as much as we can, and battle the aphids as we go.

If you've got some aphids on indoor plants, it's often really easy to just squish them with your fingers. They look like teeny green specs, almost not big enough to be insects. I had a housemate once who grew orchids and this was her preferred method for dealing with them. She said it relieved her stress too.

Spraying the aphids off of outdoor plants with a strong stream of water is also an organic method of pest control. This works well if you have larger and better established plants, and not just little seedlings or starts. Further down this lens you can also find insecticidal soaps, which are organic for humans and plants, but still lethal to aphids.

There are also beneficial insects that love to eat aphids. Ladybugs and green lacewings are the most common. We're going to release ladybugs into our garden this summer and see how that helps.

You can also plant "trap crops" as a way of dealing with aphids.

Take a close look at an Aphid

Take a close look at an Aphid
Take a close look at an Aphid

Try Some Mantids

Try Some Mantids
Try Some Mantids
photo by euryale sinclair
photo by euryale sinclair

Praying Mantises

fight aphids by having them eaten

Mantids (or mantises) are insects which will eat aphids, much like ladybugs do. The best way to use these beneficial insects is to buy the unhatched egg cases and then let them hatch in your garden. As we get a lot of aphids in my backyard on the poppy flowers we grow, I'm going to nestle these in with the growing poppies, in the thick of the leaves so that hopefully when they hatch (about 2-4 weeks after it warms up enough) the baby mantids will come out and find an aphid buffet waiting for them.

A friend of mine raised mantids once so I know from his experience that about half the babies will be green and the other half will be brown. This is just a genetic coin flip but it work to make sure that some of the newborn mantises are the right color to stay camouflaged in the garden until they get large enough to not wind up as snacks themselves.

Tips for Using Ladybugs

Ladybugs love to eat aphids, so they are a nice element to have in the battle against aphids. An adult can eat up to 50 aphids per day. I got some at our local garden center and the woman at their info desk helpfully gave me some tips on releasing them into my garden. Here is a picture I took of the mesh bag with the bugs in it.

Ladybugs are kept in refrigerators by commercial garden centers to keep them in a state of hibernation. When they come out of the cold and go into the garden, their instincts are to fly around, find a mate, get busy and then lay eggs. It's this second generation of bugs from the laid eggs that really are the aphid-eating army the gardener is trying to establish.

She suggested I release the ladybugs in the evening and to spread them around in the garden near where we have our vegetables. She also suggested that I not release them all at once, but instead to put half in the garden, then put the rest back in the fridge, then do a second release several days later. This helps distribute the bugs in the garden and helps insure that some of them stay and make baby bugs before flying off or being eaten by something larger.

The ladybug life cycle goes from egg to larvae to pupa to adult, with each stage taking between one and three weeks each, depending on weather conditions. So if the ladybugs I release successfully mate and lay eggs, we'll get resident lady bugs being born from the end of June through August.

Garden Videos about Aphids

Trap Crops

give the aphids what they want,so that you can get rid of them

If you can't beat an aphid, you can try joining it!

The theory behind trap cropping is that since bugs really love certain plants, you can use that love to lure the aphids away from other plants you're trying to grow. Trap crops can be planted right next to the regular crops, or in areas that are a bit away from what you are trying to protect.

Two of the plants that work best for this are nasturtiums and marigolds: they are lovely flowers and aphids go crazy for them. What you want to do is mix these blossoms in with your vegetables or plant them very nearby, and then when the aphids infest the flowers, you pull them up and dispose of them, aphids and all. By disposal, I mean you bag up the infested plants and throw them in the garbage. If you try to compost these bugs, they'll just leave the pile and go back to your garden.

You'll want to have successive plantings of the flowers so that you have grown ones to immediately replace the infested ones that get taken out of the garden.

Growing During the Aphid Off-Seasons

over-wintering vegetable crops

When I was growing up, I always thought of summer as the time when you gardened and never really gave a thought to the rest of the year. Now, as an adult who is interested in gardening, I've learned that there's a lot of gardening that goes on year-round, and this can be useful when fighting that backyard aphid!

Summer is prime aphid time, that's just a fact of weather. However, if you have certain crops that are really being attacked by aphids, you might want to investigate if it would work in your zone to grow some varieties in fall or over-winter. Fall and winter crops are planted late in summer or in the fall, and the vegetables mature during the cooler months or get established, take a few months off and then really get growing during the spring.

You may have to work more to protect plant seedlings that get going during late summer so that they can get a good enough of a headstart against the present insect population, but you'll have a lot less bugs to battle if you explore cool weather gardening! Once the first frost happens, the aphid population goes way down. Look for winter varietals of your summer faves and look into options like cold frames and cloches too.

How do you deal with Aphids in your garden?

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    • profile image

      StrongMay 5 years ago

      I now live in the city, so I don't have a yard. But this is interesting. I am doing research for a book of mine, and am trying to get an idea what bugs really are. Thanks for a helpful lens!

    • profile image

      AnnaleeBlysse 6 years ago

      Helpful information on using ladybugs to deal with aphids.

    • profile image

      Joan4 7 years ago

      So glad to see some simple solutions to the aphids in the garden!

    • religions7 profile image

      religions7 8 years ago

      Great lens - you've been blessed by a squidoo angel :)

    • profile image

      dannystaple 8 years ago

      I had aphids once, and tried to feed them to a sundew plant. BAD MOVE. The sundew - a carnivorous plant, has sticky tentacles on the leaves, which track insects, curl around them, and start digesting them. However, the aphids (which were killing my parsley at the time) took over! They actually killed the sundew. It took a combination of quarantining infected plants, pulling the creatures off them, spraying with a strong water spray and other things to get rid of them. I documented my exploits on my Plant Pest Control lens.

    • Euryale Sinclair profile image

      Euryale Sinclair 8 years ago from The Left Coast

      [in reply to PinkStripedTiger] Break off a small piece of the plant that has the bugs on it, put it into a ziploc baggie and seal it shut, then take that sample to your local garden center. They should be able to tell you what insect pest it is and offer an appropriate remedy.

    • profile image

      anonymous 8 years ago

      I would like to know what is on my Hen-and-chicks plant. It has these white bugs on it that look like they are not moving at all with lots of legs. I would like to know how to get rid of them.

    • AlisonMeacham profile image

      AlisonMeacham 9 years ago

      I am really just starting to become serious about gardening as I want to create an organic vegetable garden. Squidoo is my main resource for help and I am glad that I found this lens.

      You have been Blessed by a Squid Angel

    • profile image

      enslavedbyfaeries 9 years ago

      Oh, I'm so glad to see the close up picture of an aphid. I have been trying to explain to my girls what they look like and never got around to looking it up. They brought some roses home from a neighbors yard for a pretty arrangement on our kitchen table... a few of my houseplants have suffered the consequences.

      Welcome to the Going Buggy group!

    • ChuckBartok profile image

      ChuckBartok 9 years ago

      Wonderful lens on one of my favorite subjects. We were on of the first Green Laceqwing Insectaries in the late 1950s. More coming in a new lens

    • Stazjia profile image

      Carol Fisher 9 years ago from Warminster, Wiltshire, UK

      Great informative 5* lens.

    • SPF profile image

      SPF 9 years ago

      EWWWWW!!! Those pictures are makin' me itchy!! Very informative lens, though. Welcome (again) to the Backyard Habitat group.