Whether you’ve just started growing your garden or you’ve been looking after one for years, you know that bugs are a natural part of life. There are beneficial insects and harmful ones.
Many people overlook the harm done to plants by aphids, thinking that they’re so tiny, and don’t they need to eat too? But sadly, aphids can quickly eat up your beautiful flower garden, leaving you frustrated that you spent so much time and money tending to it.
Aphids have special mouths that enable them to drain the fluids from leaves and flowers. This can leave small holes that become larger as the bugs devour the plant.
Aphids may have a different name depending on which part of the globe you live in. They can be called plant lice, black flies, and green flies. While their appearance has a reddish body with black and orange legs and pincers, to the eye they appear as small dark specks.
Aphids can be as small as one millimetre, but there are types that grow up to one centimetre. Aphids are in the superfamily Aphidoidea. They can also be other colours, with 4400 known species.
Don’t mistake them for fleas. Aphids do not bite humans or animals, but their appearance in your garden should raise the alarm that you must do something.
They hold no hazard for humans or pets, but they can quickly devour your plants. Aphids are one of the most destructive insects around the world today.
Aphids are such a nuisance that you should regularly examine your garden for harmful species of bugs, and use natural treatments to get rid of them fast.
Where Do Aphids Come From?
Aphids live naturally in the temperate zones of the world. There are about 250 different species that are problematic for farmers and gardeners.
These bugs rapidly increase in numbers through asexual reproduction, so they don’t even need to mate. Some aphids may reproduce asexually for part of the year, then if there is a rapid change in temperature or in food sources, they can adapt to produce males and females.
One aphid can live for up to forty days, but can produce a large amount of offspring in that time.
Due to this process, a few aphids that have landed on your plants can rapidly increase to hundreds of thousands over the summer until you have a major problem.
How Do Aphids Spread?
Aphids have the ability to travel great distances. Most species do not have wings, but are light enough to get carried by the wind. This is usually done by riding on the winds.
Aphids can also travel by produce that is being transported on trucks from farm to farm, and which has been inadequately treated.
There are a few aphid species that produce winged offspring. These are called alates. They can fly to other parts of the city to find food.
Even if you had a healthy garden last year, there are no guarantees that it will be aphid-free this year. It’s important to be wary, especially if you’ve had a particularly windy spring, or you have installed a lot of new plants in your garden.
What Kinds of Plants Do Aphids Eat?
Aphids not only harm gardens, but fruits, vegetables, flowers, herbs, and decorative plants. They can also get inside, ruining your planters, containers, and boxes.
There is one type that loves to gobble up lettuce that is grown in Australia and New Zealand. You can imagine the frustration of farmers who are trying to grow produce for their families and businesses. Produce cannot be sold when full of holes or torn to shreds by bugs.
Do I Need to Do Anything for My Plants?
While many people are squeamish when there are bugs in their garden, there are many types that love to eat aphids. Don’t kill spiders just because you see them, as they love to eat aphids. So do ladybugs, which are beneficial for your garden for many different reasons.
Many people may feel that bugs are a natural part of a garden, but aphids can quickly take over the garden, despite the best efforts of other bugs that enjoy eating them.
Your garden can become unsightly when you have torn plants and flowers, plus, looking at small clusters of dark bugs running over leaves and petals is unpleasant.
If you live in a temperate zone of the world, aphids may be more of a problem, though they can live in almost any type of climate. Many times you may think you have rid your garden of aphids, but they seem to come back in the heat of summer.
It takes time to tend to a garden so you don’t want it eaten up before you’ve really had a chance to enjoy it for the current season.
It’s important to immediately apply an aphid spray if you see any on your plants. The spray will not only kill living ones, but also help to control any others who may hatch in the upcoming week.
You’re also being a good neighbour when you quickly treat any aphid infestation. This will prevent the aphids from travelling into your neighbour’s gardens to wreck them too.
You may wish to let your neighbours know about your aphid infestation so they can take preventative measures too. If you see aphids on city-owned trees and bushes, give City Hall a call to report them.
How Do Aphids Affect Plant Growth?
Aphids can negatively impact plant growth. They don’t simply eat leaves and petals. They actually use their pincers to feed off of the sap within the phoelm vessels in plants, those long branching structures you can see if you view a leaf under a magnifying glass. The aphid punctures this vessel and feeds on the liquid within it.
If the aphids eat up much of the plant, it doesn’t give the plant a chance to grow to hardy heights.
There is also the additional worry that aphids can also transmit plant viruses to other plants. This is a particular worry if you’re growing potatoes, grains, sugarbeets, and oranges or other citrus plants.
How to Get Rid of Aphids?
Once you discover that you have aphids you’ll want to learn the best way to get rid of them. An aphid spray is the best treatment. While you can buy insecticides, these can be harmful to the ecosystem. Most people are hesitant to use harmful insecticides, particularly if their have edible plants in their garden, and young pets and children play there regularly.
Aphids are fragile insects and have few defences. One of the best methods of treatment is to place a strongly powered nozzle on the end of your hose and spray your plants and garden thoroughly every few days. This mechanical process is enough to drown and kill most small bugs.
You may also purchase dormant lady bugs, and release them in your garden, but they tend to fly away after a time. This may be the better solution if you have an aphid infestation inside your greenhouse.
Aphids can be sensitive to certain types of fungi. There are natural pesticides containing fungi that are safe for garden and people.
You may also make your own aphid spray. Simple dish soap can be mixed with a bit of water. However, be aware that some plant species are sensitive to soap.
1. Homemade Aphid Spray
Here is a safe aphid spray that you can make with tomato plants from your garden. Not only is it natural, but it’s perfect for organic gardeners who want to control insects without harmful chemicals.
This method does take a bit of preparation, but is an effective treatment.
Natural Tomato Leaf Aphid Spray
Tomato leaf spray has been used for centuries by gardeners to battle aphids. Tomatoes are from the nightshade family. This plant contains a toxic compound, or alkaloids, in their leaves. While the leaves do contain this toxin, it’s still safe for humans to consume.
When the leaves are cut, they also release this tropane alkaloid. The alkaloid is stable when mixed with water to make a tomato leaf spray.
While this spray is toxic to aphids, it’s safe to use on plants and around humans, and children and pets who may play in your garden.
How to Make the Tomato Leaf Aphid Spray
This is a simple process, so follow the steps below.
- Remove 500 ml of leaves from your tomato plants. (No need to remove tomatoes.)
- Place in a clean bucket.
- Pour 500 ml water over them.
- Place in a secure spot where it won’t be disturbed.
- Let the leaves steep in the water overnight.
- The next day, strain out the leaves with a fine strainer or cheesecloth.
- Pour leafy remains on your compost heap.
- Pour the liquid into a spray bottle.
How to Apply Your Tomato Leaf Spray
It’s simple to treat your plants for aphids.
- Spray the mixture directly onto the stems and foliage of infested plants.
- Take extra care to apply to underneath the leaves where aphids hide.
- Apply it around surrounding plants even if they don’t appear infested.
- Check your plants weekly and repeat treatments as necessary.
2. Other Natural Tips for Controlling Aphids.
Many gardeners like to try more than one method to control aphids, and then keep up the method that works best for them. Here are a few other natural tips to help clear your garden of aphids.
- Garlic oil spray. Some people don’t like the stink of garlic, as it contains sulphur, but this a toxin for insects. Use it as your next tactic if the tomato leaf method doesn’t work first. Garlic provides the additional purpose of being an antibacterial and anti-fungal to your plants. Simply crush your garlic and let it steep in water with the same method as tomato leaves. Strain out the garlic and pour into a spray bottle. Treatment is the same too.
- Simple dish soap added to water. Test it on the plants first, as dish soap is harmful to some types, such as herbs.
- Physically remove the aphids. If you don’t like to touch bugs, put on some thin latex or vinyl gloves to remove them from your plants. Drop them into a bucket of soapy water to kill them.
- Neem oil. This can be diluted in water and poured into a spray bottle.
- Essential oils. Aphids are particularly susceptible to clove, peppermint, rosemary and thyme. Dilute with water in a small spray bottle.
- Encourage natural insects. Motivate insects such as lacewings, ladybugs, or hoverflies to stay in your garden by planting garlic, catnip, clover, mint, dill, fennel, and oregano. These types of insects eat aphids but don’t harm your plants.
- Attract aphid-eating birds. Wrens, chickadees, and titmice love to eat aphids. These types love to nest in hydrangeas, abelias, and other types of shrubs.
- Grow aphid-repelling vegetables in your garden. They don’t like garlic or onions.
- Plant a distraction. Lead aphids to a certain part of your garden where you can quickly and easily deal with them. They prefer zinnias, asters, cosmos, and dahlias. This also encourages birds and predator insects to stay in this region.
Check your Garden for Aphids Now
Now that you understand the negative effects that aphids can have on your beloved garden, it’s important to do an inspection right now.
Check your garden for aphids at least once a week. If it’s raining or snowing, you can skip it, as these adverse weather conditions will go far in controlling them. But if you live in a climate where it’s warm or hot in fall, winter, and spring, it’s important to keep up this task.
Even if your garden has already suffered damage it’s not too late to make your aphid sprays and to begin treatment. After all, that’s the challenge and enjoyment of a beautiful garden—it takes time and work!
With a bit of time and effort you will be been able to create a lush, colourful, and beautiful garden to show your friends and neighbours!