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  • Dave Wilson

Spot, Treat, and Prevent Aphids

Finding you have aphids is always a little upsetting, but knowing how to deal with them keeps what might be a little problem from turning into a big problem. Aphids are parthenogenetic so they do not need a male to reproduce. Aphid eggs can overwinter in soil and when conditions are right they emerge pregnant and ready to lay eggs.

Chicory showing aphid damage.
These two photos show aphid damage on “pan di zucchero” (or sugar loaf) chicory, currently growing on the Hunt Utilities Resilient Living campus, using aquaponic methods.

They are most active in the spring and fall so keeping an eye on your plants is important especially at these times. As you walk through your garden looking at your plants, inspect them up close. Look at the undersides of leaves and the inner stem–this is where aphids like to hang out.

Aphids feed by inserting long mouth parts into plant leaves, much like how mosquitoes feed. You can see the damage the aphid does to a leaf by the puckering, curling, and yellowing of the leaf as it sucks out plant sap.

Dealing with Ants at the Same Time

As the aphids feed they produce a sugary, sticky liquid called “honey dew.” This honey dew attracts other insects, especially ants. The ants have a symbiotic relationship with the aphids. Ants will farm aphids by carrying them to plants in return for their honey dew which the ants feed on. So if you have aphids you might have an ant problem or vice-versa. To deal with the ants, I use a 50/50 mixture of powdered sugar and Borax, the 20 mule team laundry detergent booster. Sprinkle the mix around the ant trails and holes.

Remedies for Aphids

The lifespan of an aphid is about 30 days. So getting a handle on your aphid issue means we need to disrupt their life cycle. You need to be diligent. If your infestation is in a small area you can start by carefully removing the infested plant leaves by hand and place them into a container like a bucket or coffee can. Aphids will drop off the leaf when disturbed so be as gentle as possible when removing leaves.

Then follow up by applying a spray every 3-5 days in the mornings or evenings. There are safe sprays we can use for aphids. You can purchase things like Kapow, or Neem oil.

Flower treated with Kapow for aphids.
This close-up photo shows a flower treated with Kapow. There are many different types of aphids and colors may include brown, green, and tan.

Treating for Aphids with Your Own Ingredients, Companion Plants and Predators

By checking the ingredients we may be able to make them ourselves. A simple mixture of mild soap and essential oils works very well. Add a few shavings of unscented mild bar soap like castile or a few drops of the liquid soap per quart plus a teaspoon of essential oils. I recommend oils like lemongrass, oregano, or mint.

Aphids don't like pungent smelling herbs or flowers, which is why companion planting with herbs and flowers like marigolds helps to deter aphids along with other pests. Similar to the yellow sticky traps that are sometimes used, the color yellow can attract pests.

Aphids are also attracted to plants that are under stress. Poor soil conditions, over watering and overcrowding stress plants which in turn attracts pests.

Using predatory insects is also a good thing: lady bugs, green lacewings, mantis and other insects help to keep aphids in check. Being proactive in the garden by diverse companion planting, growing healthy soil and learning from nature will ensure you will have a healthy garden, and balanced ecosystem.


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