aphids

The tiny aphid (Sketch by Jane Gates)

Aphids are little delicate bugs that suck juices from plants. One won’t cause any harm, but aphid pests multiply at an awesome rate and can coat leaves, buds and even stems in record time. They come in reds, yellows, greens, whites, blacks and browns. Colorful though they might be, they are also messy and destructive.

Some aphids will produce winged members when colonies get too big or the host plant becomes to weak and these flyers wing away to establish new colonies. Because aphids pests exude a sticky sweet liquid, ants love them and are happy to transport members to ever widening locations in order to extend the colonies. Ants actually will ‘farm’ these insects, moving them from one plant to another. More aphids feast on your plants. More sweet good stuff for the ants. More ants everywhere. More ailing plants. Yuck.

Aphids have weak little legs and if knocked off a plant with a stream of water, they are unable to climb back up again. Score a point for the gardener this time. Unfortunately, by the time an infestation is noted, there are often too many aphids to wash off. If you find an infestation is getting too widespread to wash off with water alone, try using one of the insecticidal soaps. Usually blasting with water and using the soap is enough to keep these insects pests under control.

The best way to keep aphids from getting ahead of you in the garden is to keep inspecting your plants. Keep a watch on tender, new, green shoots and the hidden undersides of leaves. New growth is most susceptible. Another natural control is to allow ladybugs, lacewings and other predators to feast on your aphids. Usually, so long as the aphid populations don’t grow too widespread, Mother Nature sends some of these voracious little aphid-munchers along to balance out the population. Keeping these friendly predators safe to do their jobs in the garden is one good reason to avoid heavy poisons in the garden whenever possible.

In short, vigilance, a squirt of water, horticultural insecticidal soap, and some help from pest-eating insects is usually enough to keep aphid pests from getting out of control in your garden.