Eliminating Aphids

green aphids

I swear, if there’s any creature on Earth with the ability to teleport, it’s the aphid. One day, there are none in sight, and the next day you’re finding their telltale plant damage and sticky residue everywhere—in your garden or even on your houseplants! They may not look like much, but these little goblins are a huge buzzkill for just about any plant in your care.

A single aphid, like a mouse or a potato chip, is always followed by many many more. If you spot any telltale signs of an aphid infestation, you won’t want to hesitate to take action. Here’s how to get rid of aphids on your plants.

What Do Aphids Look Like?

Before you can learn how to prevent aphids, you’ll have to know thy enemy. If you’ve never seen an aphid before (lucky you!), the adults are usually lime green, pear-shaped insects about the size of a sesame seed. They reproduce like crazy and tend to live in small herds, clustering on the underside of plant leaves or the crevices formed by new, emerging leaves.

While green aphids are the most common, they’re not the only ones in this party of pests. They have all sorts of equally boorish relatives—black ones, white ones, even woolly ones that look like itty bitty bits of fluff! No matter what they look like though, one thing that always runs in the family is bad manners. They all love to show up, wreck the place, eat you out of house and home, and stay forever. They also have a fondness for tropicals and shrubs, like roses and burning bush, so if you’re suspicious that aphids are in town, take a look at one of these, and you’re bound to catch them in the act.

aphid damage curling leaves

Life Cycle of an Aphid

Since they really seem to appear out of thin air, a common question we get is, “Where do aphids come from? Though they may seem like it, they’re not a Biblical scourge, and they don’t crawl out from the fire and brimstone (though, those are very good guesses).

The truth is, aphids are capable of sexual and asexual reproduction. They overwinter by laying their eggs on the undersides of plant leaves and tucked into plant roots. Then, when the snow melts in spring, all the aphids that hatch are female…and they’re all ALREADY pregnant with thousands more.

When the next generation hatches, they only take 7 days to reach maturity and start giving birth to more aphids. By the fall, they start to hatch both males and female that continue to reproduce and hatch even more. Some of them will also grow wings, which will allow them to swarm and occasionally fly into your mouth (yes, it has happened to everyone). The swarm then locates new plants to host their ever-growing families. It’s essentially the neverending cycle sent from the man downstairs.

How to Spot Aphid Damage

Aphids survive by sucking the sap out of plant tissue like teeny tiny vampires, and if they weren’t so dang prolific, they wouldn’t be such a big deal. Unfortunately, due to their numbers, they can quickly take down your plants. Telltale signs of aphids are when your plants’ leaves start to look sick. If you notice that they are puckering, curling under, wilting, yellowing, or showing spots of shiny residue on the leaf surface, chances are you’ve got ‘em.

Aphid control isn’t just about preventing the feeding damage, though. The sticky residue, called ‘honeydew’, also attracts ants, not to mention fungus, mould, and mildew, which can be spread from plant to plant as the bugs migrate.

aphids on leaf

Getting Rid of Aphids

The important thing to remember about aphids is that they do serve a purpose. Aphids are at the bottom of the garden insect food chain, and plenty of other bugs seek them out as a primary food source. The best method for killing aphids is actually to get someone else to do it—like a team of hungry ladybugs or praying mantis, which you can grab here at the garden centre.

If you’re not such a fan of adding more insects to your garden at this stage, you can try some aphid home remedies. Start by giving them a good shower with a stream of water. This will knock off the big guys and their eggs to put a hitch in their giddy-up. It’s simple, but you’ll need to be persistent—spraying at least 3 times, about 3 days apart. Some people think any pest solution is a one-and-done deal, but you need to catch all the successive generations to be certain.

If water alone isn’t doing the job, you can always grab a spray bottle and some Green Earth Bio-Mist insecticidal soap. Mix the concentrate with some water and spray away. Remember, you’ll need that same consistent schedule—3 times, 3 days apart minimum.

If the insecticidal soap is really not doing the job, another all-natural remedy to try is Green Earth horticultural oil. It’s highly concentrated and great for getting rid of a wide number of pesky pests. Like the soap, simply mix with water and spray on for a lasting effect.

One thing that is very important to note is aphids aren’t just fans of our plants on land—they’re also big lovers of waterlilies, too. If you notice them bugging your pond plants, thankfully the solution is simple! All you’ll need to do is dunk your plants for a second to shake them off. For bigger ponds where those plants may be a bit more out of reach, adding a fish or two can be a great help, both for eating aphids AND algae! Remember never to treat water plants with insecticidal soap or horticultural oil, though. These will create an oil slick on the top of the water that is hard to filter out.

black aphids

Aphids are annoying and a major threat to your plants. However, they’re still part of the circle of life, and they should be dealt with naturally and responsibly. If I can leave you with an important piece of advice, try to control aphids with the gentlest possible method first and work up to the big guns. Our gardens are still ecosystems, so pest control should always aim to interfere with the natural life cycles in the area as little as possible.