Attack of the Aphids – and What to do about it

One of my good friends called me last night.  She found aphids in her garden.  Aphids are not a beneficial insect.  In fact, they are generally bad news for a gardener and considered to be one of the most destructive insects on cultivated plants ( that is your kitchen garden).  What is a gardener to do?

Well, you could spray them with toxic conventional spray, But if you spray, you are poisoning the FOOD THAT YOU EAT.  Please don’t spray.  Don’t poison yourself, your family and the groundwater.

You can cover them with soapy water.  This method has been used for over 200 years. The soapy water will kill your aphids, but leaves critters like honey bees and ladybugs alive.  Live ladybugs are very good for your garden as they eat these aphids. Honey bees are good since they pollinate our plants.

Be cautious as this soapy water can be damaging to you plants.  You can try to test a leaf of your plant to make the soapy water won’t damage it.  However, you plant isn’t too happy right now being covered with aphids, so it’s not like you’re covering a prized plant.  To make this spray, dilute 2 tablespoons of dish soap to one gallon of water.  Use a spray bottle to apply this to the affected leaves of the plants.  Make sure to spray both sides of the leaf and spray any little bugs dropping to the ground.  Let this sit for one to two hours and then rinse the residue off with a garden hose.  Do this treatment once a week for as long as you may need.

Be cautious of ants with aphids.  Aphids are beneficial to the ants (aphids secrete a fluid the ants love to eat), and the ants will attempt to protect them from any natural predators.  In fact, some refer to ants as “aphid farmers”, since ants take such good care of the aphids.  Controlling the ant population may be a necessary step in aphid control.  One method that controls both the ants and the aphids is food grade diatomaceous earth, or DE.  You can read more about it here: Diatomaceous Earth Article and Ant and Aphid Control.  One thing I really do not like about DE is that it will kill the good insects, as well.

Finally, if you have chickens, feel free to set them loose on these bugs.  They won’t get them all, but they will have a fun time trying.  Chickens also cannot be in your garden for long periods of time, or they will destroy it.  So keep them in there for limited times, but let them come back and visit from time to time.  (Their droppings will make for a healthier garden)

Do what you need to do to protect your plants from aphids at the current time, but be sure to take steps to prevent aphids infesting your garden next year.  Here are some aphid prevention:

  • Include plants throughout your garden that repel aphids.  These are strong aromatics such as dill, chives, cilantro, garlic, mint (be careful, this spreads quickly!) and nasturtiums.
  • Include plants (or allow weeds to grow) that ladybugs like.  These include: marigold, dandelion, Hairy Vetch (this is a great cover crop that fixes nitrogen in the soil!), and cilantro.

I hope this helps for your present aphid problems and any problems you may have in the future.

 

3 thoughts on “Attack of the Aphids – and What to do about it

  1. Joan Strong

    Timely article Julia. If you come across any additional info about how to control ants with a method that does not harm beneficial insects I would be very interested. I have not seen many articles on ant pests in the garden, but I can usually count on finding an ant colony near or under a plant that appears to be ailing. The seem to love the clay soil and as you stated, where there are aphids, there are “aphid farmers.”

    Reply
    1. Julia Post author

      There are a few prominent people in permaculture, namely Paul Wheaton, who believe that if you have a specific plant that continually tries to die on you for whatever reason, you should let it go. It’s mother nature’s way of saying “Hey, that’s not a strong individual, let me take that out of the gene pool”. This concept is difficult to embrace when we spend so much time and money on our plants. We become attached (I know I do, anyway!).
      One other thought (albeit, very unsatisfying): leaving the aphids and ants as they are will bring in their natural predators (birds for ants and ladybugs for the aphids) and the area will find it’s natural balance. Thanks for reading!

      Reply
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