by Bryan Traficante

The aphid. The name hardly conjures images of destruction, but that’s exactly what these little pests do best. A longtime scourge of gardeners and farmers alike, these sap-sucking insects thrive in temperate regions and multiply very quickly if not controlled.

Luckily, reducing and eliminating aphid populations is manageable and can be done quickly and inexpensively with products found around the house.

Spotting Aphids

Aphids are very small in size and may escape detection by the naked eye. Color will vary depending on the species, but they all share a pear-shaped body with two antennae-like tubes protruding from the rear. In search of plant juices, aphids will attack all parts of a plant, causing the plant to lose nutritive sap. In some cases, aphids may transmit harmful viruses to the plant. In general, aphids prefer new growth and the underside of leaves. Look out for the following telltale signs of aphid activity:

  • Leaf curl: Aphids will attack the underside of a leaf, causing it to yellow, wilt and curl inwards. Check the underside of a curled leaf and you may find an aphid hiding spot.
  • Sticky leaves and stem: Honeydew is a sticky, fluid-like byproduct of aphid feeding. It clogs leaf surfaces and can also attract ants.
  • Black leaves: The growth of black mold on honeydew is known as sooty mold. The mold greatly decreases a plant’s appearance and inhibits its ability to absorb sunlight.
  • Increase in ant population: As mentioned above, honeydew attracts ants, which in turn will protect aphids from their natural predators.
  • Distorted flowers and fruit: Flower buds and fruit that have been attacked by aphids may have a distorted and stunted appearance.

Many plant species can withstand a minor aphid infestation; however, a more severe infestation can greatly impact your plant’s ability to grow and flourish. In cases where the root has been attacked, the plant may shrivel and die.

Getting Rid of Aphids Quickly and Easily

Like most maladies, early detection and treatment can be instrumental in warding off a more serious infestation. Here are a few quick and simple methods you can try using products from your own home.

  • Dish soap and water: A simple dish soap diluted in water works wonders as an insecticide. Dilute two tablespoons of dish soap in one gallon of water. Stir and transfer to a spray bottle. Before you begin treatment, spot test the soapy solution on a small area of the plant and wait a few hours. If the plant shows signs of damage, your solution may be too strong. When spraying an affected plant, be sure to spray both sides of the leaves, as well as any fallen aphids you may see. Upon contact, the soap solution will disrupt cell membranes and dissolve any exterior protective waxes that cover the aphid, resulting in dehydration and death. Make sure to rinse the plant with water after treatment. Sunlight will react with any residual soap solution and may cause a chemical burn (for this reason it’s recommended spraying in the early evening, as the plant won’t be exposed to much further sunlight). Repeat treatment every few days until aphid population is under control.
  • Lemon spray: This natural solution kills aphids on contact. Simply zest a couple of lemons into a pot filled with enough water to fill a spray bottle. Boil the mixture for 10 minutes then let sit overnight. Transfer the mixture to your spray bottle and begin the treatment.
  • Yellow bowl: A more passive and less invasive approach, this trick takes advantage of the aphid’s attraction to the color yellow. Simply fill a plastic yellow bowl with water and place it amongst the affected plants. The aphids will climb into the bowl and drown.

Striking a Balance

When treating your garden for pests, it’s important to keep in mind that you are altering the balance of an ecosystem. Many plant species are able to withstand minor aphid populations, and beneficial insects such as ladybugs and green lacewing larvae will help keep aphid numbers in check. However, when you believe aphid activity is beginning to have an adverse affect on your garden, it’s best to employ minimally invasive tactics that won’t harm the general biodiversity of your garden.

There are many products available at your local hydro store that combat aphids, but many growers prefer a DIY approach like the ones above if the infestation is caught early on. While they’re not the only ways to get rid of aphids, they’re a good, fast and inexpensive start.