No matter what plants you grow in your garden, it’s likely that you’ve had aphids on them at some point. While there are a number of conventional products you can use to kill them, I prefer dealing with aphids naturally.
What Are Aphids?
Aphids are small soft-bodied bugs, often green or black, that suck the sap out of your plants. As they feed they produce a sweet liquid called honeydew that some species of ants like. These ants will “farm” the aphids – providing protection from predators in return for the sugar-rich honeydew.
What Eats Aphids?
The most common natural predators are other insects like ladybugs, lacewings, hoverflies, and midges. Keep in mind that it’s typically the larval stage of these insects that eat the majority of the aphids.
You can purchase adult ladybugs and lacewings from many garden supply stores. It does take some time after you release them for them to breed, lay eggs, and the larva to hatch. Once that happens you can expect your aphid population to decrease as they’re eaten.
Wild birds are another natural predator. You can attract wild birds to your land by providing safe areas to nest like birdhouses and keeping a birdbath available with for a water source.
Adding plants like yarrow, dill, and fennel to your garden will attract predatory insects that enjoy snacking on aphids. Both dill and fennel are beautiful in bouquets as filler and in the kitchen for flavor. Yarrow is also beautiful in floral arrangements and is useful for natural medicine.
You can also try planting repellant plants like chives and onions around aphid-prone plants or even consider planting trap plants like zinnias and cosmos to attract the aphids away from more valuable plants.
How I Get Rid of Them
The simplest way to deal with aphids naturally is to spray them off with water if the plant is strong enough to handle it. If the plant is young or delicate you can simply wipe them off with your hand or a rag. The little buggers won’t be able to crawl back up the plant after being knocked off and typically die on the ground or are eaten by predators.
Repeat spraying or wiping on a regular basis to keep the aphid population under control.
If the aphids are on plants that you’re cutting for food or bouquets, simply dip them in a bucket of soapy water after cutting. You can either leave them submerged in the bucket or swish them about in the water (if they’re sturdy enough for that).
One factor not frequently talked about is the effect that plant stress has on aphid populations. I’ve consistently noticed that plants that are experiencing stress (generally cool weather crops getting too much heat) are the most likely to develop heavy aphid infestations.
If you suspect plant stress might be linked to your aphid infestation you have a few options: ease the stress, remove the plant, or leave it as a trap plant.
In the case of cool weather crops getting too much heat, it’s not really possible to ease the stress. In that situation, I often cut the plant down unless I notice predatory insects on it.
What About Roses?
In complete honesty, I rarely have to worry about aphids on my roses because the local deer eat most of them. The roses that is, not the aphids.
That said, I have 3 generations of rose gardeners behind me and I still recommend all of the above tips for dealing with aphids.
The species of rose also makes a significant difference too. Hybrid teas almost always need lots of babying while more rugged species and heirloom varieties tend to have fewer problems.