Aphids

How to Identify and Get Rid of Aphids

Aphids
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What are those little green bugs on your plants? They're probably aphids! Here are our best tips on how to identify and control aphids in the garden.

What Are Aphids?

Aphids seem to find their way into every garden. They are small, soft-bodied insects that can survive in almost any zone. Aphids multiply quickly, so it's important to get them under control before reproduction starts. Many generations can occur in one season. The good news is that they tend to move rather slowly and aphid control is relatively easy.

Identification

Identifying Aphids

Aphids are tiny (adults are under ¼-inch), and often nearly invisible to the naked eye. Various species can appear white, black, brown, gray, yellow, light green, or even pink! Some may have a waxy or woolly coating. They have pear-shaped bodies with long antennae; the nymphs look similar to adults. Most species have two short tubes (called cornicles) projecting from their hind end.

Aphid
A close-up view of a rose aphid.

Adults are usually wingless, but most species can develop a winged form when populations become crowded, so that when food quality suffers, the insects can travel to other plants, reproduce, and start a new colony. Aphids usually feed in large groups, although you might occasionally see them singly or in small numbers.

While aphids in general feed on a wide variety of plants, different species of aphids can be specific to certain plants. For example, some species include bean aphids, cabbage aphids, potato aphids, green peach aphids, melon aphids, and woolly apple aphids.

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Some aphids are darker colors, like brown. The potato aphid is a common brown aphid. Photo credit: GrowVeg.com.

Aphid Damage

Nymphs and adults feed on plant juices, attacking leaves, stems, buds, flowers, fruit, and/or roots, depending on the species. Most aphids especially like succulent or new growth. Some, such as the green peach aphid, feed on a variety of plants, while others, such as the rosy apple aphid, focus on one or just a few plant hosts.

  • Look for misshapen, curling, stunted, or yellowing leaves. Be sure to check the undersides of leaves; aphids love to hide there.
  • If the leaves or stems are covered with a sticky substance, that is a sign that aphids may have been sipping sap. This “honeydew,” a sugary liquid produced by the insects as waste, can attract other insects, such as ants, which gather the substance for food. When aphids feed on trees, their honeydew can drop onto cars, outdoor furniture, driveways, and so on.
  • The honeydew can sometimes encourage a fungal growth called sooty mold, causing branches and leaves to appear black.
  • Flowers or fruit can become distorted or deformed due to feeding aphids.
  • Some aphid species cause galls to form on roots or leaves.
  • Aphids may transmit viruses between plants, and also attract other insects that prey on them, such as ladybugs.

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Aphids can be various colors, including yellow, and produce a sticky honeydew substance. Photo Credit: John Obermeyer/Purdue University.

Control and Prevention

How to Get Rid of Aphids

  • Try spraying cold water on the leaves; sometimes all aphids need is a cool blast to dislodge them. Typically they are unable to find their way back to the same plant.
  • If you have a large aphid invasion, dust plants with flour. It constipates the pests. 
  • Neem oil, insecticidal soaps, and horticultural oils are effective against aphids. Be sure to follow the application instructions provided on the packaging.
  • You can often get rid of aphids by wiping or spraying the leaves of the plant with a mild solution of water and a few drops of dish soap. Soapy water should be reapplied every 2-3 days for 2 weeks.
  • One variation of this soap-water mix includes cayenne pepper: Stir together 1 quart water, 1 tsp liquid dish soap, and a pinch of cayenne pepper. Do not dilute before spraying on plants.
  • Diatomaceous earth (DE) is a non-toxic, organic material that will kill aphids. Do not apply DE when plants are in bloom; it is harmful to pollinators, too.

How to Prevent Aphids

  • For fruit or shade trees, spray dormant horticultural oil to kill overwintering aphid eggs.
  • Beneficial insects, such as lady beetles, lacewings, and parasitic wasps, will feed on aphids. Supplemental populations of these insects can be ordered online and should help keep the aphid populations controlled from the start.
  • Companion planting can be very helpful to keep aphids away from your plants in the first place. For example:
    • Aphids are repelled by catnip.
    • Aphids are especially attracted to mustard and nasturtium. Plant these near more valuable plants as traps for the aphids. (Check your trap plants regularly to keep aphid populations from jumping to your valued plants.)
    • Nasturtiums spoil the taste of fruit tree sap for aphids and will help keep aphids off of broccoli.
    • Garlic and chives repel aphids when planted near lettuce, peas, and rose bushes

getting-rid-of-aphids_full_width.jpg
Hosing down your plants is one way to control the aphid population in your garden.

Using Alcohol to Control Aphids

Isopropyl alcohol (also called isopropanol or rubbing alcohol) works fine and is easy to find, but be sure it doesn’t have additives. Ethanol (grain alcohol) seems to work best. Alcohol usually comes in 70 percent strength in stores (or 95 percent strength purchased commercially). To make an insecticidal spray, mix equal parts 70 percent alcohol and water (or, if using 95 percent alcohol, mix 1 part alcohol to 1 ½ parts water). 

You can also add alcohol to a soapy emulsion to make it more effective. For example, in a spray bottle, combine 5 cups water, 2 cups alcohol, and 1 tablespoon liquid soap.

Caution: When applying an alcohol or soap spray, or a combination, always test a small area first, and apply in morning or evening, when the sun is not beating down. Watch the plant for a few days for any adverse reactions before applying more. Plants can be sensitive to alcohol and soap. Also, some soaps have additives that can damage plants—select the purest form.

Do you have more tips for controlling aphids? Let us know in the comments below!

Reader Comments

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Aphid Attack!!

Recently I’ve tried my luck at having a wonderful zen patio that includes a potted umbrella tree and a fiddle leaf fig... about a week ago I discovered little pods of aphids on the leaves of both plants and my heart sank...

I don’t posess what one would call a “green thumb” but I’ve been doing really well and seeing these tiny green demons colonizing my plants is making me furious.

I just tried a mild Lavender dish soap spray so hoping that helps. Any other tips for the umbrella tree and fiddle leaf?!?

Winged aphids

I have noticed all around these little-winged bugs that will sit on my plant leaves and suck the sap out of them. This has attracted a TON of ants and its getting really annoying. These bugs don't form clusters and will be on the occasional leaf. It had not become a bad infestation yet. No matter how many I squash or spray away they seem to always come back. I'm not entirely sure of these are aphids because they have winds and will come back even if I kill them all.

Aphids or Whiteflies

Some aphids can develop wings, or they could be whiteflies. Check out our pest page for whiteflies for advice on dealing with them. Our above advice for dealing with aphids should work on these pests as well.

Aphids and ants

Your mention of ants along with aphids is interesting. I have seen ants herd aphids. The aphids collect the sugary sap and the ants have them carry it home for them. Sometimes bugs are more resourceful than we think!

Strawberries

I have tiny white bugs on the stems of my strawberry plans in the PNW. They are very tiny but have a black spot or two, maybe eyes? Would these be aphids? Thanks!

Aphids

If the buys have tiny light green bodies and little black eyes, those are indeed aphids. Follow the advice on this page.

Aphids and Ladybugs on Shasta Daisies

We have a ton of aphids nesting in the buds of our Shasta daisies. A bunch of ladybugs have taken up residency as well to eat the aphids, but there are so many that I fear our ladybugs aren’t going to be the full solution. Are any of these mixes (dish soap/water/cayenne) going to harm the ladybugs as well? I don’t want to hurt them if I can help it.

aphid control

The agents you name could harm the ladybugs. Alternatively, you could put out some borax ant bait traps. Read other comments below to acquire more knowledge about what works.

Catnip

Acticle states use catnip to repel aphids, but my problem my catnip patch is what has been invaded badly.....

aphids on catnip?

It has been suggested that pyrethrum (made from chyrsanthemums) could be effective on catnip.

Avid home infestation

I have been struggling with aphids in my kitchen primarily for a long time. Brought in on some flowers they seem to be around my windows. I have no house plants so they seem to be living independent from that. I've tried the soap and water thing but to no avail. They are many in number and are now moving to other windows in my home. Help!

Indoor aphids

If you think you have aphids hiding out in your house somewhere, try dusting what you think to be the affected areas with diatomaceous earth (which is totally pet-safe and should make a border the aphids can't cross without dying) or spraying the affected areas every few days with a neem oil solution if you can get it and don't mind the smell.

Aphids

Hi I have a very large tree in my back garden and it is full of aphids , never hard this before you can't sit outside without them crawling all over you how can I get rid of them please help me they are driving me mad , they are all over the paving and my outdoor setting they are everywhere help

Do I have to throw away the soil and plants?

I'm a new gardener and am struggling to get rid of the aphids. My kale and other leafy green veggies have had a very bad infestation. Do I need to throw away the soil? Also, though I have treated the kale, it's no longer really growing even though it's still green and edible. Do I need to get rid of the affected plants if their growth is stunted?

Aphids

I've tried the dish soap and neem oil tricks but what I'm finding is that regular attention is the biggest key, one or two aphid mudering sprees don't do it. I have a spray bottle of soapy water and a spray bottle of clean water and what I'm finding pretty helpful for keeping aphid populations on my seedlings and my outdoor-become-indoor plants is a few days of spraying the plants down daily with soapy water and gently going over the leaves and stems with the fingers on my non-spraybottle hand to make sure I loosen them up and coat undersides of leaves with soapy water, wait five minutes, then use the clean water spray to wash the soapy water (and most of the aphids) off. I do this every day till I'm seeing no aphids (usually about 4 days) then I do it a few more times every other day or so just in case there are hatchlings I can't see.

My potted perpetual spinach ended up with curly deformed leaves when I left the soapy water on, and the new growth on beet greens in my bunny's indoor garden have not deformed since I've started rinsing the soap off, just make sure the soap gets a good few minutes to suffocate your aphids. For a really bad infestation, I soak the heck out of the soil too with my soapy water, to make sure any of the little buggers hiding down there also get dead. I've used this method for other kinds of pests and never had problems with just leaving mildly soapy water in any plant's soil (just enough to make suds) but if you're concerned, you can also rinse the soil after letting it be soapy for half an hour or so.

I found aphids on my pepper, eggplant and cabbage seedlings last week just as I was starting to put them outisde to harden off, so I've been giving them their bath and rinse and allowing them to dry before I put them outside to play. So far so good, every time I soap them up, there are fewer and fewer aphids. I'm a bit hesitant to use neem oil on my seedlings while I'm hardening them off (I'm also unsure how safe it is to use around my rabbit, googling it gave me conflicting information) but if the aphids are still a problem by the time I take the seedlings to the garden I will neem oil them once they're established in the garden.

Hope that helps!

Do NOT put Cayenne in your sprayer

or it will clog up everything in your sprayer...been there, cussed that!

APHIDS BE GONE Miracle!!! BANANAS

YES, just save your banana peels, cut them into a few pieces, and place the peels, outside peel side UP, beneath your roses or any other plants that get aphids. The outside banana peel gives off some kind of a gas that will make your aphids get lost. I have used this for a few years and now I never have aphid troubles. And the tree next door to us is an aphid nursery. So we are really lucky with this banana trick. No pesticides, sprays or anything else needed. But you need to eat your bananas regularly.

Aphids

Do aphids start multiplying in the soil? Is it best to change the soil that the plants attacked by aphids, are growing in, to successfully get rid of them ?

get rid of aphids

Most aphids live on or under the leaves of plants, but grey-white root aphids live in the soil. We highly recommend that you plant something that will repel the aphids next to the crops that have been infested. Marigold, catnip, and dill will all do the trick.

Aphid control

The best way to control aphids is to squash them between your thumb and forefinger. Start with the heaviest concentration of the lil buggers and squish away! Wash their nasty guts and carcasses off leaves when you're done. Be careful not to tear leaves. I have a moderate sized garden so I can manage most of it but this method might not work for larger or commercial size gardens unless you have help. It helps if while you're insecticiding them you taunt them by saying, "you're dead now!" or, "you're all going to die!" Get creative with it! Happy squashing!!

Pests

I have these pests on a Carolina reaper plant. I believe it stunted the growth of the fruit. The peppers were very small, smaller than normal and they have already turned red. Typically they grow green to full size then mature to red.

Anyways, curious to know if this type of pest infection is dangerous to the actual fruit. I washed the fruit (pepper) off but unsure if it is safe to consume.

stunted fruit

There are a few reasons why pepper fruit can be stunted. For example, if the plant was planted too early, and the blooms were exposed to cool temperatures, then those fruit can be stunted. (Aim for 70 to 80F day temps, and above 55 night temps before planting.) Diseases such as tomato spotted wilt virus can also cause stunting of fruit. If the whole plant is stunted, then it could be cultural conditions, such as too little water or inconsistent application, not enough nutrients, etc. A heavy pest infestation, such as of aphids or whiteflies, can also stress the plant and cause sparse fruiting and stunting of fruit, as well as yellowing/wilting leaves etc. As to whether the fruit is safe to eat–it might depend on the cause of the stunting, and how far gone the fruit is. Sometimes stunting can affect taste/quality, so it would not be worth eating. If there is any doubt as to safety, it would probably be best not to eat it.

please help me...

I have been told that my house is infested with insects and bugs. I have been very sick for months. At first I was secreting a sugary substance from my skin in different areas. I have undergone several different stages. I can't handle this anymore. I have tons of urine and blood tests proving that I am not on drugs. This aphids match exactly what I am going through. I have had the very tiny black ones come out in my urine. This is not a joke, and I truly need your help.

Seek a doctor for your

Seek a doctor for your healthcare, not a gardening forum.

Health Issues

While I agree with the other person who commented about your problem, I think it can be said in a more understanding form. The problem most people have in offering any type of help when someone we don't know is having a health issue is that since we don't know you and other issues that might be going on, we'd hate to be responsible for your health when a doctor should be researching this with you. I hope you find an answer to your misery soon!

Insect control in garden

I have used Johnson’s baby shampoo to control insects in my garden. I mix 2 tbs shampoo to 1 quart warm water and spray infested area, it kills the aphids and keeps them away for weeks, it is the cheapest solution I have ever made and works well.

Caterpillars

Will this method also kill the baby caterpillars and/or the butterfly eggs that are on the leaves also? I have a milk thistle (butterfly plant) that has tons of these nasty things on it and the big ones are killing my baby caterpillars. I want to get rid of the aphids but not the caterpillares. Or eggs.

Bugs on houseplants

I noticed what I believe to be aphids on a couple of tomato plants that I re potted and brought in from outside when the temps got cold. I did a spray of water, dishsoap and cayenne on them, but then I looked at my other plants and a couple seem to have the bugs too. I'm assuming they spread to those because of the tomatoes. So I decided to spray ALL of my plants with that same solution. Now I am wondering if perhaps I did a bad thing by spraying the plants that I didn't notice any bugs on. I guess my question is...does that solution hurt other plants or is it pretty safe to not only get rid of the bugs, but also as a precaution to keep them from crossing over into the others? Thank you.

Bugs on Houseplants

Hi Kathy,

As long as the amount of cayenne in the solution isn’t too strong, it shouldn’t hurt the plants. The solution should prevent aphids from moving across to uninfected plants. Also, if you do notice any ill effects, stop applying it immediately.  

Flower pests

Hi
I have been facing this flower pests problem for quite some time.. i have spotted small white insects on the leaves of the plant and these ones dont fly. They slowly retard the growth of the plant and eventually flowers either stop blooming and rot away or they stop forming all together. I cam send the photos . Please help

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