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.

aphids-on-apple-leaf-3_full_width.jpg
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.

how-to-identify-aphids.jpeg
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!

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Reader Comments

Leave a Comment

Can anyone identify these eggs?

They're tiny, golden colored, and they are perfectly fitted inside each of the buds on my pansies. I want to either leave them be if they're good or dispose of them if theyre bad. Thanks

Pesky Little Devils

We've got some indoor pepper plants that get plagued by aphids all the time and pretty much nothing seems to work. However, i've also got a computer for which I decided to buy a small USB vacuum cleaner, so I decided to give it a try on my plants.

With a small brush attachment you can clean the leaves and in the corners of branches where aphids like to hide.

It's not a quick fix by anymeans, and it certainly isn't a 5 mintue job, but it definitely helps to see just how many of the little monsters you are getting before you watch them get washed down the drain. No doubt if you have a working insecticide then a little plant-cleaning beforehand can do wonders in destroying an infestation.

Aphids

For the past 4 years I have been battling aphids on my apple tree. There are black aphids and wooly apple aphids I have been using neem oil and spot treating with rubbing alcohol. I have not been successful controlling them. The tree is covered with moss and ferns (the look is beautiful) while talking to my gardener about this he told me that I need to remove the moss, as the bugs are probably hiding in it. So my question is — should I remove the moss? What is the best method? These bugs are effecting my fruit crop and I would like to get more apples Any suggestions are welcome

Tiny black aphids on miniature rose house plant

I first noticed these little black pests that are about two millimeters long when my rose leaves began turning yellow and falling of. I treated my rose for fungus at first but that only got rid of the yellow leaves for a week or two. Now, my plant is experiencing stunted growth and some leaves are turning brown at the tips despite a regular watering regimen. I also noticed that these little black aphids are more prevalent. Should I try diatomaceous earth since there are no new blooms?? Are should I stick to the soapy water method??

Thanks.

Aphids are polyphagus, majorly destructive to most of the kingdom Plantae in the tropical and mid equatoral zone in East Africa.

Massive aphids on kale, broccoli, and rutabaga

I was unexpectedly away several weeks this summer, and upon return my kale and broccoli and even rutabaga (planted near the kale) have massive globs of gray aphids at base of leaf stems and lots of gray things on the leaves. I thought it was eggs of the cabbage worm, but have seen only a few worms and worm droppings. Now I believe it is aphids. I have pulled out all plants - should I burn them? Or just put out in woods far from my garden? Also I see tons of them in the soil around where the plants were. Will they overwinter? If so, what can I do now? Dust with diatomaceous earth?

aphid control

The Editors's picture

For small plantings, you can try hosing the aphids off plants ever so often. Insecticidal soap can also help. Diatomaceous earth (food-grade, not pool grade) also is an option: for more information about this method, check this page: https://www.almanac.com/blog/gardening/garden-journal/what-diatomaceous-earth You can also encourage beneficial insects by planting nectar-rich plants nearby, such as alyssum. As to how to dispose of aphid-infested plant debris, you can toss it in the trash, or bury it deep in a compost pile. Aphids overwinter as eggs, often laid on trees or shrubs.

Aphids on eucalyptus trees our trees are covered with them.

They are everywhere these trees are huge, how do we get rid of them.

Large-area spray

It's going to be challenging to get rid of them in your case. Make sure you have aphids first. Once you verify they're aphids, try getting a hose attachment that you can add a treatment to, such as 2 tsp dawn soap + 1 cup isopropyl alcohol + 3 cups water (increase amounts in those proportions.) If you're in drought or water shortage, you can also try running misting tubes (usually meant for watering at ground level) up the trees and, again, use that mixture -- you might be better able to cover a larger area that will stick to the trees by misting them. Anything you can do to coat the trees and make them uninhabitable to aphids will help. Fortunately, we live in a creative time of ingenuity. You might even be able to find some sort of misting contraption (like they have for mosquitoes) that emits something that aphids don't like, and hang that in your trees. You'd be surprised what you can find if only you look around. After that, see if you can get some ladybugs - release them at sundown in your trees, right on top of the aphids if you can. Ladybugs are safe and good bugs, but don't put them on your trees before spraying or dusting them.

Aphids?

I need help getting rid of a pest on my miniature rose house plant. I'm not sure if they are aphids. They look like miniature flies. They are more brown/black and fly around like crazy. I don't really see any bugs on the leaves. Are these still aphids and how should I get rid of them?

mosaic virus from aphids

2 summers in a row now we have had aphids attack our garden, taking out the zucchini and squash first. Then travels to the tomatoes and lastly it will get the cucumbers. We believe it is from aphids and need to find a way to control them better. We mainly have used 7 dust. It helps to a little but needs to be applied a lot and gets expensive. We are purchasing better seeds as well and know that the soil is good as other parts of the garden grow extremely well.

aphids in big tree

Hi
We have a very big tree right next to our house. It is full of Aphids. We cannot sit outside because everything is sticky and honeydew falls on us. Last year we bought a 1000 ladybugs and released them into the tree. But the problem still persists. What can we do?
Thank you.

Is your tree stressed? I

Is your tree stressed? I have resolved this issue with a tree that i take care of by watering it extensively. A tulip tree in the middle of a textured concrete patio had a raised garden bed built around it. Always had an aphid problem. On year 3 of taking care of it i added soaker hoses around the base and run them as often as i can in the summer. The tree was never satisfying its thirst and was treated bad. So aphids were plenty. Perhaps your tree has a stressor to it inviting aphids.

Be careful with your aphid-repelling companion planting choices

The suggestion "Garlic and chives repel aphids when planted near lettuce, peas, and rose bushes" is a bit counterproductive when it come to peas.
If you want to keep aphids away from your peas, I'd suggest another method than planting garlic or chives nearby.
While it might work well for roses and lettuce, peas do NOT like to be near anything in the allium family (onions, garlic, chives) and neither does well when planted near the other. Beans are also unhappy near alliums. (I learned this the hard way.)

Aphid are gone!

I can see the aphid's damage to the leaves, but do not find the aphids. Should I treat for aphids? Thank you for any help.

Disappearing Aphids

If you’ve searched the whole plant and see no actual aphids, then they have likely moved on already or have been eaten by a predator. It’s unlikely that they’ll return, but keep an eye on the plant anyway, just in case.

Cat Nip

Hello! I'm new to gardening and just started growing cucumbers 5 weeks ago. I have aphids on my plant and have been trying to take care of it for a week now. It seems to be working, but they're still there. I have PLENTY of catnip in my junk drawer... can I just sprinkle that on the plant and soil to deter the aphids?

Sterilizing Soil

I live in FL and wonder if the practice of sterilizing the soil at the end of my growing season by covering the garden with black plastic and letting the sun bake it would help alleviate pest problems, like aphids. What are your thoughts?

black plastic as aphid killer

We have not heard that a black plastic cover will eliminate bugs. The Sun will warm the soil, but not as much as you think, even in Florida. According to the Univeristy of Massachusetts Center for Agriculture,

The most widely used, available, and inexpensive of the colored mulches, black plastic mulch has excellent weed suppression ability because of its opacity. It is also useful for warming soil during the growing season, particularly if as much of the plastic as possible is in contact with the soil below. Research at Penn State has shown that soil underneath black plastic can be up to 5 °F warmer at a 2-inch depth and up to 3 °F warmer at a 4-inch depth than uncovered soil at the same depths. This means that plants can be set out earlier than on bare soil, and may result in earlier maturing fruit. For example, collaborative trials between US Department of Agriculture and Auburn University indicate that okra crops mature earlier with higher yields on black plastic than on bare soil.
 
But that doesn’t mean you can not try it …

 

Thank you

Thanks! Guess I won’t try it.

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?!?

Miracle Aphid Repellent - Banana SKINS

Put the banana peel pieces, soft side down, and smooth side up, around anything that has Aphids. They hate Banana Gas that is expelled from the peels. Almost immediate effect.

Aphids and bananas

Thanks. I’m going to give it a go tomorrow!

Aphids and Banana Peels

That explains a lot - I put banana peels in the pots of my 3 small parade roses and one tall heirloom rose. I noticed that rose aphids only attack my tall rose bush, and even then they only infest leaves toward the top of the plant. They don't go anywhere near the bottom of the plant, or near the soil where the banana peels are. To deal with the aphids at the top of the plant, I sprayed them with a mix of 1 tsp dawn soap + 3/4 quart of water. This was only an hour ago, and now the aphids are dying and falling off the leaves when sprayed with water. I'll gently hose off my rose bush in a few hours to rinse away the dead aphids and soap. I'll do this again in a week or so. I also introduced thousands of ladybugs to my environment, but they opted for easier pickings in my variety of small potted plants than climbing my tall rose bush for aphid hunting. Still, I've noticed improvement and less issues with the overall health of my garden since adding ladybugs.

Aphids help

Hey, I am new to gardening as well this year i started. I had a nice crop of lettuce and the aphids took them over. I looked on line and watched a video that. Showed how getting anything yellow to keep the aphids from your garden. I’m about to try this. So the man took an old photo frame put a bright yellow piece of paper in it and took Vaseline and spread it all on the glass of the frame and the aphids who are attracted to anything yellow went for the picture frame instead of the lettuce. When you see them stuck to the glass you rinse or whip the frame off, add more Vaseline and set back around your plants. In the video it worked and he had no more aphids on his plants. So I’m gonna try this this week... try it...hope his will work for us both.

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!

Aphids and Ants, oh my!

It might have been mentioned here, but aphids typically grow wings when their colony becomes crowded - usually if they're all squished together on one leaf. Their 'honeydew' will attract nearby ants. To deal with the aphids: Mix 1 tsp dawn dish soap (or liquid dish soap meant for hand-washing dishes) in a typical quart-sized spray bottle of water. Spray down your ENTIRE plant really well - get it nice n' sudsy because aphids go for the leaves, stems, flowers...everything. Lightly spray the soil around the plant, increasing the perimeter you cover depending on how big your plant is. If the plant's leaves are densely packed, close to the ground, and could be hiding aphids and ants, lift the leaves and spray underneath of them, soil included. You can leave this for up to 4 hours before rinsing your plant gently with water to wash away bugs and soap. You'll likely have to do this once per week for 1 month, and then keep a close eye out for any further pests. You can also bring in ladybugs to help you keep pests under control - they're beneficial for more than just aphids and there are zero downsides to having them in your garden. I have personally bought the 1500 live ladybugs and 'Hirt's Nature Nectar' pack, available on Amazon. I recommend following the 'ladybug release' tips on their page. Some sources mention natural soil treatments -- using banana peels for aphids, and orange peels for ants and aphids -- but I wouldn't try that until you solve your ant problem. The soapy water should work for ants. Just keep in mind that ants leave a trail of scent wherever they go in order to help their fellow ants find their way to a food source. If the dish soap water doesn't work for ants, you can spray vinegar or lemon juice on the soil - wherever you don't want ants to be. They don't like citris or acid. There are options for using ant poison that the ants can pack back to their colony, but please pay mind to your beneficial wildlife and pets before choosing this option. You can also use diatomaceous earth around your plant, but that will kill beneficial insects that come in contact with it (ladybugs included.) Hope this helps you!

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