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!

Reader Comments

Leave a Comment

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 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!

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

That’s the crazy coolest thing I’ve heard all season! Take a movie next time you catch them in the act?

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!

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