Aphids

How to Identify and Get Rid of Aphids

Aphids
Pixabay

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 feed by sucking the nutrient-rich liquids out of plants. In large numbers, they can weaken plants significantly, harming flowers and fruit. 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.

What Does Aphid Damage Look Like?

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 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 ladybugs, 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.

Check out this video to learn more about how to get rid of aphids. 

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

2021_gardening_calendar_winter_ad.png

Reader Comments

Leave a Comment

I heard that planting

I heard that planting Marigolds is a good defense for aphids, but do not remember why. I think they attract a beneficial insect.

Hey, What about pumpkins? I

Hey,
What about pumpkins?
I heard they are delicate and you have to be careful of what you put on them.
So what can I use for pumpkins?

To make a garlic solution to

The Editors's picture

To make a garlic solution to combat aphids, mince a few cloves of garlic into 2 teaspoons of mineral oil. After a day, strain out the garlic pieces and add what's left to one pint of water. Add one teaspoon of liquid dish soap. When you apply the solution, you can dilute it down with water in a spray bottle (about 2 tablespoons garlic to 1 pint water). It's organic and safe.

I have a hibicus tree that i

I have a hibicus tree that i have treated for aphid but they keep coming back...I have used water and dishwashing soap and sevin and horticultural oil at different of course and got rid of them 2 times so they must be in the soil so what can i do to kill the ones in the soil? this is a house plant...I have spent more time and energy on this plant than any other plant in my life......this has been going on since may...

We would advise washing

The Editors's picture

We would advise washing regularly, avoid over fertilization, and use insecticidal soaps or horticultural oils (neem oil). However, if this has failed, you might want to turn to more serious insecticides or actions (bifenthrin, permethrin, resmethrin, disulfoton, imidacloprid). Speak to your garden center.

change the soil it's planted

change the soil it's planted in change the pot it's growing in treat the leaves for aphids once more problem should be gone
make sure you rinse off the roots

I just found what looks like

I just found what looks like a green aphid. I had no experience with green ones before. I have a cutting from a black raspberry plant that is infested. I didn't notice any insects when I brought it in.

This is in my "green room" where I'm propagating plants so it could be a disaster! I have lots of succulent cuttings taking root in there. I will try the NEEM oil I have along with the soap/alcohol/water/cayenne solution. I will paint or spray all my plants, just to be sure. I tried a soap/vinegar/epsom salt solution for weed control and it worked very well, so I'm sure this will work just as well. Thank you for everyone who posted!

I have two chilli plants kept

I have two chilli plants kept on a window sill..and I recently noticed some of their leaves were sticky and started to curl inward. I noticed on the underside some small white spots of things that moved.
I've made and tried the rubbing alcohol+water+soap formula right now..How often should I be spraying it on the leaves? Do i leave it to dry or do i have to wash out the liquid on the leaves aftwr a while? And do I spray on both sides?

I mix with water,soap and

I mix with water,soap and rubbing alcohol then spray I will see next day if will gone for good what if they come tiny white bugs on my hot pepper

I had a TON of green aphids

I had a TON of green aphids feeding on a tiny jade plant. I took a spray bottle with about a 1:1 mixture of water and 91% isopropyl alcohol and a little dish soap. (I would use more alcohol if you only have the 70% kind). I sprayed the plant thoroughly on the stems and both sides of the leaves and I thought nothing had happened, but then I took a q-tip and wiped some of the aphids off and they appeared to be dead!

I'm guessing the dish detergent acts as a wetting agent that either helps to drown the aphids, or helps get the alcohol onto/into them which perhaps does the killing.

Either way, I wiped the rest of them off but I have to see if they'll make a comeback yet.

Hello:) my organic veggies

Hello:) my organic veggies (yellow+green squash), peppers,tomatoes, pumpkins, watermelon+Marigolds are in 1 area I am asking about. I hav 1 pumpkin w black dust on part of the skin. So far 1/2 of it+a few leaves turning yellow. We use our llama-doo+they all grow like magic!I can look into which pest is causing said issue. My ? Is I have many happy Lil frogs working on the leaves to eat pests:). So I won't use anything that may harm frogs, bees, butterflies or birds and lady bugs etc! Won't these sprays burn them?:(. We have a large wildlife habitat+ponds. With many frogs, turtles, ducks, geese and wildlife. Plus chickens in same zone as this raised bed that's growing like magic! We have Ants around but do our best to just vinegar and rinse the ones that enter the home or bother pets. Cinnamon isn't safe for pets, nor are onions and garlic. I have tons of peppermint with some being 5 feet away. We have many fruit orchards+vines. Iset up frog habitat in that plot+they adore being there. I have Peppermint Castile Soap but won't it burn my eco pal's? The BlackBerry vines have grown and migrated within 3 feet of the plot. Ahh:)," its like Jack's Magic Stalks from the llama-doo! Strawberries, Blueberry bush, Figs, Lemons, Oranges, Apples, Cherries, Grapes, Pears,Loquat+more are all about our place. We have many Weeping Willows are there any solutions from any of these that may help my possible Flea Beetle and or Mites or whatever? I will do the work as long as it won't hurt:) THANK U!:)

My aphids (black) are out of

My aphids (black) are out of control. They are ruining my zucchini and okra plants. My question is: can I cut the bad leaves of the plant? My okra is still producing but my zucchini plants are suffering bad from the aphids. They have damaged the fruit to non edible fruit. And I'm asking when they get this far gone do I just pull up the plant.

Interesting mentioning

Interesting mentioning nasturtiums because they are a magnet for aphids. But maybe the intention is if you have plants that you are protecting you'd plant nasturtiums to attract them away from your crops?? Sort of like a bait plant is in vineyards. Just curious.

Good point. Nasturtiums are a

The Editors's picture

Good point. Nasturtiums are a great "trap crop" or sacrificial crop to plant near your vegetables. And, yes, nasturtium are very attractive to aphids (blackfly, greenfly, whitefly) which will often completely cover the stems. Expect to see ants 'farming' the aphids for the honeydew they release. Put nasturtium near your beans and lettuce and see how it works for you!

Ladybugs

Ladybugs

I'm pretty sure I have a

I'm pretty sure I have a aphids s on my flowers. I've read a lot of information for example spaying with soap water. if possible I would like to know if this will kill the aphids??my plants seem to be dying from the bottom also. So are they in the root of the plants. I'm going to try the soap water.I've never had to deal with this before and I don't want to use pesticides. I would appreciate any help you might suggest,would any type of dish soap work?

In a spray bottle combine 2

In a spray bottle combine 2 parts rubbing alcohol, 5 parts water, and 1 tablespoon liquid soap.

wont the rubbing alchohal

wont the rubbing alchohal hurt the plant

As far as soap/water mixture

As far as soap/water mixture it killed my plants. Stripped them of their leaves within 24 after spraying them. Wont ever do that again!!!

Funny you mention nasturtiums

Funny you mention nasturtiums as helping - that is the only plant I have found black aphids on in my container garden! Have to try one of the sprays suggested.

I notice that no one is

I notice that no one is mentioning bean plants. I have black eyed peas and green beans, The ants are farming aphids harder than I am gardening! Every day I can check the peas and beans, spray with the onion/garlic/pepper/soap spray. Recipe is from organic gardening dot com. Every day they are back! I can't keep up with the activity! My pods will be almost completely covered with aphids and ants, running down the vines and under the leaves! I can't stand the ants! I already spoke with the local ag extension agent, who said spraying daily would work. However, in California we face watering restrictions at the moment, 2 times a week for watering. The ants/aphids have resisted it all. They are now spreading to some of the melons and cucumber in my garden, and possibly saw signs this morning on one of the squash. I am about to just throw up my hands and give up, let them eat the dang beans and peas. as long as they leave my heirloom tomatoes be!

The ants are there because of

The Editors's picture

The ants are there because of the aphids. They are "farming" them.  The ants are good guys. The aphids are pests. Get rid of the aphids and you'll get rid of the ants.  You an just blast those aphids with a soapy spray. Once the plants dry, just dust some DE (diatomaceous earth) on the plants and at their base.
We would ignore the ants but if they are really out of control, try boric acid. Make traps with 4 parts sugar, 1 part boric acid and put in saucers; they'll take it back to the colony.

How can the ants be the 'good

How can the ants be the 'good guys' if they're farming the aphids? ;) IMHO, the ants are just as guilty, maybe even more so since they farm the aphids.

I've found that insecticidal soap works well on aphids. I mix my own & use castile soap diluted with water, since castile soap seems to be more potent than regular dish soap.

I was wondering why no one

I was wondering why no one had mentioned boric acid (aka Borax) before! I use it for laundry & around the outside perimeter of my house and my plants as a dry dust and haven't had any problems….. Except for this year, I have chronic pain in my lower back & am limited to what I can do. Dusting my flowers & shrubs wasn't done & I noticed my first green aphid on my new transplanted moonflower plant! I will need to get some boric acid. You can buy Borax, the brand name in the laundry aisle at your local walmart or grocery store (Meijer, Kroger,etc…)for around $3.50! Alot cheaper than buying the general name boric acid from a gardening/department store & you get a lot less!

I have successfully used the

I have successfully used the boric acid solution to stop ants in the house... but please check the chemistry... Boric Acid and Borax are NOT the same. Boric Acid is the product to use... purchase from a pharmacy.

Per Park Ranger advise, I did sprinkle Borax on California visit to surround/outline tent to prevent ant intrusion . That is used in powder form, not dissolved in water.

Diatomaceous earth is excellent to surround the base of a seedling as it's sharpness cuts any crawling bug(slugs, etc). D. Earth is a product used for swimming pool filters. It is non toxic. We do eat it! It's in lots of grain based foods because lots of grains are stored with diatomaceous earth to keep the bugs from eating the grain!

**Boric acid, also called hydrogen borate, boracic acid, orthoboric acid and acidum boricum, is a weak, monobasic Lewis acid of boron often used as an antiseptic, insecticide, flame retardant, neutron absorber, or precursor to other chemical compounds.
** Borax, also known as sodium borate, sodium tetraborate, or disodium tetraborate, is an important boron compound, a mineral, and a salt of boric acid. Powdered borax is white, consisting of soft colorless crystals that dissolve easily in water.

You are not supposed to use

You are not supposed to use the *Diatomaceous earth that is for swimming pools, for pest control. the kind used for pools is not considered non toxic. I know people who use it* for flea control, but always it is pointed out to avoid the kind for pools.
You seem to have more overall knowledge about it than I do...but I wanted to make that one point.

Boric acid and Borax are not

Boric acid and Borax are not the exact same thing. as far as I know. They MAY be related but I do think are 2 separate things. I use Borax for laundry and cleaning stove top etc....as well as in a DIY flea control mixed with salt, maybe one other thing. I make ant bait/killer with boric acid, sugar & water.

Had the same problems. I

Had the same problems. I use
Cyonara insect control for aphids, hornworms, stink bugs, it kills any insest that takes a bite. My troubles are over, untill next time. Spray every two weeks. Don't worry about rain. I add a little dish soap to make it sticky

You sound overrun with insect

You sound overrun with insect pests. I'm no farmer, but I use chili spray made from our own chilies, to control virtually all pests. I've never found anything nearly as effective. One may have to spray a few times over a year and spraying underneath the leaves helps a bit. Nature always has the best solutions. Just add chopped chili to water over heat and when cooled, decant into spray bottles. Avoid inhaling the fumes and avoid cheap, hyperbred chilies. No pest will return. I don't yet grow okra, but will be soon. For the flesh of produce, use a weaker solution and avoid using the spray for about 3-4 weeks before picking. Good luck

I have found the best

I have found the best solution for ants to be to track them back to their nest opening, and treat them there. You can use a commercial ant poison (Amdron is the only one that works for me), and I put a tight screen over the area so my lovely lizards and birds cannot get near the poison. There are less harmful ways to treat ants, too, if you research it, only I've not found success with any of them yet. Keep your eye on the nest as it will no doubt come to life again sometime in the future. Also, make ever widening circles around the nest to find its connected nests. I have one 100 feet away not even in my yard that connects, so I treat them both. For some reason, great big red ants inhabit the nest but don't wander far. And the teeny tiny ants track back to the nest, too, from my garden far away. I don't understand that, but there you have it.

Pages

FREE BEGINNER'S GARDEN GUIDE!

Sign up for our email newsletter by entering your email address.

BONUS: You’ll also receive our Almanac Companion newsletter!

The Almanac Webcam

Chosen for You from The Old Farmer's Store