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.

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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.

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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 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

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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!

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Reader Comments

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Plant garlic near whatever

Plant garlic near whatever vegetables or plants are being attacked by aphids. I'm sure there are some plants that won't like being near garlic, so please look into this first.
I found this tip in an old gardening book dating from the 1930's. My only experience of using it was on plum trees. Had a really bad infestation, planted 3 bulbs around each tree.
The theory is that something the garlic releases into the soil is then taken up by surrounding plants. This renders the aphids infertile. So, garlic doesn't kill aphids but it does stop them reproducing. Worked for me and my plum trees.

I used to broadcast garlic

I used to broadcast garlic bulbs in various areas around and in my garden to help with aphid control. I'm pretty sure I read it in something Rodale published. I believe initially I started with it around the roses. Was the only thing allowed within a few feet, little grassy garlic bulblets all around. I NEVER had aphids in them. Lived there for 18 years with the same roses. So i expanded it to the rest of the garden areas where I saw aphids occasionally. I never thought to take it out to the orchard.

My mother has garlic all

My mother has garlic all around her yard and especially garden to eat, but she also has said it helps keep some of the pests away, well tonight I noticed it's the garlic that is COVERED with black aphids..... ? Makes me wonder how effective a garlic spray would be also.

I have two mature Chinese

I have two mature Chinese elms that are covered in aphids. The cars underneath are covered in aphid yuk. Because they are so tall spraying the leaves isn't an option. I have beneficial bugs in my garden but it's too much for the trees. I prefer organic but it's getting worse. Is there anything I can do in the soil around the tree to stop this

I'd recommend talking to an

The Editors's picture

I'd recommend talking to an arborist about organic pest control. You can sometimes rent (or buy) a tree sprayer that will spray an insecticide even up into tall trees. If you'd rather not use insecticide, you might consult the manufacturer (or an arborist) if you can just use a tree sprayer to knock off aphids with a stream of water (it won't get rid of them, but it will help control them). You want to make sure it isn't too strong a spray, though, so that it doesn't hurt the leaves. Meanwhile, you might consider a car cover--it gets the cover sticky with honeydew (the aphid yucky stuff), but saves cleaning the car. I had to do that once when aphids attacked a tall tulip tree by the driveway.

Just reading a book that says

Just reading a book that says planting marigolds helps "control" the aphid population: maybe it won t kill existing infestations but it would be worth researching since its a natural solution. Good luck.

The Marigold trick won't

The Marigold trick won't work, the aphids are eating mine =(

I honestly haven't had much

I honestly haven't had much luck using marigolds to control anything. It could be where I live, tho, since Northeast Florida seems to be insect heaven.

Sick Euonymus with rolled

Sick Euonymus with rolled leaves. My 28 year old and previously very healthy euonymus bush has developed extremely rolled leaves on much of the new growth, though part of the bush has normal new growth. The side edges of almost every leaf are rolled toward the top surface of the leaf, and the leaves are stunted and pale green. On close examination with a magnifying glass, I can see a few VERY TINY white specks that move. To me, they look like mites or perhaps tiny aphids. There does not appear to be webbing or honeydew. What can I do to save my burning bush? And to keep it from spreading to the other euonymus 10 feet away?

Thanks!
Kim
Missoula, Montana

I'm not sure aphids are

I'm not sure aphids are causing this problem, as there are so few of them. The leaf edges are rolled up so tightly, but with no web, and with little lighter colored nodules on the underside. It affects most of the shrub, but several whole branches are (so far) NOT affected, even though parts of these branches mingle with the affected branches. We haven't fertilized the adjacent lawn with weed-killer since last fall, and we did a prune before the leaf buds burst. The euonymus 10 feet away seems unaffected. It's a mystery!

My 28 year old and previously

My 28 year old and previously very healthy euonymus bush has developed extremely rolled leaves on much of the new growth, though part of the bush has normal new growth. The side edges of almost every leaf are rolled toward the top surface of the leaf, and the leaves are stunted and pale green. On close examination with a magnifying glass, I can see a few VERY TINY white specks that move. To me, they look like mites or perhaps tiny aphids. There does not appear to be webbing or honeydew. What can I do to save my burning bush? And to keep it from spreading to the other euonymus 10 feet away?

Thanks!
Kim
Missoula, Montana

I just noticed that where

I just noticed that where weeds, grass and lupine grow in the field near my garden, that every lupine plant are covered with aphids. I am worried that they might spread to my garden plants. Should I pull out the infected lupine nearest my garden and burn the plants? There are too many plants in the field that are infected to spray them.

I started my tomatoes in

I started my tomatoes in little coffee kurig containers, when I transplanted them there were these tiny white bugs loads of them in the soil I have no clue what they are can any one help and give a suggestion on how to get rid of these things what ever they are pleaseee!!!! Thanks,joy.

There are many types of bugs

The Editors's picture

There are many types of bugs so it's hard for us to identify. Perhaps white flies? See photo here:
http://www.almanac.com/content...
Perhaps the soil was nonsterile or nonpasteurized? Transplant in new soil and wash out any container with soap and water.
For many insects--from aphids to white flies--just spray the plant and leaves on all sides with a soap/oil mixture. See our pest pages for more information.

I am starting to have odd

I am starting to have odd shaped holes in the leaves of my mustard greens which are growing quite nicely otherwise. When I looked at the underside of the leaves I found a couple of lady beetles. If I use Organicide (from Home Depot) on them will it hurt the lady beetles? I have lettuce and broccoli planted also and I don't want the aphids or whatever other pests are attracting them to get out of control.

The active ingredient in Organicide appears to be sesame seed oil.

Product information at the

The Editors's picture

Product information at the Web site of Organic Labs (the manufacturer) says the Organicide 3-in-1 Garden Spray is "soft on beneficial insects" and "will not harm Bees, Butterflies, Ladybugs" but we'd suggest that you talk to the manufacturer directly to be sure, especially as there are several formulas of Organicide available, and we're not sure which one you have.
http://www.organiclabs.com/Ret...
http://www.organiclabs.com/Inf...

i discovered some very tiny

i discovered some very tiny brown bugs on my indoor ponytail plant. at first i thought it was flecks of loose dirt... when i used a jewelry loop i discovered bugs. they look like tiny brown moths that jump more than fly. they congrigated where new shoots sprout. i used the dish soap and water spray but it didnt make a difference. are these aphids or another pest?

These brown bugs are not

The Editors's picture

These brown bugs are not aphids. See the photo on this page. It sounds like scale. Do they look like brown bumps and is there a sticky residue? If so, that's scale. Dip a cosmetic sponge in rubbing alcohol and gently rub them over the stem and underside of the leaves to remove the scale. Completely remove any heavily infected leaves. Move your ponytail palm away from other plants until it is no longer infected.

I planted some romaine

I planted some romaine lettuce transplants in my garden box and they are doing very well but I have noticed some light colored pests recently … probably aphids. I got a sprayer and mixed a very light mixture of white vinegar in water. I sprayed the underside of each plant and it seems to have made a difference. I will monitor them everyday to see if the vinegar water bothers the growth of the lettuce but so far I'm happy with less aphids.

The Aphids are killing my

The Aphids are killing my garden! I have a square foot garden that is completly full however all of a sudden the Aphids are destroying my broccoli crop and lettuce. I dont need them hurting any thing else. We live in South Carolina where the weather has been cool one week and hot the next. I have tried the cool water and spray with Ivory soap. Does any one have ideas that they know works well for this area?

Aphids do tend to be

The Editors's picture

Aphids do tend to be troublesome in cool, dry weather. You need to catch them early and spray foliage with soapy water, then rinse with clear water or use insecticidal soaps. You could also fill yellow pans with water to trap the aphids.
On a bigger scale, you'd need to investigate two or three insecticide treatments at five-day intervals may be needed to clean up plants.
Be sure to clean up plants immediately after any harvesting. We hope this works out!

For the first time last

For the first time last summer our laburnum tree was infested with aphids. Is this likely to happen again this summer?

This tree is relatively

The Editors's picture

This tree is relatively pest-free but it is indeed susceptible to aphids. We would visit your local nursury for an organic spray.

Hi, iv just started a garden

Hi, iv just started a garden and im growing sunflowers. Iv noticed the plants leaves were getting eaten and my plants are starting to die.iv tried spraying water on it with the hose and it helped some but only a little. I want to start growing herbs but I dont want the same thing to happen. Iv found two small caterpillars. Is there a spray I can get that kills bugs but is plant-safe? Preferably at home depot.

If you see aphids, try a soap

The Editors's picture

If you see aphids, try a soap spray every 4 to 5 days. You can even make your own: water and 2-3% washing up detergent.
However, it sounds as if you have caterpillar damage. Pick them off twice a day with gloves and drop them in a bucket of soapy water. If this doesn't work, ask Home Depot for a BT spray (Bacillus thuringiensis) which is considered a low danger to honeybees and beneficial insects.

Aphid and Mite problem! I

Aphid and Mite problem!

I just purchased about 1500 lady bugs.
Maybe they helped a little but there are only a few left after a week or two.
They were in a green house where did they go? There is also a mite problem on my strawberries. My set up is a hydro ponic ebb and flow system in my green house in NJ. We are growing about 50 strawberries, dozen tomatoes, A few Brussels sprouts, cantaloupe, watermelon, cucumber, and basil.

What works is looking through each plant and cleaning each leaf with my hands and squeezing the aphids or breaking off the leaves that infest. I am constantly killing them but they are still there. The mites make a web across the leaves of the strawberries.
I clean the web off with a spray bottle and my hands. There still are leaves that have turned brown but they have not killed my plants. I was thinking about calling the lady bug people back and telling them the bugs died too quickly and to send more.

My fear is that they eat the new flowers for strawberries and tomatoes.
Therefore, the plants will never bear fruit because they are working against me.

Its a hobby but I also wanted to see something out of my efforts. The entire system that I build cost about 3500 dollars. Overall my light bill for two 600 watt grow lights costs about 170 per month. My next step is to look into insecticidal soap.

What is your opinion?

Hi Mark, We suggest that you

The Editors's picture

Hi Mark,
We suggest that you call the lady bug people back and tell them what happend to see if they have any suggestions.
Insecticidal soap, if used according to directions, will cut back on your pest problems. Also read some of the comments on this page to find out what other readers have tried.
Good luck!
 

Sounds like the mites you

Sounds like the mites you have are spider mites. The only organic method I've found that works to kill them is Neem oil. Or squishing them & the web, but that can get tedious & doesn't really help with a bad infestation.

For aphids, I either squish them and/or use a home made insecticidal soap made from castile soap diluted with water. Castile soap (or any type of soap) basically causes the insect's cell membranes to 'break' so the insects die of dehydration. I usually use peppermint castile soap, as the peppermint oil in the soap seems to intensify the effect of the soap. I usually use 1-2 Tbsp per quart of water.

Also, I've read in a number of places that insects are territorial & generally define their territory by where they 'hatched'. Did the ladybugs come fully grown or were they nymphs or eggs? If they were fully grown, that might be why they didn't stick around for long. :(

Hi yes I'm curious, I have an

Hi yes I'm curious, I have an above ground garden in my apartments the floor is cement then I used bricks and wood pallets to make it. I've finally started to yield my chiles and after my first harvest another round of buds came out...and that's when the infestation started. First ants then black tiny little bugs I'm assuming are the aphids. I've done everything but nothing seems to be working I tried an insecticide I tried cold water showers I tried the alcohol water soap solution and nada and it's making my plants growth stunt. Helllppppp

Aphids are common pepper

The Editors's picture

Aphids are common pepper pests though they usually look like tiny whitish specks, not black. See the picture on this page. Spray a mild solution of soapy water on all sides of the leaves, especially the undersides.  If the infestation is severe, spray with pyrethrum.
Tiny black specks are probably flea beetles. You can dust with wood ashes or spray with a garlic or hot pepper solution. Spraying with pyrethrum will also control flea beetles.

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