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 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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Aphid attack 2nd year of war

Wanted to share my experiences with these awful (kinda cute) insects. My strawberry tree was almost killed by aphids last year as I had noticed too late. When I did notice, the tree’s leaves were black and shiny, many fell off, new leaves were stunted, curled and infested. Then I started to spray with a neem mixture until I saw ladybug larvae all over the tree. They procreated and soon I had about a dozen or more ladybugs working on the tree. So ladybugs do come but in my case, too late. This year, since aphids mostly come in the spring, I was on alert. When the strawberry tree started to grow new leaves, I went to work right away. The key is that you MUST start early. Once they multiply to the point where your plant is shiny with their sticky sweet stuff, and is visibly suffering, it’s too late. You can do what you can but you have to wash your plant (with a bit of dawn in the water to remove sticky aphid stuff), get rid of the ants that will come to farm, and solve your secondary problem of fungus and mold from the sugars. So what I am doing this year is every other day (you must be on it!) I take a gallon sprayer, fill it with water, add a bit of dish soap and a bit of fungicide (to be exact, Zerotol HC) I spray ALL the new leaf areas. Even if I do not see aphids. I check the older leaves as well. So far the plant is growing very good and new leaves are coming in strong. When the leaves are mature, I will slow down the application but for now, I’m out there EVERY OTHER DAY— not more than two days. I’m doing this with all my roses and redbud tree, beans and Swiss chard. Also- Garlic Barrier works ok for aphids but it smells SO strong and the smell will stay in your gallon sprayer. You also must apply frequently. It ruins edible plant taste so don’t spray garlic on Swiss chard for example. Recommending the water, soap, fungicide route.

Hope this helps some. Aphids may be easy to kill, but their strength is in numbers and rate of procreation!!

Good luck in your war!

Aphids; Monarchs & Milkweed~

Monarchs are attracted to Milkwed for Pollen + as a place to lay the monarch caterpillar eggs; she lays the egg on the underside Milkweed leaf; the caterpillars hatch to eat Milkweek; Milkweed leaves are the best known food for Monarch Butterflies + young; I found moisture contributes to Aphids; if I grow Milkweed in a dry environment or garden; I get less aphids; Milkweed like a natural dry meadow type environment; back yard full sun; I read;

Monarchs-Aphids-Milkweed

This is for Submitted by sdek on June 13, 2020 - 9:03pm
Contrary to what you posted, Monarchs are NOT attracted to aphids on milkweed and seek aphids instead of the plant.. Milkweed is Monarch food source and seek the milkweed. The feet of the Monarch has plant sensors and when landing on a plant it knows if it's milkweed or not. The female lays it's eggs on the underside of the leaves, not on aphids.

The feet have two forked "toes" that are like spikes and attach to anything, even your skin. It's hard to lift them off and care should be taken not to jerk them to release, the feet can be damaged.

Wish you had more knowledge about Monarchs. I've photographed, gave lectures to Audubons, school kids in NE for over 20 years. I cane tell what a Monarch is doing in their life cycle from the mating, egg laying, hatching, development and feeding. All aspects, so I know aphids don't attract Monarchs.

I've seen Milkweed loaded with aphids and if no cat's or eggs I cut and destroy the plant. I have fields full of milkweed in VT.

Aphids out the wazoo

I've bought praying mantis eggs, but whenever they hatch the praying mantises disappear. We've had horrible winds, and it appears that they just blow away. I've gotten ladybugs, but they're gone now too. I've read that I should be misting my plants every morning, but I live in the desert and the leaves dry almost as quickly as I spray them. I found that one of my praying mantis egg cases hatched, but I see not a single praying mantis. I doubt that they've moved to greener pastures, because I have a buffet of aphids waiting for them. They're not eating them, they're just disappearing. I don't get it.

Aphid attack

It doesn't work. They come back the next day. We've tried everything but commercial pesticides

Aphid Infestation

Aphids are destroying my Dama de Noche (cestrum nocturnum). Last year it was so bad the leaves were coated in honeydew. The tree is 7 years old with a well established trunk so I cut all the green back in the fall and sprayed the trunk with neem oil and did a soil drench for the Winter dormant period. It's an indoor/balcony tree. During the Summer months I've tried catnip, dishsoap/cayenne pepper mix, commercial aphid sprays, Sevin dustand flour and alcohol/water mix. I've also planted various herbs next to the tree that are supposed to repel the aphids. I just looked at it today and there are aphids on it again. As soon as any new green leaves start to appear they attack and the leaves start to curl and fall off. Any suggestions of what else I can try?

I can't even pinpoint where they are coming from since I have several other plants of different types and none of them are or have ever been affected by these insidious pests.

I'm at the end of my rope and really don't want to lose this tree.

Thanks.

aphids

50/50 isopropyl to distilled water
spray 2 times daily..
diatamaceous earth the soil and mix it in..
let dry so it can work properly, before even planting anything mix it in to the soil..
start spraying with alcohol and water before getting any bugs in the first place..

Orange aphids

They are all over a plant ( house plant) that I want to bring in for the Winter.. what shall I do.

Aphids on Houseplant

The Editors's picture

Treat the plant following the advice given above, specifically the dish soap spray solution. Before spraying, try to wipe off as many of the bugs as you can see. If temperatures allow, keep it outside for a while longer until you can get the aphids under control. When you bring it inside, keep it away from other plants until you aren’t seeing any more aphids show up.

aphids

help bringing in house plants...need control of aphids. last year they over whelmed our house help

Aphids on my Hoya plants

I would welcome any great advice for my Hoya plants. I have a two plants and cannot get RID of the aphids. Neem, alcohol mix, water blasts...tried them all.

Aphids info

The above says that aphids are repelled by catnip, however, my catnip plant is infested with aphids.

Aphids on baby Jacarandas

I am growing 30 baby Jacaranda trees from seed. Unfortunately, I've noticed aphids on some of them and since they are still so fragile, I'm worried about spraying anything on them. Any suggestions other than applying soapy water with a Q-tip maybe?

Dandruff shampoo works great

Dandruff shampoo works great for scale on house plants! Thank you

Cabbage aphids --- not a ladybug choice?

Hi,
I've read that the aphids that attack the cabbage family are not preferred by ladybugs. The aphids have a mustardy taste that ladybugs don't prefer? True? I haven't tried a soapy concoction... I just spray with water and try to wash the lot off.... a daily time consuming process.... Something different for cabbages?
Thanks!

cayenne and aphids

Don't try it!
I just ruined two spray bottles that have worked fine up until now!
Cayenne is not soluble. It plugs the tiny openings. :( I am so sad.

Aphids on peas

My peas started showing aphids, so I tried the soapy water. It seemed to work, but then the lady bugs showed up and I didn't know if that would hurt the lady bugs. Does it?
I have a losing battle now with the little suckers (literally). Can I still use the peas for compost or do I need to dispose of them?
Thanks for any help.

aphid-infected plants

The Editors's picture

Discard, do not compost, aphid infected plants. Soapy water does not usually affect/harm lady bugs. (Sad to hear this story. Fresh peas are glorious.)

Tiny unknown bugs eating my flowers

These tiny tiny little bugs are a little brownish to ..golden? Color. They jump when I open up my flower to my pumpkins their eating away at my pollen and the flower wilts and eventually falls off?? I've used neem oil and also Sevin but still there coming into my flowers then the flowers shuts and wilts then falls off?

aphids, rust, black spot...

I've been trying to control all these pests with neem (+ bicarbonate + a solvent) and it seems to do absolutely NOTHING. Today a rose bush was literally covered with aphids and I had sprayed it a few days ago. I gave up and sprayed insecticide on it (after removing the aphids manually). I don't know, neem just doesn't seem to work for me. One day the plants have rust and the next day they also have black spot....

aphids on milkweed

this particular comment is for Cass who crushes the orange aphids on milkweeds. Butterflies are attracted to those aphids and lay there eggs there on purpose, Please do not crush them. They are harmless to the milkweed

Alphids

Last year was the first year we grew plants to attract butterflies. When we returned from a long weekend, we came home to an aphids invasion. I about cried! I quickly read everything I could on the internet about it and ordered some ladybug online. A few days later, they arrived and went to work eating the alphids. Yes, I would buy them again. I. The meantime, I washed the leaves a couple times a day, used cayenne pepper, and tried to pick a thousand of them off. This year, we planted onions, garlic, rosemary, basil, and a few other plants around my butterfly plants to hopefully, keep the alphids away. We shall see!!!

aphid experience

The Editors's picture

Thans for sharing–good info here.

aphid

Hi,
I've heard that yellow ribbon hung on the tree attracts ladybugs. They can help us with aphid.
Is anyone use it?

Ribbons

The Editors's picture

This is unlikely to have any noticeable effect, unfortunately. The best way to attract ladybugs is to create an environment that they’ll thrive in: lots of wildflowers or tall grass (hiding places and things that will attract their prey.

Aphids

I had aphids on my lettuce and kale, so treated it with soapy water spray. Since doing this my lettuce and kale have become bitter. Any relationship between that and the soapy water?

Aphids on plants

How much LIME do you put in the quart of water ??

aphids

I have sprinkled flour on my plants because I read that it constipated the aphids. It kept them away for a while. I live in Texas and we have bugs so it's a constant battle but I rotate between soapy water, flour, and neem oil. It seems like it takes a full arsenal to keep them at bay.

Aphids on milkweed

I raise monarchs butterflies that need milkweed for their larva. The yellow aphids cover the milkweed so badly that the stems look like tiny ears of corn! I smash them with my hands but would love to know a way to discourage or kill them that will not hurt my butterflies. Please help!

Aphids on Milkweed

The Editors's picture

This is tricky, as you should not use any substances that could harm other soft-bodied insect, like the caterpillars. Normally we could recommend using a sprayer or hose to spray down the plants and blast some of the aphids off, but in this case, you may inadvertently get rid of eggs or caterpillars, too. Perhaps you can do this before the monarchs arrive?

Destroying the aphids by hand is likely the best way to ensure that butterfly eggs and caterpillars are not damaged in the crossfire. You could also look into purchasing ladybugs online and setting them loose in your garden. If there are plenty of aphids, the ladybugs should stick around, though there’s no guarantee they won’t venture elsewhere.

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