Aphids are tiny, soft-bodied sap-sucking insects that can be hard to spot in the garden. But you’ll know you have an aphid infestation when you see the telltale signs on your plants — yellowing or misshapen leaves, holes in the leaves or sticky spots that eventually turn black. (Aphids secrete a sticky substance called honeydew as part of their waste process, which can quickly grow black fungus.)
Different species of aphids are different colors — they can be brown, black, white, gray, yellow, light green, red or pink. They have fat, pear-shaped bodies with little antenna in the front and little tubes coming out of their back end called cornicles.
In Eric Carle’s classic book, “The Grouchy Ladybug,” the grumbling protagonist feasts on aphids. When the ladybugs are finally done eating, the leaf breathes a sigh of relief and thanks the ladybugs — and for good reason. Aphids multiply fast and can wreak havoc in your garden, eating up your vegetation and sometimes transmitting viruses to plants. Ladybugs are natural aphid predators, and they’re pretty to look at, too. There are some natural ways to attract more ladybugs to your garden, or you can buy them on Amazon if you’d like. But even without ladybugs, here are five easy fixes to help get rid of those pesky aphids.
1. Spray the plants with a pressure-filled spray from a garden hose. Since aphids are delicate little creatures, a little water can go a long way toward removing them from your plants. Sometimes this is all you need to keep an infestation at bay.
2. Mix water in a spray bottle with 1 to 2 teaspoons of pure dish soap. Test this solution on one plant before spraying it all over your garden, since some dish soap can be irritating to plants. Once you know it works, apply it every 2 to 3 days for two weeks until the aphid infestation is gone. The dish soap works by stripping the aphids of their waxy coating, dehydrating them.
3. Aphids are a favorite meal for many species of birds. Encourage birds to visit your garden with a feeder stocked with bird seed or a little house built up in the trees.
4. Try companion planting. Aphids are particularly attracted to mustard and nasturtium, among other plants. You can plant these herbs in your garden a safe distance away from your more valuable plants as a diversion for the aphids.
5. Don’t over-fertilize your plants. Aphids love to feed on plants with hearty, rapid growth, so a slow-release fertilizer would prevent those kind of plants from growing in your garden.
To prevent further infestations, be a vigilant gardener. That means inspect the leaves of your plants often, especially the underside, where aphids like to hide. If you see signs of an aphid infestation, take the appropriate measures fast.
At the end of the day, your plants will thank you!