2022 Spring Home & Garden: Aphids and your plants – a winnable battle

The critter seen here is called a Green Peach Aphid.

Small and ubiquitous, aphids remain one of the most destructive plant pests out there, piercing the tender tissue of a plant, and causing your favorite green friend to leak out glucose, which the plant uses to feed itself.

“Aphids have no upside at all,” Rod Cool said.

Cool, the co-advisor of the Quincy chapter of FFA, says that the little sap-sucking insects can indeed be defeated.

“Depending on how bad an infestation you have, and what you want to do, there are some things you can do” to get rid of aphids, said Cool.

If you are worried about putting chemicals on the food you’re going to eat, one of the simplest things you can do is mix three tablespoons of dish soap in a two-gallon sprayer, and coat the affected leaves with that mixture.

Sometimes you can add a little neem oil, an essential oil that causes their abdomen to shrink and dries them out until they die. Aphids are of no harm to humans, but they can wreak havoc on your plants.

If the aphids are repeat offenders in your garden and you know the little sapsuckers are going to show up sooner or later, you may purchase ladybug larvae ahead of time. As it turns out, the little red-and-black bugs have aphids as one of their very favorite snacks.

Another solution is to bait aphids. Find yourself a yellow plastic cup, mount it atop a stick, and cover its outside in petroleum jelly, often sold in stores as Vaseline and other brand names.

“It acts as a piece of flypaper for aphids,” Cool said. “They are really attracted to the color yellow, so they congregate out there and get stuck. They land on it and can’t get away.” If the infestation is so serious none of these solutions is doing the trick, another thing you can do is purchase pyrethrum spray.

Pyrethrum (Pie-Reh–thrum) is a chemical that is highly effective against aphids, and it’s sold at most hardware stores. Yet another solution is laying down a systemic granular insecticide application on the ground that the plants pick up through their roots that is of no harm to anyone else, but when the aphids try to munch on your plants, “they aren’t very successful,” Cool said. Brands like Marathon are well known as effective types of this treatment.

“It’s not a restricted-use pesticide so you can get that at Wilbur Ellis or some similar company,” Cool said. Another product that can be used is called Tempo Complete, an over-the-counter insecticide that is effective on ants. Ants, as it turns out, are the loan sharks of the aphids world.

“They take the aphids, squeeze ‘em, eat what comes out of them and then turn ‘em loose to let ‘em go eat more plant juice and then squeeze ‘em again,” Cool said. “So you want to be able to control both the aphids and the ants, and Tempo would do that.”

The list goes on and on, said Cool, with the internet offering “a plethora of suggestions” on how to battle aphids, from DIY solutions to chemical fixes. Even spraying the leaves hard with water serves as a deterrent of sorts.

“It discourages (the aphids) and you can rough up the outside of their bodies with that water; but you’re not going to control them that way,” Cool said. “It’ll get your plants temporary relief, but they’ll come back.”

It’s hard to say how the aphids will respond to this crazy April weather we are having, but if they are going to show up, show them no mercy. Like Cool said, there’s no upside to aphids. Well, sorta.

“No upside,” he said. “Unless you like feeding ants.”

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