Pests are more than an annoyance. We work so much to nurture our gardens and plants to be as healthy and vibrant as they can, and it can be devastating to watch all our beloved plants under attack. In Indiana, we have a moderate assortment of creepy-crawlies that can cause havoc in your garden. They range from the common to rare, and from moderately disruptive to downright destructive. The sheer numbers that gardeners face with aphids make them rank among the most hated pests in our area.
The best way to get the upper hand when dealing with any pest is to understand a little about how they grow, eat, and reproduce. Getting to know the aphid life cycle arms you with the information you’ll need to disrupt it and keep your garden safe from invaders. The aphid’s adaptations are what make them so difficult to manage at times, but they also make them fascinating. These adaptations can be managed in a number of ways, depending on the severity of your problem.
One aphid is not that much of a threat to your plants, but the problem lies in how many of them can show up in a few days. Aphids reproduce very quickly, meaning their numbers can climb fast, quickly overwhelming your garden. These pests reproduce like crazy, both sexually and asexually. In the spring, when new generations of eggs hatch, the emerging aphids are all female, and many are already pregnant with more babies. The nymphs mature in only a week and are then ready to start their own “families.” Your garden could see dozens of generations of these pests in a season. In the fall, the eggs begin to hatch as male and female, and can even sprout wings that let them travel to new areas for the next season, overwintering by attaching their eggs to plants. After the cool weather warms up for the next spring, the whole cycle starts again.
WHAT DO APHIDS LOOK LIKE?
Recognizing aphids in your garden is relatively easy. Although they could come in an assortment of colors from green, black, brown, gray, spotted, or even furry, they are always pear-shaped, and usually appear in clusters. Their groupings could be so dense at the tips of new growth or under the leaves of your plant that they might weigh them down. They tend to gravitate towards well-fertilized plants as they provide lots of tasty new growth to feed on.
Aphids hurt our plants by sucking the sap out of them. They’re extremely good at this, meaning they can devastate a plant quickly. If you have an aphid problem, you might notice that your garden is showing yellow discolorations and wilted or curled leaves. These little vampires also secrete a sticky substance called “honeydew” that tends to attract scores of ants to your garden, while making it easier for fungus and rot to damage your garden. Aphids can also cause your garden harm by passing disease directly into your plants. There are many ways that aphids can cause stress or harm to your garden, but all of them come down to the overwhelming numbers of little pests draining your plants.
HOW TO GET RID OF APHIDS
These pests can easily cause damage, but luckily we have multiple tools to get them out of our gardens.
Fortunately for us, aphids are like the twinkies of the insect world: they are mass-produced, have no physical defences, and almost everything loves to snack on them. The easiest and safest way to control aphids is to invite as many natural predators into your garden as you can. If you start early be encouraging beneficial predators, you can likely avoid any chemical solutions to your pest problem.
Ladybugs are essential to controlling your aphids. Not only are these beetles adorably polka-dotted, but they are hungry killers that love to feast on aphids. A single ladybug can eat up to 5000 aphids in their life - and as long as there is a pest buffet available to them, these helpful beetles will stick around in your garden to keep aphids under control. You can either attract beneficial predators naturally or purchase them at your local garden center to release into your garden.
Other easy and natural solutions to keep an aphid problem under control are using neem oil or even just spraying them off plants with a strong jet of water.
When things get out of control, you might need to step up your defences and resort to using stronger solutions. Start with insecticidal soap. If you apply it a few times to totally halt the aphid’s reproductive cycle, this gentler solution can still work very well. As a last resort, some gardeners may want to resort to pyrethrum. As the active ingredient in many pesticides, it is a potent solution. Keep in mind though, that using pyrethrum will wipe out all of the insect life in your garden, not just the pests. By losing the bad guys, you’ll also kill any beneficial good guys that help you keep these pests under control. Aphids will bounce back faster than their predators, so using harsh pesticides might work temporarily, but could cause more issues in the long run.
Aphids are a common problem in our gardens that can come with an assortment of solutions that you can tailor to your home and garden. A bit of basic knowledge about aphids is all you need to prevent them from damaging your plants.