Controlling Aphids Organically

Aphids -- those little sap-sucking, honeydew-excreting pests -- can definitely spell trouble for your garden. The good news is that there are several reliable organic methods for dealing with the little buggers. Here are a few of my favorites.

What Are Aphids, Exactly?

Aphids are soft-bodied insects, about a tenth of an inch long. They're typically green or black, though you may also run into gray or black ones in your garden, depending upon where you live.

The problem with aphids is that they suck the sap from the stems and leaves of your plant. This can weaken the plant, but, even worse, they also spread diseases as they move from plant to plant. And, they reproduce quickly!

How to Control Aphids Organically

Here are some tried-and-true organic methods for getting rid of aphids:

1. If you have a small infestation, simply wipe the aphids off with your hand or a soft cloth. Check back every day or two and repeat until you stop seeing them.

2. A blast of water from the hose is often all you need to get rid of aphids. Again, you'll want to repeat this after a couple of days if you see any more aphids on your plants.

3. Insecticidal soap works very well on aphids, and is a good choice if you find that wiping or spraying them off with water just isn't cutting it. Make sure you get the undersides of the leaves, too -- that's often where they congregate.

4. Homemade sprays, such as those made from tomato leaves or garlic oil, work very well on even large aphid infestations. You'll want to apply these treatments when there's no rain in the forecast, and out of strong sunlight (morning is a good time to do this.) Also, you'll want to keep in mind that these are non-selective pesticides, so they will harm any beneficial insects in the area as well -- use them sparingly.

5. Consider introducing beneficial insects, especially ladybugs and their larvae, into your garden. They are voracious predators and will clean up an aphid infestation in no time.

An Awesome Aphid Fact

An Ant "Milking" an Aphid.
Some species of ants "farm" aphids, protecting them on the plants they eat, eating the honeydew that the aphids release from the terminations of their alimentary canals. This is a symbiotic relationship.  These "dairying ants" "milk" the aphids by stroking them with their antennae.

Some farming ant species gather and store the aphid eggs in their nests over the winter. In the spring, the ants carry the newly hatched aphids back to the plants. Some species of dairying ants (such as the European yellow meadow ant, Lasius flavus) manage large "herds" of aphids that feed on roots of plants in the ant colony. Queens that are leaving to start a new colony take an aphid egg to found a new herd of underground aphids in the new colony. These farming ants protect the aphids by fighting off aphid predators.