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Keeping Aphids Out of the Garden

by Paul-Martin Foss

You’ve set up your vegetable garden, nursed your seedlings to the point they can be transplanted, watered them regularly, and you’re finally seeing the first fruits of your labors. Maybe you’ve even tried to grow a biennial like artichoke. You pick your first bud, looking forward to finally eating your homegrown produce, and then you notice that it’s full of hundreds of little black insects… aphids. The scourge of gardeners everywhere. What can you do to get rid of them?

Get Rid of Ants

There’s probably not a gardener anywhere who hasn’t had to deal with aphids at some point or another. The little pests can literally suck the life out of infected plants, as well as transmit diseases among plant populations.

Aphids very often are a sign of an ant infestation. Aphids suck the juices from plant leaves and stems and secrete a sticky substance called honeydew. While honeydew can make plants susceptible to fungal and bacterial infection, it also is harvested by ants as food. Ants will bring aphid nymphs to plant in your garden and line them up all along the leaves and stems, letting them feed, protecting them from predators, and harvesting the honeydew to feed the ant colony.

If you see ants climbing all over your plants, there’s a good change that they are in the process of setting up an aphid farm. Get rid of the ants and you’ll get rid of your aphid problem. Commercial ant baits will work well, as ants will feed on them and take the poison back to their colony, killing all the other ants. You can also make homemade ant poison from a mixture of borax, sugar, and water. It may take several applications before your ant problem is under control, but once it is you should see a dramatic reduction in your ant population.

Crush Them

If you have a manageable number of aphids, or if you still have a few left over after your ant problem is fixed, you can even crush them with your fingers. Just take care not to crush the leaves or stems of your plants. Aphids like to suck the juices from new plant growth first, so they’re most likely to cluster around the tops and ends of plants, where new buds, stems, and leaves are growing. Especially check the undersides of leaves, where they like to congregate to avoid harsh sunshine and predators.

Use Dish Soap or Water

A strong spray of water is enough to dislodge aphid nymphs from your plants. Established plants can be watered with a garden hose, while younger plants can benefit from water sprayed from a spray bottle. Once they’ve been knocked off your plants, they won’t be able to get back up on their own.

Another method to get rid of aphids is to fill a spray bottle with liquid dish soap and water. Use a ratio of 2 tablespoons of liquid dish soap per 1 gallon of water. For a quart-sized bottle that would be ½ tablespoon of liquid soap in a quart of water. The soap disrupts the waxy coating on aphids’ bodies and causes them to dry out. It may require multiple applications over the course of several days or weeks before they’re all gone.

Attract Predators

Many predators prey on aphids, including ladybugs. While you can purchase ladybugs, you can also plant companion crops that are known to attract ladybugs. Marigolds are one of the most well-known. In addition to being a pretty flower, they will attract ladybugs, which will then lay eggs. The larvae that hatch will then begin to feed on aphids both in the larval stage and as adults.

Planting beneficial herbs such as coriander, fennel, and dill is also supposed to attract ladybugs and other beneficial insects such as lacewings and mealybug destroyers. Just keep an eye out because aphids will also try to infect those plants.

Insecticidal Soap

If your infestation is particularly bad, you could resort to insecticidal soap as a last-ditch resort. While insecticides are effective, they do not discriminate between bad and good insects. Both aphids and their predators will be killed. That could lead to subsequent aphid infestations that might be worse than the initial one.

There’s no reason to suffer an aphid infestation and the loss of your plants. Trying these simple remedies can help you rid your garden of aphids and ensure that you can enjoy the vegetables and herbs you work so hard to cultivate.

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