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Aphids: Identification and Organic Control - Kinney Nursery and Topsoil

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Aphids: Identification and Organic Control

Two Green Aphids

If you’ve noticed your plants’ leaves getting yellow and distorted, its growth stunted, and with the plant itself having black, sticky substance, then chances are it has aphids. If you wondering just what are aphids, and how do they affect your plants, this article will tell you.

What Are Aphids?

Aphids are small insects believed to be one of the most destructive pests in temperate regions. Also called ant cow, plant louse or greenfly, aphids feed on a large variety of plants, and during severe cases, the plant doesn’t survive.
As aphids feed, they pierce plant stems so they can absorb the sap, which leads to the plant losing the fuel required to survive. They produce honeydew, a sticky substance that quickly gets infested with black and sooty mold. This mold ends up coating plant leaves, depriving the leaves of sunlight. Aphids also spread viruses, and a lot of them are incurable, hence the importance of controlling them. Infestations don’t happen in a snap, but because of their exponential growth, they can invade and destroy crops if they grow in uncontrollable numbers.


There are more than a thousand species of aphids, and around 250 of them are known pests of both crops and ornamental plants. They are known as the first pests to appear in your garden early in the season and that they love new growth. Here are some of the more popularly known aphid species:

Apple Aphid: Its only host is the apple tree, hence the name. It’s a yellow green aphid with dark head and legs. This aphid produces honeydew that soon leads to the growth of sooty molds.

Image courtesy of influentialpoints.com. You can learn more from them about apple aphids here.

Rosy Apple Aphid: There’s also the rosy apple aphid that deforms fruit, leading to “aphid apples”. Whenever it feeds, the leaves curl around it – this leads to protection from chemicals and insecticide sprays.
This aphid type can often be controlled by natural enemies such as lady beetles, chiefly syrphid flies, parasitic wasps and lacewings. There are times when insecticides can be necessary.

Rosey Apple Aphids

Image courtesy of Mike Keeling of Flickr.

Green Peach Aphid: Also referred to as the spinach aphid, this is a pale yellow green aphid that has three dark lines on its back. This is known as a serious pest as it transmits various plant mosaic diseases.
During autumn, it produces sexual males and females, but during summer, the females reproduce through parthogenesis.

Greenbug: The greenbug destroys oats, wheat and other small grains. Greenbugs look like yellow patches on a plant; if left uncontrolled, they can destroy a whole field. Greenbugs are pale green in color with a dark stripe down its back. Female greenbugs produce around 50 to 60 young for every generation; every year has 20 generations. They may sound destructive, but they can be controlled by insecticides and parasites.

greenbug aphid

Image courtesy of Jerry Kirkhart of Flickr.

Corn Root Aphid: The corn root aphid is another serious pest, and it relies on the cornfield ant. These ants store aphid eggs during the winter, and they carry the newly hatched ones to weed roots during the spring.
Aphids affect corn growth; they cause plants to turn yellow and wilt. They can also infest grasses.

These are just some of the aphid types present in nature. It’s best to be vigilant and monitor their growth to avoid any major destruction caused by these insects. However if you don't want to use chemical pesticides you don’t have to worry; there are organic methods of getting rid of these aphids. Check the last section to discover organic ways of killing aphids.


The aphids’ life cycle isn’t as simple as other animals. An egg hatches in spring, and this produces a wingless female aphid. This wingless female will then produce new wingless females during the summer through parthogenesis (Parthogenesis occurs when female aphids give birth without the need for male aphids. When they give birth, they don’t lay eggs. Instead, they give birth to smaller versions of themselves – living young known as ‘viviparity’.)

Newborn aphids become adults and reproduce in a week. Aphids are prolific creatures; they can produce around 5 offspring daily, and can do this for 30 days. When the plant that the orginial mother and her offspring live on becomes overcrowded, some offspring become winged adults, and these fly to new plants. By the end of summer, both male and female aphids will have been produced; after mating, females would lay eggs that will survive the winter season.

Image courtesy of Bernard DUPONT of Flickr.


If you don’t kill aphids – or at least control their “invasion” – soon enough, then they can bring considerable damage to your plants. It’s not easy to kill aphids, but you don’t always have to resort to pesticides or other methods that require chemicals. There are organic ways to kill aphids, and the best method would depend on the gravity of the situation.

Manual Removal: If there aren’t a lot of aphids, then you can end up removing them yourself. It’s easy; just wear a pair of gardening gloves, pinch off aphids from leaves and stems, and then drop them in a bucket filled with soapy water. Doing so would kill the aphids and end your troubles. Another way is to dust the plants with flour – doing so will constipate the pests.

Water and Dish Soap: You can also use soap and water to kill aphids. All you need to do is to dilute dish soap – a few tablespoons would do – in a small bucket of lukewarm water. A spray bottle or a sponge can be used to apply this mixture to the affected plants. The mixture will then remove the waxy protective coating
Another variation would also work – this time, with the addition of cayenne pepper. Mix a quart of water with a teaspoon of dish soap, and then add a pinch of cayenne pepper. Spray this mixture on plants without diluting.

Companion Planting: There are times when you don’t need to directly attack aphids to get rid of them. In these cases, “companion planting” may work.

  • Aphids are repelled by chives and garlic, especially if these plants are near peas, lettuce or rose bushes.
  • Aphids are also repelled by catnip.
  • You can plant “peace offerings” such as zinnias, cosmos and dahlias – these plants can divert the attention of aphids. The aphids can munch on them instead of infesting your garden.
  • Aphids hate the smell emitted by onions and other alliums, so it’s good to plant them around your garden to stop aphids from staying in the area.

Alcohol: Alcohol can also be used to kill aphids; isopropanol works well, but be sure you’re using one that doesn’t have additives. Go for ethanol if you can; it’s believed to work best.
Alcohol comes in two kinds: either with 70% or 90% strength. Either of the two can be used to remove aphids.
To create your own spray, mix 70% alcohol and water in a 1:1 ratio (if you’re using 90%, then the ratio should be 1:1.5). If you want it to be more effective, then create a soapy emulsion with alcohol instead. To create this other version, mix 2 cups of alcohol, 5 cups of water, and 1 tablespoon of liquid soap.

Neem oil: is a naturally occurring product used as a broad spectrum insecticide as well as a miticide and fungicide. Used on ornamentals, trees, shrubs, vegetables, fruit and nut trees. It controls insects such as aphids, whiteflies, scale, leafrollers, etc. Mites and fungal diseases such as powdery mildew, black spot, rust and scab are also controlled by Neem Oil.

REMINDER: Plants can be sensitive to soap or alcohol, so be careful in using them for plants. Make sure to apply the mixture in a small area first during morning or evening, when the sun isn’t strikingly hot. Observe the plant for a few days; make sure there are no adverse reactions before you apply more.


No matter how good you are in killing aphids, it’s still not a good idea to have them so often; might as well learn how to prevent their presence naturally to stop having this problem. Here are some of the best ways to prevent aphids naturrally.

  • Spray Horticultural oil to kill overwintering eggs in fruit or shade trees.
  • Beneficial insects e.g. lacewings, lady beetles and parasitic wasps feed on aphids. Having them not only kills the aphids around, but also prevents them from attacking your plants in the future.
  • Encourage birds such as chickadees, wrens and titmice to nest around your garden. Attract them by offering food and space to build their nests on, such as twiggy shrubs and small trees. You can also build small birdhouses and feeders for these birds.
  • Ants tend to protect aphids as the former loves the honeydew secreted by the latter. Draw ants away from the aphids by placing honey containers near the invaded plant. Once ants are out of the way, predator insects can then easily access the aphids.
  • You don’t have to eliminate every aphid on site; as long as you preserve the balance, then you’ll still be in control. The absence of aphids would mean the predators consuming these insects will fly away and search for other food sources and a new home.
  • It will also help not to baby your plants too much i.e., not over-sheltering or over-fertilizing them, so they grow  strong enough to withstand small damages brought by these insects. As long as the right balance is achieved, aphid overpopulation and destruction may no longer be a problem again.

black aphids

If, after all this, you are still having problems with aphids we recommend trying our SaferGro Pest Out. Derived from garlic extract and other essential oils SaferGro Pest Out is.an all natural, organic miticide and insecticide that provides controls pests, such as aphids, mites & thrips. Pests are also less likely to build up resistance to its chemistry unlike other harsher pesticides. These active ingredients are listed as food grade materials, so no exposure to harsh chemicals. This long lasting product will protect your plants all season long, from planting up until harvesting.


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