Getting Rid of Aphids

Getting rid of aphids is a recurring gardening mission. My homemade aphid control works, but it still takes a fair bit of effort to monitor and blast these needle-mouthed suckers.

There’s only one thing that can occasionally make me question whether growing healthy food for my family is worth the effort: aphids! Oh how I detest aphids!!! When I’m painstakingly spraying every leaf, top and bottom, and my fingers are coated with little bugs gone slimy in garlicky, soapy spray, mate I am swearing! It’s not very creature-loving of me but I want aphids dead! I don’t like blowflies either, but they don’t infest my FOOD!

What’s so terrible about aphids?

Are aphids so bad? Yes! Apart from not enjoying munching on them or finding them floating in my green smoothie, these tiny, wingless, soft-bodied bugs can suck the life-juice out of your plants, spread viruses and produce the ‘honeydew’ that attracts ants (and blowflies!) They breed like bunnies, and unless you catch them early they’re a nightmare to control.

Getting rid of aphids

Combating aphids is the only time I’m tempted to use commercial pesticides. I just want them gone! I hold myself back because they’re usually homing in on food plants. If it’s the roses they’re attacking I use pyrethrum spray. This does a very good job and is available organic, but is also toxic. The packaging cautions to not pick vegetables for a day or two after spraying, and not let it get into waterways. That warning is enough to have me seeking other organic alternatives for food plants.

There are plenty of homemade aphid control recipes around, with ingredients varying from chilli, garlic oil, tomato leaves, dishwashing liquid, pure soap flakes, bicarb soda and crushed aphids. (You’re supposed to crush the bugs in your blender - yuk!) When I just want to get at them quickly I fill a spray bottle with water and add a tablespoon of dishwashing detergent. The dishwashing liquid breaks down their soft bodies and makes the mixture cling. In my zealousness I’ve overdone the amount of dishwashing detergent in the past and killed my plants, so take it easy.

It’s useful to have some garlic oil on standby to add to the mix, which makes it more powerful. Make garlic oil by adding several crushed garlic cloves to half a cup of oil and let it sit a few days. You can strain off the garlic but I leave it in and pour the oil off the top as needed. A tablespoon of garlic oil added to the mixture above makes it lethal to aphids. Careful using garlic oil though because garlic oil will kill good bugs as well as bad bugs, so only use a spray containing garlic oil directly on the aphids.

The GoPetsAmerica site gave me some great new ideas for controlling aphids. My Mum is combination testing several of the methods mentioned here on her beloved roses. She’s just got them going really well for the season and aphids have moved in. Mate, she is cranky! She’s giving the aphids the triple whammy. First she’s laid aluminium foil around the base to sun-blast them with the reflection, then laid banana skins on top of the foil (which apparently they hate). Yellow attracts them so she’s placing yellow blowfly stickers on the wall beside the top of the plants where reflections and banana skins will presumably be less effective. That oughta fix ‘em! Will let you know...

It’s awesome news that aphids hate bananas. We eat heaps of bananas so there’ll be a constant supply to use as aphid-repelling mulch, plus they’ll rot down into a good potassium and phosphorus supply. I’ll have to check that using banana skins doesn’t end up replacing the aphids with other nasties though – with our snake problem we don’t want to invite mice near the house, and free banana skins might look like a good deal. A solution is to dry the banana skins first and then dig them into the soil around your plants.

In a contained space like a greenhouse or polytunnel , aphids have to be acted on quickly or they feast! Buy a pack of ladybugs, natural predators of aphids, and let them loose. The ladybugs will also be contained for a while by the tunnel. Refrigerate the ladybugs first then release them when it’s cool. They like a damp environment so water first. Cover your plants then release the aphids underneath the covering so they have a chance to make themselves at home and find the aphids before flying away.

Massive aphid infestations

getting rid of aphids with chooks

A massive infestation is time-consuming to clear, and sometimes not worth it. This is especially true if it’s towards the end of the plant’s growing season and you’ve already had some worth out of it. Cut the crop and feed it to the chooks. There is enormous satisfaction in watching their enthusiastic pecking of the aphids off the plants, they love them. And it’s not a complete waste then, at least you get eggs for your troubles.

Companion planting to deter aphids

I thought I was being clever planting nasturtiums amongst my salad greens to repel bugs, but bad news, aphids love them. Marigolds too!!! I have herbs and salad greens mixed up in bath tubs on my deck , and I’ve noticed when my spinach suffers an aphid plague the neighbouring coriander and mint are left untouched. I’ve started planting mini-walls of herbs between my greens to slow aphid spread so I have time to deal with any infestations. Aphids are also repelled by garlic, onions, basil, fennel, catnip and chives. Plants that will attract ladybugs are good too, fennel, dill, coriander and tansies to name a few.

Please send me a message about how much you hate these needle-mouthed pests too. If you have a great natural aphid control trick, please share. I will also commiserate sincerely with any very sad stories about aphid infestations on your food crops... aphids suck - really!

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