Featured image: Aphids on a plant. Photo: Kelly on Pexels
There’s nothing quite as disheartening as witnessing an aphid invasion wreaking havoc on your flourishing green haven, your home garden. These tiny sap-sucking insects can quickly turn a once-thriving garden into a battlefield, leaving behind wilted leaves, affecting growth, and even spreading disease.
In this blog post, we are exploring the art of natural control methods, and ways to deter aphids naturally. Gardening following organic principles and embracing a more sustainable gardening approach does not mean you have to let the pests take over. Fortify your garden against aphids and their unwelcome advances by practising organic gardening. By tapping into the delicate balance of nature and fostering an ideal environment for beneficial insects, you can create a flourishing garden that thrives and resists aphid infestations.
Put away those harsh chemicals, and discover eco-friendly strategies to control these pests in the garden and enrich the entire home garden ecosystem. Gardening could become easier by changing your mindset – growing with nature instead of against it. It is not that difficult to deter aphids naturally.
What are aphids, and why do they love your plants?
Aphids, or plant lice, are tiny, soft-bodied insects that feed on plant sap. These usually green, yellow, brown or black lice occur in colonies, and you will often find them underneath leaves or on new growth. Heavier aphid infestations can lead to wilting and yellowing of plants.
While some plants can be sensitive to aphids, causing leaves to distort, aphids will generally not harm healthy and well-established garden plants and trees. Aphids also secrete sugary waste called honeydew, which in turn, attracts ants. In turn, sooty mould grows on honeydew, turning the leaves black.
Solutions to deter garden aphids naturally (lessen their effect)…
1. Manual aphid removal
There are many ways to rid your garden plants of aphid pests manually. Use a twig or implement to remove them physically where there are small aphid colonies. Alternatively, grab the hose pipe and spray them from your plants with a strong stream of water. A hose-end sprayer attached to the end of your hose pipe might work a little better. This is a much better option than reaching for chemical solutions.
2. Soapy water
Dishwashing liquid is said to be a solution against garden pests like aphids, and I used this as a solution when I started gardening. Why exactly does it work? This website page by the University of Minnesota explains the theory that soap removes the protective coating on the aphid’s body, causing it to dry out.
3. A mixture of chilli and garlic
Soaking chopped-up chillies and garlic in warm water overnight and then spraying the liquid on aphids is a brilliant solution for gardeners seeking organic options to prevent aphids from causing too much havoc. Some recipes even call for added soap or some vinegar to do the trick. Repeat the application for a few days, and soon your garden plants will be free of aphids.
4. Neem oil and other organic insecticides
Neem oil is from the fruit and seed of the neem tree and is seen as an organic solution against insects, said to be non-toxic to birds, mammals, bees and plants. The active compound, Azadirachtin, stops feeding and interferes with the normal life cycle of insects, including feeding, moulting, mating, and egg-laying.
They say it is not harmful to bees and pollinators like butterflies as long as not sprayed directly, but we would think twice as bees collect pollen eaten by other bees in the hive, so some articles suggest only using it after sunset. However, as bees consume pollen, this could be a problem. This study published in the Journal of Insect Science suggests that neem harms both bee larvae and adult workers, so avoid using neem during flowering stages.
There are other organic products on the South African market too, like Biogrow’s Pyrol. This certified organic, broad-spectrum, contact insecticide kills all stages of insects. However, it can be detrimental to beneficial insects, it is best used to reduce pest infestations and regain control. Pyrol is deactivated by UV light and is best used at sunset, both for the efficacy of the product and for the safety of beneficial insects.
Biogrow also sells Neudosan, formulated using potassium salts of fatty acids. It is a natural organic contact insecticide that blocks pores and irritates soft-bodied insects like aphids. Neudosan is apparently incredibly soft on beneficial insects, but at the end of the day, the remaining solutions on the list might be better options if you are searching for ways to control aphids naturally.
5. Best choice to control aphids: beneficial insects
This is the solution you ultimately want, and one of the most important and efficient solutions when it comes to controlling aphids in the garden.
Without using harmful products and concoctions, and gardening just as nature intended, beneficial insects will do all the hard work for you. There is a catch, though. It might take time before all the natural predators arrive, and they need a favourable environment before they will call your garden home.
If you are striving for this option, as you should be, you will have to choose to let go of all the other solutions. Just think how unhappy that hoverfly larvae or ladybug will be when it gets covered in a liquid chilli solution… Note – even some of the certified organic solutions will harm them.
Part of my strategy to attract beneficial predators to control those aphid garden pests in my vegetable garden included planting things to attract pollinators and other critters. My choices in a very small garden include bulbine (Bulbine frutescens), and wild garlic, but also leaving herbs to flower. Lavender is a great option too, along with borage and basil. The more variety, the better.
The first to arrive in my garden were the hoverflies, but it took some time (about two summers). Hoverflies are some of the most important pollinators after bees and their larvae can devour 70-100% of aphids in their immediate vicinity. Other frequent beneficial visitors include praying mantis.
Another welcome addition to any organic garden is ladybugs. Most ladybugs and their larvae are aphid killers and a great asset in any sustainable garden. As adults, ladybugs can consume up to 50 to 60 aphids daily. Aphids are not their only food source. They will also devour other insects and larvae, including scales, mealy bugs, leaf hoppers, mites, and soft-bodied insects. Ladybug larvae can eat up to 400 aphids in the three weeks before they pupate, helping your plants stay free from aphids naturally.
Have you ever seen a swollen yellow-ish aphid between your active aphids, not moving but sitting in one spot? The good news is that this aphid mummy is also the job of a beneficial insect in your garden – the Aphidius wasp. These little wasps lay an egg inside the aphid. When the egg hatches, the wasp larvae eat the aphid from the inside. See the image below on the right featuring aphid mummies, hoverfly larvae, and some regular (green) aphids.
You might also enjoy our article on attracting wildlife to your garden
6. Companion plants
Companion plants are a great addition to any sustainable garden as they attract pests or keep them away from your valuable plants. I mainly use nasturtiums, well-known for attracting aphids away from other plants. Nasturtiums can help protect your vegetable or ornamental plants. Various sources have an idea of what else works.
Other plants include marigolds, mustard greens, garlic, chives, spring onion, and even zinnias. Experiment with companion plants and see what works best in your sustainable gardening journey. You might want to have a look at this companion planting guide published by Livingseeds.
7. Trim the infested branches
Trimming infested leaves can be a helpful tactic in managing aphid populations in your garden, but it’s not always the most effective or comprehensive solution. Although regular pruning does improve airflow, it could also allow aphids to move to other plants if you handle cut parts roughly.
8. Soil health
This topic is one on its own and not as straightforward. Essentially healthy soil contributes to healthier, more resilient plants. Nutrient-rich soils provide plants with the essential nutrients they require to grow and develop properly. Well-nourished plants are better equipped to resist aphid attacks while imbalanced nutrient levels can make plants more susceptible to pest infestations.
Healthy soil also promotes healthy root development, but without beneficial soil organisms, plants won’t absorb minerals in the soil. Always provide compost and remember to mulch to protect the soil organisms.
9. Foliar feeding
Foliar feeding is applying liquid fertiliser directly to the plant leaves. Plants then absorb essential elements through their leaves, making the plant and leaves stronger and harder. Foliar feeding is not the magical answer or a way to kill aphids on plants but combined with good nutrition and soil health can contribute to healthy plants resistant to aphid attacks. It should be part of the organic gardener’s arsenal.
Lastly, monitoring is a crucial step in preventing heavy aphid infestations in your garden. Spend time in your garden and look around for any signs of aphids. Once you notice a problem, continue monitoring it or choose the best solution for your current situation.
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