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Written by Fergus Masons • October 09 How To Get Rid Of Aphids

If there’s one class of insect that bothers gardeners more than any other, it has to be aphids. These tiny pests can be found worldwide and they are to plants what mosquitoes are to people – small but destructive vampires. Aphids feed on the sap of plants, which is damaging enough on its own, but to get to the sap they chew up the leaves with their efficient jaws. They also breed rapidly and won’t stop feeding until they kill the plant, at which point they migrate to the next plant and the cycle starts all over again. To a biologist aphids are actually fascinating – some species of ants farm them, for example – but to gardeners they’re a serious pest.

Luckily aphids aren’t that hard to get rid of, but you do need to act quickly at the first sign of a problem. Otherwise the speed they reproduce at will overwhelm the affected plant, and even if it survives the damage can be serious. Almost no plant is safe from them; there are more than 4,400 known aphid species, about 250 of them classed as serious pests. They vary in size from a millimeter to almost half an inch and can be a wide variety of colors. Most common are green, black and white. They generally have soft, pear-shaped bodies with a prominent tube protecting from the rear. Some of them can be mistaken for other insects but the damage they cause is quite distinctive.

The leaves of an aphid-infested plant will start to turn yellow and curl inwards, and new shoots are often deformed. Another thing aphids do is secrete a sticky substance called honeydew. Ants love this, which is why they sometimes farm aphids – they “milk” the tiny insects to make them release it – but when it collects on a plant it often attracts fungus spores and causes a black infection that’s often lethal. Aphids can also carry plant diseases in their bodies, and if they suck sap from a plant that’s infected with a virus then move to a healthy one they usually infect it too. Basically they’re a nuisance and they need to go.

Preventing Aphids From Colonizing

The first thing you can do is try to prevent them colonizing your garden in the first place. This isn’t easy. Aphids are usually wingless, but some species will have winged offspring in summer or if food runs low. That means they can get around, so no defense is foolproof. You can improve the odds, though.

Any time you bring in a new plant check it carefully before you take it anywhere near your garden. Look for feeding aphids, and also check underneath the leaves for egg clusters. Aphid eggs are tiny, but they lay them in bunches so they should be visible as small white flecks. If the plant turns out to be heavily infested it’s best to get rid of it. A few aphids can be dealt with, but you need to be thorough or the result could be disaster for your whole garden. If you have any doubts at all treat the plant before introducing it.

Another way to deter the little pests is to avoid over-fertilizing. Too much fertilizer can encourage very rapid plant growth, and that means lots of fresh green shoots – aphids’ favorite food. Use slow release fertilizers; that should keep growth rates normal, and prevent your yard becoming a favorite aphid spot.

How Aphids Interact with Other Insects

Think about other insects – aphids can have complicated relations with them. Ants are often beneficial but if you see them carrying aphids around they need to go too. The idea of ants farming is quite impressive, but not if they’re using your plants as fields to grow aphids on. The species that do this will protect their aphids from predators and carry them from infested plants to healthy ones, to give themselves a nice crop of honeydew, so you can’t have them around.

Ladybird beetles, however, are a completely different story. They look cute but they’re voracious predators, and they love snacking on aphids and scale. If you see them around your plants leave them alone – they’re very efficient at pest control. You can encourage them to settle and breed by getting a ladybug house. If you’re really in a hurry you can buy a tub of a thousand live ladybirds online for less than $10. If you have wrens in the area try setting up some small nesting boxes – these little birds also eat aphids (although they might eat the ladybirds too).

Getting Rid of Aphids

Check your plants every few days in summer, looking out for either aphids or egg clusters. If you find any, act right away. A single aphid can have up to 80 offspring in a week, and it often does only take a single one – many aphids can lay eggs without mating. If you find any, the first thing to try is just washing them off. A high-pressure hose attachment like a Bug Blaster will knock them off, and usually they won’t be able to get back onto the plant – they aren’t very mobile once they’re on the ground.

Alternatively you can mix two teaspoons of dish soap into a pit of lukewarm water and spray the infected plants with it. Soap suffocates aphids by clogging the pores they breathe through. If you don’t fancy using dish soap you can also buy special insecticidal soap. It can take several applications to cure the problem, and it’s best to spray neighboring plants as well. Make sure to soak the undersides of the leaves – miss those areas and newly hatched aphids will be munching away within days.

In extreme cases insecticide powder or spray might be needed, but these can be hazardous to children and pets, and you don’t want to use them on vegetable crops if you can avoid it. Soap works as well as nearly anything. If one of your plants has a really bad case you can prune away the worst affected parts – sometimes you might need to sacrifice the whole plant, if it’s already sickly and has a very heavy infestation.

Aphids are some of the most destructive insects you can find, but regular checks and some simple treatments will keep them under control. The trick is to not leave them undisturbed – if you do that your garden will quickly be overrun and badly harmed. Be vigilant for the tiny pests, and take action right away if you find them. Infestations are very common but you don’t need to let it ruin all your hard work.

Comments 28 comments

  1. February 11, 2017 by Diane Naude

    Very informative. Please advise how much water to use with 2 teaspoons of dish soap to spray the aphids.
    Many thanks, Diane Naude

    1. June 16, 2017 by Rebecca

      One pint of water …. the “n” was dropped.

  2. June 4, 2017 by Tina Kreis

    We have very old elm trees. They are infested with aphids. How can we get rid of them. They ruin summer with the raining of their sap better known as poop. HELP.

    1. Tina, I share your pain and my aphid-infested elm trees are what landed me searching Google yet again and here on this post. It’s so discouraging, none of the advice I find seems to apply to trees. And my front yard is nearly unusable during the best months in the PNW. Not to mention our car! Yuck. But the trees are old and beautiful. These aphids were established when we purchased our house three years ago. What a mess.

      1. August 10, 2017 by Gina

        Jessica, I had the same problem. At first I didn’t know where that stuff on my car was coming from. It became intolerable and I was having to park my car in the garage. After doing some research, I bought the compare and save systemic tree and shrub insect drench. I got it on Amazon. I followed the directions last week. For days I could just see lots of drips coming out of the tree. Tonight I’m watching and watching and don’t see anything yet. I really don’t think it works that fast, but it’s done something! I would give it a try.

    2. July 11, 2017 by Guy

      Use a product called Acecap. They are tree implants. You can buy them on Amazon.

    3. August 1, 2018 by Roberta

      After researching the same problem, I ordered Compare-N-Save Systemic Tree and Shrub Insect Drench. I used 9-10 ounces per tree as they are all about 20 inches in diameter and about 20 feet tall. (I called the product support line to clarify directions). It was a lot of work to clear the area around these trees – 15 of them and all located on a bit of a hill. It takes a little bit of time for the product to dissolve in the water and then about 15 minutes per tree to get it to soak in without run off. In a few days, I am going to use soapy water spray to the trees to get the bug residue (aphids and mealey bugs) off the branches and then apply Neem oil. Product support tech told me to expect it to take about a few weeks to two months to see results. I am hopeful just to save these badly infested trees.

  3. July 15, 2017 by Roy

    Hi. I have 3 trees infested with aphids and it seems like it happens every year only on these particular trees although there are many other and different trees around them. I’m thinking the problem is in the tree itself, happens every summer, nothing in the beginning but later in June and throughout the summer they become so full of aphids and leaves look like they are sprayed with shiney overcoat material. Also you can see the mist of honeydew falling from the tree, my cars parked in the driveway next to them are full of that material which now is attracting a lot of wasps and tarantula hawks. What do you suggest I do? Thank you

  4. August 16, 2017 by Trevor

    Well this is the first I ever heard of them . My drive way/cars and front yard is a sticky mess. This is the first year we have ever seen an issue we noticed leaves falling more than usual and then the sticky honey dew right after. Unbelievable how bad it has gotten. Now that I know what it is I am going to try trimming out tree and get the hose and soap out or maybe even the power washer and hopefully get these crazy little bugs away. I wish you guys luck . Wish me luck too 🙁

    1. look at Guy’s comment above. I believe that is the only solution that will work. Acecap it is!

  5. August 21, 2017 by Janice

    We have the same issue with the tree in our front yard. We just bought this house and nobody wants to park in the driveway. We will be trimming the leaves way back and try a soap solution. But if they continue we will cut the tree down. And hopefully chose one that aphids don’t like.

  6. August 25, 2017 by amanda

    I have a large tulip tree and the honeydew is driving me mad, how to I get rid of them in a tree.

  7. August 26, 2017 by Lady

    My tree is infested with aphids and now thornets, wasps and bees that are feeding on the aphids as well! Any suggestions on how to get rid of all of them safely? I am afraid to spray the tree at this point due to all of the commotion on the tree. This happens every year and it is a safety issue.
    Thank you!

  8. September 21, 2017 by Marilyn

    A neighbors willow tree is ruining my life. Far away from their house but directly on our property line I am dealing with a severe aphid infestation. We cannot be in the yard. As well as it appears the nymph must blow in the wind and land on my car. I don’t know what to do about it. I bought a spray just to do some knockdown and did my lawn and the fence where I could see them. But now they are back in record numbers. Safe soap will kill if directly applied but we are talking about a willow hundreds of feet tall. Besides all the b.s. of limbs and leaves 365 days a year, NOW THIS! I googled today and found out the eggs can survive frost. I am at wits end.

  9. October 12, 2017 by Jan Gant

    I have a hibiscus that is between 25-30 yrs old and is infested yet again. I cut it back to the bare bark.. sprayed it with soap mixture.. cleaned all dropped leave and debris from around it.
    It started growing, I watched it closely, it seemed fine. So I let it be other than fertilizer and water, it’s completely filled out and started blooming again, then last week I notice the blooms dropping and low and behold, completely covered in aphids.
    It’s so bad I just want to burn it down but because it’s one of the earlier breeds, I can bring myself to do it.
    It’s way to full to do each leaf with any soap solution. I’m so bummed.
    Idk what I’m going to do at this point!

  10. I have a willow tree that has wasps drawn to it and goggled why low and behold it was because of those pesky aphids!!! How do I save my tree I just planted it 3 years ago and there is already a black fungus around the bottom of the trunk ?

  11. May 23, 2018 by Wendy

    I tried everything even gone to home Depot and bought the strongest stuff noting works to kill the Aphids, any advice please. Email: thanks.

  12. June 17, 2018 by laurie a winn

    they are little pest like any of them ,ley eat all the leaves on my pink rose i sprayed and then cut them back and have them hanging on my chair.or well seewhat happenes.

  13. June 23, 2018 by daisy

    My crepe myrtles were attacked. I sprayed with neem oil and it did not help. What helped was spraying with water, basically washing the leaves, removing the black soot.

  14. June 27, 2018 by Susan J Wiley

    Can anyone tell me, please? Am I cutting my tree down if it’s totally infested, or do they go away and come back next year, or…what do I do?

  15. July 3, 2018 by dawnhaleyadams

    if I destroy the tree will the aphids stay on the property and go to all the other trees and shrubs?

    1. July 11, 2019 by Gina

      2tbs Neem oil t tbs dr Broner’s sal suds in 1gal pump sprayer spray all trees and plants then hose off after you should remove leaves that have hone dew sap or curl I have even removed all leaves off my trees if they are being eaten and water with more bloom I gal water 2 tbs more bloom liquid fert the leaves came back in a few days and I spray all my plants with neem as it also feeds the plants I use a back pack sprayer and water all my shrubs and trees-

  16. July 9, 2018 by Suzanne

    Last year I finally found out what was drawing all the bees to our big tree out front, and our mailbox. And why all the sticky stuff on driveway. Aphids. I purchased one of those bottles with spray nozzle for hose. I put dish detergent and water in it and sprayed away. A lot. Sprayer reached almost to the tippy top, it was powerful. I will do it again this year as precaution.
    I cleaned mailbox as well. 🙂
    I have to say, while I was spraying the tree I noticed all the gooky sap dripping off the tree. It was gross. Yuck So much sap.

  17. July 20, 2018 by Lisa

    What about a pkg or 2 of lady bugs? Aren’t they affective?

  18. September 11, 2018 by ANNIE K BELL

    I have a very large oak tree full of aphids. They die off in the winter and always seem to come back in the spring/summer. They leave this horrible black droppings, all over my driveway and have killed my Crepe Myrtle and other folige. The tree is to large to treat. What should I do?

  19. May 8, 2020 by laura

    Can I cut the branches and the leaves that are very affected and let only the healthy ones?
    Than you

  20. June 13, 2020 by Nancy Lee

    I am using ladybugs as a natural defense. This is the third year, and it does work, but getting them up in my tulip poplars is difficult. One supplier says they’re territorial and if you put more than one or two in a leaf, they will fight until the loser(s) leaves. I’m also trying lacewings. If anyone has a specific way to get them up in the trees so they’re spread out, I could use some tips.

  21. July 18, 2020 by Dianne Allen

    We have an Elm tree that is 21 yrs old and is infested yet again. We have tried everything to get rid of the aphids, and we are so frustrated. We cannot sit outside on our beautiful stamp concrete patio to sip a glass of wine. It is Summer and the leaves are falling like its Fall. It’s so bad that we have decided to have the tree removed. We have 8 trees in the back yard, but the Elm tree is the only one that keeps getting infested with aphids every year.