PHOTO: iStock/Thinkstock
May 8, 2014

If you have a garden, chances are you’ve seen tiny insects of various colors crawling on your plants: These are aphids! One of the most common garden pests, aphids are small insects found in an array of colors, including yellow, black, red, pink, brown and green. They live and eat in colonies, so if you see one aphid, it’s likely many more are nearby.

Aphids damage plant growth by sucking on leaves and stems and can also spread viruses throughout your garden. If that isn’t enough to make you immediately take steps to evict aphids from your garden, they their discharge, a substance called “honeydew” that subsequently grows a type of mold fungus, might. Yuck!

Don’t panic, though, if you see these miniscule pests bouncing around your vegetable beds. There are simple, natural ways to reduce the aphid population and discourage them from utilizing your garden as the source of a free meal.

1. Inspect Your Plants

A daily inspection of your garden is probably the easiest and most effective method of controlling aphids. Daily inspections will help you to detect the presence of aphids before the situation gets too serious, allowing you to deal with them right away. Watch for curled leaves, stunted growth or deformed areas on your plants—all of these can indicate the presence of an aphid infestation.

You might think that an aphid invasion would be instantly noticeable, especially if you work in your garden frequently, but sometimes it takes more than a glance to ensure everything is going smoothly. Keep your eyes open and examine your plants thoroughly, especially under the leaves. You’ll save endless amounts of time in the long run if you pay careful attention to the plants that aphids are particularly attracted to, including peas, potatoes, tomatoes, cabbage, roses and fruit trees.

2. Rotate Your Crops

Crop rotation is an excellent—though less immediate—solution to minimizing aphids on the vegetables in your garden. You obviously won’t be rotating the location of your fruit trees and perennial plants, but take note of the vegetables and annuals that the aphids attack most frequently so that you can move those plants to a different area of your garden the following spring before the aphids return. (When rotating your crops, be sure to keep careful records of your garden for reference.)

3. Pick and Spray—Naturally!

There are several ways you can manually remove these mini menaces from your plants, beginning with the easiest—simply pick them off and squish them as you see them. Of course, this is a time-consuming process, and you might prefer a more efficient method, such as spraying your plants with soapy water. This washes the insects off of the plant and discourages them from climbing back on. You can also experiment with including additional ingredients in your spray, such as cayenne pepper or garlic, or skip the supplemental ingredients and opt simply for a spray of water—it can be quite effective on its own.

4. Plant Companions

While aphids are attracted to many garden plants, there are some they shy away from, including onions and garlic. Arrange companion plants near areas where you particularly want to discourage aphids, such as near rose bushes.

5. Set Traps

Using sticky traps made for aphids can be another simple way to remove these pests from your garden. Simply placing pans of soapy water near areas of significant infestation can work, too. Use a yellow container, if possible, as aphids are attracted to the color yellow. Row covers can be another effective option for protecting your plants and keeping aphids away.

6. Encourage Beneficial Insects

The praying mantis, the green lacewing and the aptly named aphid lion (or assassin bugs) are all beneficial predators to introduce to your aphid-overrun garden. But it’s the unassuming ladybug (also known as the ladybird) that takes first prize in the pest-eating contest. Ladybugs can devour an impressive number of aphids in a short period of time, while posing no danger to your garden. What’s not to like?

You can buy beneficial insects to release in your garden, but this doesn’t always work as well as encouraging them to visit your garden naturally. Attract desirable insects by opting for an organic garden, then selecting plants that are favored by ladybugs and their friends. Try marigolds, sunflowers, dill, cilantro, nasturtiums and even the lowly dandelion. By filling your garden with ladybug-friendly plants, you can naturally minimize the presence of aphids in an effective way.

Aphids can momentarily dampen the pleasure of gardening, but if you use these approaches to eliminate them, you can continue to focus on making your garden healthy, beautiful and productive.

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