Aphids

Aphids - close up

Aphids are probably the most well known and abundant of all garden pests.   Whatever you call them, aphid, plant louse, green bug or cow bug, aphids can appear suddenly and in mass, spreading through a garden in a matter of days. These are tiny bugs, often less than 1/10th of an inch in length.

Identifying Aphids

Aphids are soft-bodied insects that come in almost every color imaginable.  They have a pear-shaped body with long legs and antennae.  Due to their size, you may need a magnifying glass to get a good look at them.  Most of the time, Aphids appear green.  Adults may or may not have wings.  As a defense, they can spray an oily, waxy fluid from tubes on their upper abdomen and they also excrete a sticky honeydew that attracts ants.

Aphis Lifecycle

During warm weather, aphids may go through a complete generation in less than two weeks.  Most females give birth to live young.  If the population of aphids becomes concentrated on a plant, a generation of young may appear with wings to migrate to another plant.  Aphids do not complete a true metamorphosis.  These cycles will continue throughout the summer until fall when the female will lay eggs instead of bearing live young.  The eggs will winter over and hatch in the spring.

Habitat and Feeding

Aphids - infesttion

Aphids will attack almost any plant.  Watch for the first infestation near the tops of the plants where new growth occurs.  Aphids appear to be herd insects.  They prefer to feed in groups.  Aphids feed by piercing the foliage and tender stems with their proboscis and suck plant juices.  The loss of fluids causes the plants leaves to curl and will eventually cause stunted growth of the plant.

The feeding causes further stress for the plant and weakens the plant which encourages other insects and disease.  If you begin to see aphid infestations on your plants, this is a good indication that those plants are already suffering some stress and are already in a weakened state.  Aphids are a good early indicator of plant health.

Control

Aphids have a huge following in the garden.  There are hundreds of predatory insects that feed on aphids.  Ladybugs, green lacewings, hoverflies, praying mantids and braconid wasps are among them. 

The easiest way to control aphids manually is to blast them off the plant with a stream of water. 

For a more proactive approach, mix garlic tea or add garlic juice to your compost tea and use a forceful stream from your tank sprayer to knock the aphids from the plant.  The garlic juice will repel them and you are also delivering a nice foliar feeding at the same time. For more aggressive control, mix orange oil or other citrus-based oil with your compost tea.  Be sure to add some liquid dish soap as a surfactant.

Biologic Controls

Releasing predatory insects such as ladybugs into your garden may also help.

Aphids control ladybug

Selecting adapted species that are aphid resistant is a good method of helping control populations.  Companion planting with varieties that attract beneficial insects is also a good idea.

With their short life cycle and ability to migrate almost at will, aphids are a prolific pest.  There are more than 200 species and can produce up to 50 generations per year.  They can bear live young or lay eggs.  They are a versatile and well-adapted species. 

Always remember that properly selected, healthy, stress-free plants are more resistant to aphid infestations and other pests than plants that are stressed and weakened.  Overfeeding your plants can also attract aphids.

For more information about organic gardening and lifestyles, visit our website at www.westtexasorganicgardening.com

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