Organic Pest & Disease Control

How can I Organically Combat Aphids from Attacking My Garden?

Whether they are green, white or black, Aphids (Aphidoidea) can create havoc when they attack plants in your garden. They can also be a huge problem for your indoor plants. Most people think of aphids as little green bugs that are on stems and leaves of plants. As little as they are, they are capable of multiplying rapidly and destroying a plant in record time.

Table of Contents

How do I know what type of aphids I have in my garden?

We’ll touch on the 3 most common ones you would find in a backyard garden rather than a larger scale farm. That way you’ll know what you’re looking for.

  • Green Peach Aphids usually are attracted to cabbage, pepper, spinach, asparagus, iris and dahlias. Their eggs survive winters and they can transmit disease among plants.
  • White Woolly Aphids usually like tender new plant growth. They tend to like apply and pear trees. They also like ash, elms and oak trees.
  • Black Bean Aphid really go after sugar beets, celery, beans, sunflowers, spinach, potatoes and tomatoes. This aphid like a large variety of common vegetables.

Some of the signs of an Aphid infestation in the early stages are curling or yellowing leaves. Look closely for stems that have a sticky substance. This is what Aphids excrete and it’s a huge problem because it attracts ants to your garden. It can also create an ideal environment for Sooty Mold growth. Flowers and fruit can look deformed. Aphids are really hard to see but these signs can clue you in on what’s going on before it’s too late.

Nothing can bring down High Vibes faster than spending time and money growing a garden only to lose it to these tiny green bugs. While there are gardeners who immediately reach for a spray bottle of insecticide, there are many more gardeners who are open to other ways of controlling an infestation.

One way to win the war on aphids is recruiting allies long before things get desperate. Knowing which allies can help you depending on what you’re growing can give you the best shot in getting a good yield of vegetables. It’s when the problem is overwhelming, people panic and begin reaching for the insecticides. I tried many things over the years to prevent aphids from taking over my plants. One thing that didn’t seem to work for me was spraying the dish wash soap concoction that is often recommended online. Maybe I didn’t apply it enough. The aphids continued to multiply anyway.

Don’t worry, all isn’t lost. I did discover ways that either prevented an infestation or keep it under control so I didn’t lose everything without pesticides.

Companion plant allies

When I first moved to this house, I used to get black aphids all over my spinach and neighboring plants in my raised beds. I first turned to companion plant allies. I first started planting garlic and even though it’s supposed to repel aphids, this photo of the turnip seed head was taken in 2022. These turnips were planted right next to two long rows of garlic so maybe garlic repels certain species of aphids but not these?

The following year after I moved in, I started planting Nasturtium next to the raised beds where I plant my spinach. Since then, I didn’t have a problem with Black Bean Aphids. Interestingly enough, this was the first year I didn’t plant Nasturtium and these aphids showed up in my main vegetable garden.

White Aphids on a turnip plant that was going to seed.

Eliminate the competition

Another way is to eliminate the number of pests so you and your allies have to work so hard to keep the pest population down. If the infestation is bad enough, dispose of those plants. And I don’t mean in the compost pile because they can spread from there.

The above photo was a turnip that went to seed (you can see the seed head on the lower right). I just removed it and gave it to my chickens who were more than happy to help me eliminate aphids. By promptly removing the infested ones, I was able to save the rest of the turnips who were going to seed before the aphids got to them. I was able to harvest a lot of turnip seeds this year and only a few were affected by taking action right away.

There are many gardeners who don’t have chickens to help them out. An alternative way for aphid elimination is to use Food Grade Diatomaceous Earth. You can get this at Tractor Supply, Amazon, etc. I always have a supply of it on hand for my chickens and I have used it on many types of bugs with exoskeletons with lots of success. I like it because it’s effective and it’s not toxic to kids or pets but does the job really well.

My 3 year old son holding a Seven-Spot Ladybug (Coccinellidae). There are many different kinds of Ladybugs. Click here to see a chart of 19 different kinds.

The problem with ordering ladybugs online

Ladybugs also known as lady beetles or lady birds (Hippodamia Convergens) are often the first beneficial bug most people think about when dealing with aphids. And yes, they are adorable and they are natural predators of aphids. When an infestation of aphids bursts on the scene, many gardeners think they are contributing to nature when ordering ladybugs to be released in their garden to take care of the problem. I used to think so too until I learned how negatively it impacts wild ladybugs and releasing more isn’t as effective as we thought.

It’s important that we understand the nature of the ladybug to realize we can’t only rely on them as the only ally we have for fighting aphids. Adult females actually eat more aphids than males. They follow food sources so if you don’t have many aphids, you won’t see many ladybugs either. Lady bugs reproduce in the spring. The problem with ordering them online is many of these ladybugs are caught from the wild while they are hibernating. Transferring them to your garden brings risks of disease or parasites to your native ladybugs. If they were bred in a lab, this part might be able to be controlled. A ladybug’s natural instinct is to migrate before eating and laying their eggs. If you release your mail order ladybugs into your garden, chances are they may not stick around long enough to take care of the problem.

Did you know that ladybugs are sensitive to smell? Some insecticides actually keep ladybugs away from the garden. Read more by clicking here.

Same work ethic as a bee for getting rid of aphids

The American Hover fly (Eupeodes Americanus) may not be as pretty as the ladybug and it looks like a mini bee which freaks out people who are afraid of bees. There’s no need to worry. They won’t sting or bite you. These are voracious eaters and lay hundreds of eggs. One larvae can eat up to 2,200 aphids in a week! This is good news for your garden. Hover flies will hustle to kick aphids to the curb. The bad news is that they aren’t available online for purchase. But there’s a lot of flexibility of attracting them to your garden because they like wildflowers, perennials and annuals.

Some of the flowers they love the best are Sweet Alyssum (Lobularia Maritima), Queen Anne’s Lace (Daucus Carota), Dill (Anethum Graveolens), Lanceleaf Coreopsis, Purple Coneflower (Echinacea), Common Yarrow (Achillea millefolium), Great Blanket Flower (Gaillardia aristata), Black-Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia Hirta), French Marigolds (Tagetes) and Calendula (Calendula Officinalis).

Hover flies like this one on this “Sheffield Pink” Chrysanthemum are both pollinators and natural predators of aphids.

It was time for me to let go of my fear to recruit spiders

One of the advantages of having a garden that attracts beneficial insects is letting nature decorate your outside space for you for Halloween. It never fails. Every fall, I have baby Corn Spiders that create webs just like this one all over my hedges. They are so tiny so you’d have to look closely. I think it looks so much better than the store bought artificial web material. It doesn’t hurt the environment and saves me a whole lot of time.

I had an irrational life long fear of all spiders because I was bitten by a small black hairy spider on the wrist when I was 5 years old. My whole arm was swollen and I still remember the painful bite. I took the time to understand which spiders I should be wary of and respect the ones that have become my garden allies like this Corn Spider.

The beautiful Corn Spider (Argiope Aurantia) are non-poisonous and are docile unless provoked.

Here in Pennsylvania, they were the best at catching the invasive Spotted Lantern Fly. They did a far better job than the Pray Mantis which I have in my garden by the dozens. So I learned to leave the webs and our Spotted Lantern Fly population became almost non-existent on my property.

Spiders eat many different bugs and when they are hunting in the spring, they play an important role on managing newly hatched bugs. If they make a big enough impact, it can have a positive effect on dealing with pests before they have a chance to reproduce. Here in my garden, we have a lot of logs and leaves which is a haven for spiders. This helps us keep the pest population down. I gotta give credit to spiders for helping me defeat the Spotted Lantern Fly in my yard because I saw lots of dead ones in webs.

When I realized that those little spiders I see scatter when I’m weeding are also hunting for aphids in my raised beds because they have a great vantage point in seeing them under the leaves.

Summary

Next time, before you reach for the insecticide, take a look at your garden whether it’s big or small. Based on the vegetables you plan on planting, what type of aphids will you need to look out for? If you have a lot of vegetables that are susceptible to aphid infestation, what type of companion plants or plants that will attract Hover flies can you add to your landscape? Be open to help coming from common non-poisonous garden spiders. Have a plan if you see aphids attacking a plant by having some Food Grade Diatomaceous Earth on hand or if you have chickens, feed it to them. If we are open to getting help from nature, we can proactively balance our own mini-ecosystem in our own backyard.