Gardening is a relaxing hobby and a great way to spend more time outdoors. Cultivating natural spaces is good for the environment, and growing your own vegetables can be immensely satisfying. However, like most plants, vegetables are vulnerable to aphids, which can be difficult to eradicate. Although chemical pesticides are effective, these substances can ruin your vegetable garden. Luckily, there are some natural options if you’re wondering how to get rid of aphids without ruining your crop.
How to Get Rid of Aphids Without Damaging Your Vegetable Garden
Nothing puts a dampener on your gardening enthusiasm like an aphid infestation. Maybe you grow vegetables outside, or in a polytunnel, or on your windowsill – aphids can affect plants grown in almost any environment. Aphids are also notoriously versatile and can develop in most places where greenery is abundant.
What Are Aphids?
Aphids are tiny insects that live in colonies and drink the sap produced by plant leaves and stems. When aphids move into a plant, they also eat the plant’s roots, depriving it of nutrients and causing the plant to weaken and, potentially, die.
Aphids produce a sticky residue, known as honeydew, that coats parts of the infected plant. Aphids are also commonly referred to as greenfly or blackfly, but they actually exist in a range of colors.
How Do You Spot an Aphid Infestation?
Aphids can often be seen crawling on the leaves or stems, or at the base of infested plants. They can also be identified by the honeydew residue on the plant’s surface, which may be white, waxy, or moldy in appearance. You may also find white aphid skins on your plant or on the soil around it.
Aphids shed their skins regularly and these leftover husks can indicate an infestation. Aphids also attract ants, that like to feed on honeydew, so watch out for unusual ant activity in your vegetable patch.
What Do Aphids Do to Plants?
Aphids may cause plants to grow leaves that are stunted, shriveled, or discolored. Aphids feed on plants, which depletes them of resources and can weaken, and ultimately, kill them. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to treat aphid infestation before it gets to this stage.
Aphids are also most active in spring through to late summer, so this is the time when you should watch out for these types of symptoms on your plants.
Why You Should Avoid Using Pesticides?
Although there are many effective pesticides on the market that kill all pests including aphids, there are a few important things to consider before coming up with your own infestation strategy. For one thing, pesticides are harmful to the environment, both when they’re sprayed into the air and when they are rinsed off vegetables and into the water supply.
Secondly, pesticides can be absorbed into your plants through the soil and, therefore, can show up in your vegetables. This can affect the vegetable’s taste and could potentially be harmful to your health. Using chemical pesticides can also have an irritating effect on the skin if gloves are not worn.
A third reason not to choose pesticides is that aphids have many natural predators. These include ladybugs, beetles, earwigs, and certain species of wasp. Pesticides do not only kill aphids, they also kill off these helper insects that can help control aphid populations. Pesticides can also harm bee populations, which are vital for pollinating plants and ensuring that a wide variety of plant species can thrive and grow.
7 Natural Ways to Disperse Aphid Infestations
1. Rinse Your Leaves
One of the simplest ways to rid your vegetables of aphid infestations is to rinse them away with cold water. If you spot a small aphid colony on the leaves of some of your plants, you can use your hose to wash the leaves clear. It’s best to use a hose with a powerful stream to ensure that all the bugs and eggs are shaken off.
You can also wipe them with a damp cloth or even scrape them with your fingers. However, this technique works best if your infestation is in its early stages and hasn’t spread too far. Be aware that aphids sometimes nest at the base of plants or under leaves in shady patches where they may be more difficult to spot straight away.
2. Use Neem Oil
Neem oil is an organic oil taken from an Indian Neem tree. Neem oil has an insecticide effect and will kill harmful pests, such as aphids. Neem oil can also kill the fungus associated with aphids and which can grow, in the form of mold, at the site of an infestation. Neem oil is a great option for vegetables as it won’t have any effect on the taste or make vegetables unsafe to eat.
3. Introduce Predators
A natural way to reduce aphid infestations is to introduce insect predators to your garden. Although this may sound a little scary, ladybugs are one of the most effective ways to keep aphid populations down. Ladybugs don’t pose a threat to your vegetables, but they eat aphids and will help keep your garden clear of pests. Ground beetles and earwigs are also options for this method.
4. Organic Spray
Organic pesticides are not as hard to come by as you might believe. In fact, there are several varieties that are designed specifically for use on food crops. These are usually manufactured using plant oils or fatty acids that provide natural protection against garden pests. Brands such as Bug Clear are good options if you want to take this route.
5. Natural Fumigants
If you’re growing vegetables in your greenhouse, you could try using a natural fumigant to decontaminate all the plants in your indoor garden. Many of these natural fumigant solutions are garlic-based, as garlic repels aphids and makes the environment unpleasant for them. Be sure to follow the instructions and ensure that all entrances and windows are sealed when using any type of fumigant or insecticide bomb.
6. Homemade Bug Spray
Since aphids hate garlic, it’s possible to create your own homemade bug spray using this common, household seasoning. To make, steep crushed garlic and onion in hot water for 12 hours, then strain the mixture and add dish soap. You can also add spices such as chili or cayenne pepper before applying to your garden. Store this mixture in the fridge for about one week for repeated use.
7. Plant Aphid-Friendly Plants Elsewhere
If you want to draw aphids away from your vegetable patch, a good way to do this is to plant something that aphids will love in another part of your garden. Common garden flowers, like dahlias and zinnias, are particularly attractive to aphids. Planting more flowers is also a great way to attract more wildlife to your garden and is great for bees. Just be sure to keep some alternative aphid solutions on hand to prevent infestation spread.
Tending your vegetable garden can involve a lot of trial and error and can leave you feeling like there’s always more to learn. However, we hope these gardening tips will help you keep your vegetable garden aphid-free!