Garden Attack – Part 1 Aphids

Nothing spreads fear in a garden cultivator quicker than seeing their crops and flowers decimated to within an inch of their lives.  I’ve woken up before now to discover whole cabbages eaten, roses have the life sucked out of them and lush green growth of hostas torn and discarded.

After spending so much time sowing and growing your well loved crops all the way from little seedlings into full sized plants the last thing you want is for a pesky pest (or pests), to come along and ruin your hard work.

If you do ever encounter garden pests, don’t give up!  Pests are not always a demise to your plants.

Any attack from a garden pest can really put the dampener on growing anything ever again, but over here at Forget-me-Not Cultivation we’re not going to give up.  Sometimes there will be battles to be had in the garden, ones you just can’t ignore and if that’s the case you’ve got to be well prepared.

Fear not though – preparedness begins here.

I’ll detail the pests, and more importantly, explain a battle plan that can be used to win the war!

Battle plans

Over the next three weeks I’ll be posting a guide on three of the biggest pests you’ll likely to encounter in your gardens.  I’ll go into detail about what the pest is and the battle to be commenced.  More importantly I’ll make sure you’re well armed to win the battle.

I would say of all three pests to be encountered this one is the worse but as you’ll see over the next three weeks – each one is as bad!  This week I delve into the gruesome world of aphids.

Aphids (Black and Green)

Courtesy of Neil Howards

Courtesy of Neil Howards

As far as garden pests go, these are pretty easy to spot.  You’ll notice on the tips of new growth a mass of green or black movement along stem tips and along leaves.  Look a little closer and you’ll spot thousands of little insects, less than a millimeter in length covering the new plant growth.  En-mass they are literally sucking the life out of those plant tips and putting your plants under a lot of stress.

How to identify an aphid attack 

The earlier you spot an aphid attack the easier it is to manage but spotting it that early is nearly impossible because aphids have a yearly cycle of breeding and hibernating those eggs over the harsh winter.  By spring the eggs will start hatching and moving up and over the plants to begin their feasting on your hard work.  You’d need macro sight to be able to spot any eggs and thus disable them at that stage.   It’s not impossible of course, but get yourself a good magnifier glass to enable you to get the baddies but also to keep away from the goodies (ladybird larvae for example).

Winged aphids are also able to hibernate within woody stems and ground leaves which then start to give birth, once established on a new plant.

The attack that most of us see consists of the following signs:

  • Distorted green growth (including leaves)
  • A sticky substance over leaves and stems (it looks a little like slug slime in the light)
  • Ants that are constantly moving up and down stems and along leaves

You’ll notice these signs from late April until into summer.

How do aphids cause issues?

So now you’ve identified your aphid attack, why do we need to do anything.  Well sometimes we don’t need to do a thing.  You can leave the plant alone and either wait for the plant to fight the attack itself or wait for it’s main predator – the ladybird to come along and either slow the onslaught down or deplete it altogether.

The problem is the plants the aphids attack are usually the ones you need, through food or flowers.  Once the attack of aphids is at the visual stage your plant is now under immense stress.

Aphids have a piercing tongue that puncture the plant tissue to release and extract the sap through.  One aphid on it’s own wouldn’t do much damage but by their sheer numbers tens of thousands of aphids sucking sap out of a plant can cause leaves and stem tips to break down and die as the life is being literally sucked out of them.  While it won’t effect a plant in the long term it can do enough damage to prevent proper growth happening in the season and delay fruit on tree bearing crops.

My apple espalier tree was attacked viciously last year.  Every new bit of growth was invaded causing new growth to die and leaf loss.  The espalier started making new growth again once the attack was over but by then it was too late in the season, and the so it went into winter with less growth than it should have done for it’s second year.  

As if that wasn’t bad enough aphids can also carry and transmit further disease to a plant as it’s draining the sap, through it’s saliva.  Thus not only are you left with a worn out plant but one that may encounter further problems down the line through a loss of final fruit/flower production.

Battle plans

While all that appears to be rather depressing reading the end is not always neigh at the stage.  There are three areas to the pest battle that can be used straight away:

Prevention

Some plants will always be more susceptible to attacks from aphids than others.  New, young, plants (shrubs, trees and perennials) will usually be the first to come under attack because they will be throwing out lovely new juicy growth and if the aphids aren’t caught the first year and eliminated you know they will just keep coming back until that new growth turns into more woody growth.  So be sure to keep a close eye on these plants and watch for any of the aphid signs – daily as early as March and until the end of June.

Control

If you want chemical control you are reading the wrong blog.  Over here we know that while chemical control is a solution it’s not a great one and it’s only a short term solution.

Instead you can do three organic methods that will not only work in harmony with the ecology in your garden but ensure it won’t effect any future fruit off the plant.

  1. Do everything you can to encourage ladybirds into your garden.  You can even buy ladybird larvae but be assured you’re going to need plenty of it because once hatched ladybirds will fly off so you want to place them all over the garden to ensure the plants that are under attack get eaten.  Make sure you have plenty of calendula growing.  Calendula is a really easy flower to grow and it self-seeds which means you don’t need to worry about cultivating it once established.  It attracts ladybirds and gives them extra food source.
  2. Soap spray.  Creating, or buying a mild horticultural soap using fatty acids will stop the aphids from spreading.  It needs to be applied as early into the attack as possible and then applied once a week until the numbers start to decrease overall.
  3. Disrupting the aphids life cycle.  Okay, this one isn’t easy but it’s not impossible.  First of all you need to know what plant is being attacked as different plants will have slightly different aphids cycles on them and hibernation techniques.  Once you know which aphid you’ve got you can then look for the hibernating eggs in later winter.  You can also disrupt the cycle by killing any winged aphids first because these critter will be laying aphids quicker than you can sneeze.  So the less production happening the slower the attack will be.
  4. Water jet.  Not great if living on a water meter I grant you but can be very effective.  Take your water gun; squash, between your fingers, and blast as many aphids off the leaves and stems (careful not to jet the growth right off!) as possible.  You’ll probably need to do this daily until you’re happy the plant is aphids free, then give it a couple of days and check again.

Collateral damage

Given the fact that your garden is a mass ecosystem you’d expect aphids to run utter riot but they don’t.  They run in seasons and have particular habits which makes them easy to monitor and keep in check within the grand scale of your local ecosystem.  In fact by having aphids on your plants you’re actually assisting other insects (like ladybirds), become standardised and more dense.

By having aphids, it encorouges ants because the ants love nothing more than to eat the sticky dew excreted from the aphids (no-one said this was a pretty post).  And by having more ants it encorouges more birds into your garden which in turn eat the ants and the aphids in one swoop!

Some gardeners would argue that they begrudgingly give up a couple of plants each year just as aphid fodder, due to the eventual arrival of the good insects and birds it brings to the overall environment of their garden, and I would agree with that.  I have left a plant to be rampaged because doing so meant other plants were left alone.

Don’t give up on the plant that is being attacked by aphids.

The onslaught won’t last, and it won’t kill the plant entirely (although it can make the plant look temporarily ugly).

The plant does need to be monitored and the aphids controlled to ensure the plant doesn’t have any lasting (rare) disease issues.

So you see, it’s not all bad news really.

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What are your tips for dealing with aphids?  Is there one plant in particular they always attack in your garden?

 

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Cover photo courtesy of Thomas Shahan

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7 responses to “Garden Attack – Part 1 Aphids

  1. I’ve given up trying to actively grow food plants in my garden apart from the ones that are already established (chives, rhubarb, lovage and a baytree, as well as dandelions and hedge garlic that have seeded themselves). My last attempt ended when slugs munched through just the stems of all my courgette plants, leaving them to wither heartbreakingly. Now I just enjoy gardening vicariously by reading other people’s blogs :/

  2. We get lots of aphids here, we find controlling the ants with tangle foot on the base of fruit trees helps a lot. In the veggie garden we plant calendula and nasturtiums. Usually, we lose the battle, but it passes within a month….then the slug fight begins!

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  6. Great post. My biggest problem is blackfly on my Broad Beans. Though I’ve tried the autumn sowing varieties to try and beat the blackfly, I’ve never found it to make any difference – I think that’s a myth. I find regular checking & using soapy water with a squirt gun (a plastic bottle with a squirter on it) as soon as you spot the aphids, works best. I then check daily, squirt, and find this mostly defeats them. Definitely catching them whilst the infestation has only started is best, as a bad infestation if much harder to bring under control.

    I’d love to let ladybirds to do the control but I’ve barely seen any this year, and cannot afford to buy any in. So I’ll try growing more calendula.

    • Apologies in my delayed response. I think you’ve hit on some real issues there. I have the same problem with my cherry trees, once again as much as I try and keep the blackfly down the infestation becomes too much, too quickly. So im trying something different this yr by moving any ladybird larvae I spot over to the trees.

So, what do you think?

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