To combat Aphids you first need to understand their relationship with ants and you need to understand the Aphids way of life. Aphid control starts in the late autumn when ants carry the Aphids off into their nests for the winter. This is the time you need to spend combating ants and reducing or eliminating their nests. Place ant traps along all their ant highways early winter and repeat again just before the spring. This should drastically cut your ant population and limit the amount of Aphids they bring back up to the surface and place neatly on your plants.
When spring has set in it is time to take on the Aphids. The Aphids start their season eight (8) weeks before any predator starts out, and we find this eight (8) week period to be the most important if you wish to ensure a bumper season.
Usually when Aphids show up we notice people immediately panicking and spraying all kinds of evil concoctions on the plants to kill the Aphids only to later cry that either their plants died or the problem never got solved. Well that’s because the evil concoctions you use affect the plant and weaken it making it a prime target for further attacks and also chase any potential Aphid predators which will force you to rely on various sprays all season. Save your money and the environment by trashing all those Aphid solutions and start to understand your enemy.
So let us explain further and what you need to do and know:
Fight the Battle on Two Fronts
Ants protect Aphids so that they can farm honeydew from them. You will often see a sticky substance on your plant leaves, well that’s honeydew and ants love it. They harvest it all day and carry it back to their nests. Thus it’s important to fight the ant colony year round using ant traps. Since ants quickly build up immunity to the ant trap, try changing between different types of ant trap every time. By keeping the ants down you remove the Aphids protection thus making them more vulnerable.
Daily Aphid Patrol
Finding and exploiting Aphids weaknesses is extremely important as it will greatly ease your fight and allow you to set up a feeding frenzy with Aphids on the menu later in the season.
The first thing you need to do when you spot your first Aphid is simply squish it. Aphids have soft bodies and they pop easy so go ahead and squish away. Remember they love to hide under the leaves and instinctively drop off when disturbed. This supposed survival skill is also one of its greatest weaknesses if you know how to exploit it.
So what you do is scatter Diatomaceous Earth at the base of the plant on a nice hot dry day then you start your squish patrol. You will notice plenty of aphids that you don’t squish will drop off to save themselves except they will end up in the Diatomaceous Earth and their soft bodies will get cut up. We will only use the Diatomaceous Earth in the first four (4) weeks of the aphids showing up, which is usually in late winter or early spring. After this we won’t use it as it also chases Aphid predators which start their season slightly later than Aphids.
The Aphid Graveyard
You should place yellow sticky traps between your plants as these will attract the Aphids and trap them. Aphids have the ability to seek out weaker and more vulnerable plants thus limiting the strain you put on your plants and keeping them healthy is essential. Aphids can also evolve and pop out wings as the situation demands, and getting them before the wing stage is important. We find that by leaving the Aphid corpses on the leaves where you squished them also deters Aphids as they avoid areas that clearly they got massacred on before. Daily squish patrols may seem tiring and you may feel like you are losing as the Aphids just never seem to get less. You kill 1000 today and tomorrow 1000 more replaced them, but persisting now and sweating it out for the first 6 to 8 weeks will make your season so much easier later down the line. What you are actually doing is keeping their population in check buying valuable time for the Aphid predators who are your allies to hatch and get big.
Companion planting is also essential in this war. Like plants vs. zombies every companion plant has a use. You need companion plants that repel Aphids and plants that attract them. In fact you can carefully plan your companion plant layout by putting Aphid deterrent plants close to your peppers and put Aphid magnets away from your peppers thus forcing the Aphids into a controlled kill zone away from your peppers where you could use Neem oil or Pyrethrins without hurting your peppers or chasing your Aphid predators.
Always use Neem oil or Pythrin at sun down when pollinators and essential bugs are least active and wash the plants off that you sprayed thoroughly at sunrise to prevent damage to the plants and beneficial critters.
Plants that deter Aphids are your Allium species, Mints, Cilantro, Parsley, Thyme, etc. Plants that attract aphids like Marigolds, Mustard and Roses are called trap plants and you can spray these with Bioneem or Pyrol when Aphids are spotted on them. You can also grow plants that attract predators like sweet Alyssum and Cilantro. Now that you have planned your battlefield you move on to the last defence.
Invite the Aphid-Busters
An enemy of an Aphid is your friend. Do everything in your power to protect them and for goodness sake sit back now and relax. Be an “Armchair General” now and watch your allies massacre the Aphids. From here on you don’t need to squish Aphids anymore as you need to leave them for your new best friends to eat. So who are your new best friends? Ladybugs and their even more fearsome larvae, predator wasps, hoverflies and their fearsome larvae, praying mantis, spiders and lacewings. It’s important to know how these awesome critters and their eggs look like so that you can protect them.
Aphid control would not be possible if you have not created a healthy balance between predator and prey and thus it’s so important to be proactive year round in the effort to reach this state of equilibrium.
Article written by Tony Lague