The War on Aphids
by Shonna Lee Leonard
by Shonna Lee Leonard

Freelance Writer & Maverick of Organic Gardening & Living.

Certificate in plant based nutrition from eCornell and the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies.

Some of my credits include East Coast Gardener, You Magazine, The Complete Canadian Gardener Magazine, Coastlife Magazine, Organic Times, The Plowman Journal, Parents-n-kids Magazine to name a few, and I was the garden columnist for The Bluenose Tribune before its unfortunate demise. I won the Stokes Says Outstanding Gardener Award in 1999. I gladly offer my writing skills to charities and the like as we all need to help others in some small way

June 30, 2000

shonnahead2.gif (14574 bytes)Aphids are small but mighty with over 4,000 known species and an ability to produce 20 or more generations per year! This helps to make them more than just a pest in our gardens, they become one of the gardener’s worst enemies.
Aphids feed on plant sap in large groups, leaving most ornamental and vegetables wilted and yellow. Eventually the aphids build up in numbers which can kill the host plant. Honeydew is the sticky substance they secrete which can cause fungus diseases as well as attracting ants which is why many gardeners think the ants are the one’s eating their plants. Ants enjoy the sweet honeydew and will go so far as to protect the aphids, who in return allow the ants to “milk” them.
So what can you do to protect your precious plants from these greedy little pests?

* Do not over fertilize plants, which causes tender, leggy growth. This attracts aphids, as well as plants that are not properly cared for, because they are under stress and secrete a substance that attracts aphids like moths to a flame.

* A simple solution of water and 1-2 percent dishwashing liquid (such as Ivory) kills soft shell insects. Commercial soap spray costs about $6.00 or more a pint while homemade costs about $2.00 for 34 gallons!!!

* Use yellow sticky traps available at garden centres or coat bright yellow boards with petroleum jelly to capture aphids by the hundreds-they love yellow and are highly attracted to it. This also works on whiteflies.

* For small infestations a garden hose will wash them away effectively but be careful to use this method on sturdy plants that can withstand the pressure.

* For many pests, including aphids try this:

  • 4 litres of water
  • 6 cloves crushed garlic
  • 1/2 bar pure soap, grated(not detergent)

Mix this up and let sit to age 3 days. Strain if desired and spray on all pests. Some people wash it off after one hour. Others apply in the evening and leave on overnight. It is best not to apply on a sunny day. And like all such sprays, it is best to test on a leaf first to be sure the plant is not sensitive.

* Mix skim milk powder with water according to the directions on the box. Put this into a spray bottle and apply to the leaves of your plants where aphids are enjoying a free lunch- as the milk dries the aphids get stuck there and die. This is harmless to every plant I have ever tried it on.

* Your local garden centre can also guide you and can recommend such measures as pyrethrins and rotenone.

Natural enemies that enjoy snacking on aphids include ladybugs, lacewings, certain flies, aphid midges and birds. To attract these beneficial insects to your garden provide shelter and the types of plants they enjoy laying eggs on. Plant flowers rich in pollen and nectar throughout your garden such as dill or yarrow. Plant a hedge or other type of windbreak to reduce wind and dust which dehydrates beneficial insects. Fill a shallow bowl with water and stones so they can alight to drink without drowning. You can get books on this subject in your local library and they are a great resource if you are interested in working with nature rather than against it to keep your garden free of pests.
Part of gardening is pest control, but we can learn so much about the cycle of life and the will to survive while we are doing it. I don’t think we should run out to the garden with chemicals and spray recklessly at the first sign of trouble. Chemicals should only be used as a last resort because they will wipe out everything including beneficials. Some natural sprays will do this as well so it is good to know the difference between friend and foe before we spray anything. A natural approach to pests should at least be tried before we bring out the big guns, and if we are out checking our plants each day we can rid ourselves of pests before they get out of hand. So armed with this ammunition you are now ready to wage the war on those tiny pests with such big appetites, good luck!

Shonna Lee Leonard is a freelance writer living in Sackville, N.S. Some of her credits are You Magazine, Organic Times, Child Times, Parents n’ Kids Magazine, CoastLife Magazine, Canning Gazette, and she was the garden columnist for The Bluenose Tribune. Shonna loves jogging & fitness, baking and gardening with her young daughter Amanda. She is a true hands in the dirt the world can wait kind of gardener - she won the Stokes Says Outstanding Gardener Award for December 1999. Email:

  • New Eden
  • Kids Garden
  • Plant a Row Grow a Row