Attack of the Killer Ladybugs (Plus 9 Other Natural Ways to Get Rid of Aphids)

It’s official: for the first time in my current garden location, I have aphids.  That’s the bad news.  The good news: they’re only interested in my sunflowers (so far). This led me to do some research on some natural ways to get rid of aphids.

Aphids are tiny sap-sucking insects smaller than a grain of rice.  They range in color from red to green, but are commonly black or gray.  They drink the sap from succulent new growth and secrete a substance called honeydew.  Honeydew favors the growth of sooty mold and mosaic viruses, which can kill your plants.

Ants-herding-aphids

10 Ways to Get Rid of Aphids

After doing some more research, I’ve found 10 natural ways to get rid of aphids, which I’ve summarized below. I have enough unsuspecting candidates on my sunflowers to set up a nice little experiment here in the next week or so.  For your viewing pleasure, here’s a photo of the actual aphid infestation here at The Petite Farmstead:

Ants tending to their flock of aphids on my sunflower.  Not cool.

Ants tending to their flock of aphids on my sunflower. Not cool.

So, without further adieu, (and with only one more yucky photo), here are my selected top 10 natural ways to get rid of aphids on your petite farmstead:

1.  Get Rid of Ants (and the Aphids will go away)

One of the keys to getting rid of aphids is getting rid of ants. One of the most interesting facts about aphids is that they’re often “farmed” by ants. Ants herd aphids onto succulent leaves, and “milk” them for their honeydew by stroking them with their antennae.  Also very gross, but very cool.  There are several methods that can be used to get rid of ants, which I’ll cover in a future post.

2.  Introduce Predatory Insects

Ladybugs love to eat aphids

When I was young, I remember reading a book in the shade next to my parents’ tall Caragana hedge.  I looked up to see a ladybug shoving aphid after aphid into her mouth.  It was kind of morbid, but also very cool.

I forgot about my book and stood transfixed by this living, breathing biology lesson (and a very good example of why ladybugs are considered beneficial insects).  If you use this method on aphids, don’t use #6.  See why below.

3.  Blast ’em off with water

That’s right.  Simple, but effective.  Just blast the aphids with a stream of water for a few days in a row.

Supposedly this will discourage them from hanging around on the plant.  A fire hose blast of water would surely keep me away if it happened every day for three days.

However, I suspect the aphids may find another place to go, so I’m not sure I’ll try this one (my sunflowers are literally right next door to my tomatoes and strawberries).

4.  Drown them

Aphids seem to be attracted to the color yellow, which makes sense  — aphids are commonly found on sunflowers, tomatoes, and other yellow-flowered plants. (Which leads me to wonder: why can’t they eat just eat all those weeds that have yellow flowers?)

Set out a yellow pan filled with a solution of dish soap and water.  The aphids will be attracted to it, climb in, and drown.  The soap breaks the surface tension of the water, so they can’t swim out.

5.  Suffocate them

Mix a solution of 3 parts warm water, 1 part vegetable oil, and a few drops of mild dishwashing soap, and fill a spray bottle with it.  Spray directly on the aphids.  This solution will coat the aphids and suffocate them.

6.  Desiccate them (Dry them out)

A great tool in the home farmer’s toolbox is a natural desiccant called Diatomaceous Earth, or DE for short.  DE is a natural powder made from ground up diatoms (a type of prehistoric hard-shelled algae).  The tiny crystals actually puncture the body of the aphid and dry them out. Although it is a very effective treatment on not only aphids, but lots of other insect pests,DE isn’t very discriminating — it will also kill our friends, the beneficial insects.

7.  Lure them away (then eradicate ’em)

As mentioned in #4, aphids are attracted to the color yellow.  You can plant a trap crop of yellow nasturtium or sunflowers, and they will stay off of your vegetables.  This seems to be working in my garden, albeit accidentally.  Once the aphids are on your trap crop, you can use the method of your choice to eradicate them.

8.  Foil them, literally

Place foil around the base of your plants.  This reflects light up onto the leaves, which apparently irritates or blinds the aphids, and they’ll leave.  Or they just won’t be able to climb up your plant (I’m not sure which).  This method seems like it could work on a plant with a well-defined base, like a sunflower, but I’m not sure how I’d get foil underneath my tomato plants at this point in the season.

9.  Use a homemade spray

There are several homemade insecticides that you can make out of plants you might already have in your garden, such as rhubarb, tomatoes, potatoes, and even stinging nettles.  These plants have poisonous compounds in their leaves that, when boiled into a “tea”, will kill aphids.

10.  Repel them with stinky plants

Aphids are repelled by the odors given off by chives, coriander, and mint.  These plants can be planted at the beginning of the season near your tomatoes and other aphid-prone plants to keep them away.

 My Battle Plan

In the next week or so, I’ve decided to try the following methods in different locations, with the spirit of conducting a pseudo-scientific experiment:

  • #1:  get rid of ants (more on this later)
  • #2:  introduce predatory insects (my local garden center sells ladybugs, and I have a hankering to watch them munch aphids again)
  • #4: death by drowning (this will be easy to monitor and know whether or not it’s effective, simply because I’ll be able to see how many aphids fall in the water.)
  • #7: lure them away  (this is sort of cheating, because they’ve already been lured onto my sunflowers; but what the heck.)
  • #9: homemade spray (because I have lots of rhubarb and tomato leaves, and frankly this method is fascinating to me)

Have you got a tried-and-true method for controlling aphids?  Have you tried one of the methods listed and found that it did or didn’t work?  I’d love to hear your experience — just leave a comment below.

About Stacie

Stacie Humpherys is an engineer, graphic artist, and farmer who lives on her very own petite farmstead just outside of Middleton, Idaho. Say hi on Twitter.

Comments

  1. I’m curious to hear how you dealt with the aphids. I’ve just discovered them and along with the ants, they’re building colonies!

  2. I’m having the same issues….aphids on my sunflower,dahlias,and cosmos. The ants are def farming them. I purchased lady bugs and they are doing well, but I think the ants are attacking them. How did you get rid of the ants with out messing with the lady bugs?

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