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Aphids feed on firebush leaves. Ladybug larva feeds on aphids.

Aaaahhhh – Aphids!

Aphids are a very common garden pest. They feed by piercing leaves and sucking out the juices. This can cause leaves to crinkle and curl, especially on new flushes of growth.

 

Aphids excrete a fluid that contains a lot of sugars. At first, leaves may look wet and shiny from this coating of “honeydew.” But those sugary excretions can lead to growth of unsightly sooty black mold on plant leaves.

Sooty black mold coating leaves.

Sooty black mold on Ixora. Photo Credits: UF/IFAS Kim Gabel

 

Aphids can also be a vector for plant viruses – moving diseases from infected plants to healthy ones.

Sounds pretty bad, right?

 

BUT… before you panic and reach for the insecticide spray or dust, READ THIS:

 

Aphids can usually be controlled WITHOUT using heavy-duty, broad-spectrum pesticides.

 

That’s right. Controlling aphids can be as easy as spraying them with water, or even doing nothing at all!

Here are some simple tips for controlling aphids and their damage –

 

1. Scout plants often. Watch for telltale signs of aphids including:

  • Plentiful small, soft-bodied insects huddled along stems or leaves.
  • Shiny, sticky leaves covered in “honeydew” secretions.
  • Leaves covered in black sooty mold.
  • Puckered, curled, or stunted new growth.
  • Ants that are busy patrolling and “farming” aphids. (Some ants will feed on aphids’ honeydew secretions.)
Aphids cluster tightly around a stem.

Check stems and undersides of leaves. Aphids can vary in color and are often well-hidden.

 

Note: If you think you’re seeing aphid damage, but you don’t actually see the insects, check the undersides of the leaves and stems. Aphids will often stay hidden within the overhanging edges of curled or puckered leaves, or cluster tightly on stems. Another possibility is that the infestation is already over, but the damaged growth remains.

 

2. Check for the presence of beneficial predator insects. Ladybeetles (a.k.a. ladybugs) and their larvae, lacewing larvae, syrphid fly larvae, and predatory wasps are among the many insects that will show up to feast on the juicy, slow-moving, sugar-filled jellybeans. Also, look for aphid “mummies” that were killed and parasitized by tiny beneficial wasps. If the “good bugs” are already on the scene, let them do their thing!

Juvenile ladybeetle on underside of leaf

Learning to recognize all life-stages of the “good bugs” is important. You wouldn’t want to accidentally kill this juvenile ladybug patrolling the underside of a basil leaf. (Photo credit F. Galdo – UF/IFAS)

 

Lacewing eggs and larvae showing hunting behavior

Lacewing larvae earn the nickname “aphid wolves” due to their huge appetite. Left: Delicate lacewing eggs attached to a blade of lemongrass. (Photo credit – F. Galdo UF/IFAS.) Right: Lacewing larvae hunting for pests and wearing the carcases. Photo credits L. Buss – UF/IFAS.

 

3. If the “good bugs” haven’t arrived yet, use a blast of water from a garden hose (or even a sink sprayer for small potted plants) to knock off as many aphids as you can. (Remember to focus your efforts on the undersides of leaves where most of the aphids are hiding.)

 

4. If tender new growth is severely stunted and heavily infested, it may be easier to trim back some of the worst-affected branch tips. (Dispose of them in the trash!)

 

5. If you’re unable to bring your aphid issue under control with forceful water blasts and beneficial insects, horticultural soaps can potentially be effective treatment options. Just be careful to follow the label instructions, and watch for non-target insects.

Milkweed with monarch caterpillar and aphids in close proximity.

Milkweed is a common plant in pollinator gardens – and a common target of milkweed aphids. Spraying anything to control the aphids could harm the caterpillars too, so it’s best to either let the “good bugs” handle this, or use a simple spray of water.

 

For more information about horticultural soaps and other natural pest management strategies, check out the UF/IFAS publication “Natural Products for Managing Landscape and Garden Pests in Florida.”

 

REMEMBER: Aphids have A LOT of natural predators. (What bug wouldn’t love to slurp up plentiful, juicy, slow-moving, sugar-filled jellybeans?) But broad-spectrum pesticides can’t differentiate between “good bugs” and “bad bugs.” If you’re regularly using strong, broad-spectrum pesticides in your garden, you’re killing off all the “good bugs” along with the bad. Guess which population will recover quicker? That’s right – the pests.

Want to learn more about attracting beneficial insects to your garden? Check out the post – “How do I attract the “good bugs?””

 

Juvenie and adult ladybeetles feast on aphids.

The new growth of this firebush was heavily infested with aphids. (Note the curled leaves and shiny honeydew?) BUT – put away the insecticides and have no fear – the “good guys” are already on the scene! (Photo credit – F. Galdo – UF/IFAS)

 

Is something bugging your garden? If you have concerns about garden pests, ask us – UF/IFAS Extension and your local Master Gardeners are here to help! Show us some photos or bring in a sample. Our office can be reached at 352-518-0156.

(Not in Pasco? Not a problem! Click here to find your local UF/IFAS Extension office!)

 


About the Author: As the Florida Friendly Landscaping (FFL) Program Coordinator in Pasco County, Frank works with the residents, homebuilders, and businesses of Pasco to achieve attractive, resilient yards and communities while reducing over-reliance on irrigation, fertilizer, and pesticides. Through an innovative collaboration with Pasco County Utilities, Frank provides on-site assistance to individuals and communities identified as high water users. He can be reached at (813)929.2716.

Thirsty for more FFL knowledge? Check out some of my previous posts!

 


About UF/IFAS Extension: UF/IFAS Extension serves as a source of non-biased, research-based information for the residents, businesses, and communities of Florida, providing educational materials and programs for adults and youth. We proudly “provide solutions for your life.”

Come learn at one of our workshops! Check out our Eventbrite page for a list of upcoming events: bitly.com/eventbritepasco

UF/IFAS Extension Is An Equal Opportunity Institution.

 

6 Comments on “Aaaahhhh – Aphids!

  1. We have a FL natives yard. Aphids are on the growing tips of our Slash Pine, Fire Bush, and Coco Plums. I see no evidence of beneficial predators though we have plenty of nectar plants, tuck seed, rosin weed, FL green eyes, twin flower and salvias and spider wort.

    What are we missing? Help!!

    • Hi Carlee –

      Thanks for checking out the blog. Sorry to hear about your struggles with pests.

      Sometimes, even when we’ve taken steps to provide good habitat and food sources for beneficial insects, the pest pressure can ramp up faster than the beneficials. Particularly, this can become a problem if you have young plants with plenty of new, tender growth, or your plants are stressed by environmental conditions (like the recent extreme springtime dry season). Sometimes, additional steps are called for until “the cavalry” can arrive…

      If you can get a few clear, well-focused photos, I’d be happy to take a look at the specific pests you’re dealing with. That way I’ll be able to make the best recommendations to help your plants.

      (A tip to get really clear, close-up photos – Sometimes cameras have a difficult time focusing on a small, thin object like a leaf or a plant stem. Hold a flat object (a book, your hand, a piece of paper, etc.) near the leaf or branch you’re trying to photograph. First, lock your camera’s focus onto the flat surface, then take the photo of the pests.)

      Without photos, the general recommendation would be to apply a low-toxicity product containing neem oil, or a horticultural soap, as described in the following publication: https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/IN/IN19700.pdf Just remember to always read labels carefully, follow all instructions closely, and pay attention to any temperature precautions listed.

  2. First year doing an entire edible garden and aphids seem to have taken out two entire raised beds full of plants, before fruiting could even begin. I’ve tried dish soap and water, many Bonide organic products, water. You name it. Nothing keeps them off or kills them. If anything it stresses my plants out more than the aphids. Is this a more common issue in summer? I read that they thrive in cooler temps. Im just trying to figure out if I should even bother planting my fall garden. The only things they haven’t destroyed are plants in containers. Tomatoes and jalapeños. Thank you in advance for your help.

    • Hi Rebeca – Thanks for checking out the blog, and sorry to hear about your struggles with aphids. Summertime in FL can be a tricky time to grow veggies. Heat, humidity, insects, and disease can challenge even the best of us. This summer has been particularly brutal in terms of heat stress. However, there are always a couple of things that we can do as gardeners to tip the scales in our favor.

      1) During summer, limit your crops to those that are well-adapted to hot, semi-tropical conditions. Sweet potatoes, roselle, Asian longbeans, okra, etc. Other veggies such as greens, broccoli, cabbages, etc. should be saved for the fall & winter gardens.

      2) Check for signs of root nematodes, which can be a major cause of stressed plants in summer veggie gardens. These microscopic worms harm your plants’ roots, making them unable to effectively take up water and nutrients. Plants affected by nematodes look stunted & wilted, and are more susceptible to attacks by aphids & mealybugs. (Okra is especially vulnerable to nematodes, so if you’ve got tiny, stunted, struggling okra, it’s a good reason to check for nematode issues.) For more about nematodes, check out this post: http://blogs.ifas.ufl.edu/pascoco/2018/05/22/you-might-have-worms/

      3) Make sure your garden is attracting & supporting lots of beneficial insects. Including a lot of pollinator-attracting flowers will help draw in the “good bugs” – lacewings, hoverflies, parasitic wasps, etc. For more about that, check out this recording of a recent webinar – https://youtu.be/fyKodxQmH3M
      or for a quick summary, you can take a look at this blog post – http://blogs.ifas.ufl.edu/pascoco/2019/10/16/how-do-i-attract-the-good-bugs/

      4) Check for ants “farming” the aphids. Sometimes, fireants will protect the aphids in exchange for the aphids’ sugary excretions. The ants will often have a nest at the base of the plant, and they will actually protect the aphids from the beneficial predator insects. This happened on some of the Asian longbean plants at the community garden this year. Once you get the ants under control, the beneficial insects can often restore balance.

      Anyway, hope that helps. Don’t give up!

  3. Oops. Same comment without my typos:

    I’m new to Florida and I believe they were aphids that overtook my hibiscus. Tiny white bugs that looked like a small white line, followed by the sooty mold BUT then horrible fur that looked like brown mice on my plant! Before the fur arrived I tried unsuccessfully to treat it with a mild organic spray and then I threw the plant out but wondering what it was so I don’t get it again.

    • Hi Robin – Welcome to Florida! Sorry to hear about your hibiscus troubles. Unfortunately, many hibiscus plants are prone to attracting piercing/sucking insect pests like mealybugs, aphids, & whiteflies. In general, the earlier you notice the issue, the easier it is to treat, so regular scouting is really important in order to grow hibiscus successfully.

      Another thing that can be helpful is to work on building up your population of beneficial insects. For tips on that, check out my recent webinar here – https://bit.ly/GardenPests-vs-GoodBugs_2020

      For some additional info about growing hibiscus & managing their pests, check out – https://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/plants/ornamentals/hibiscus.html

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