Controlling Aphids and Other Pests

tree-tip-aphidsQuestion: I found sticky residue on my car parked under my aspen trees. When I looked up I found little green bugs which I found out are aphids. Will they get on other plants too? I prefer not to use chemical sprays. Is there any other way to control them? My neighbor says that the lady bugs may control them. I have seen a few lady bugs, and I don’t want to harm them.

Answer: Yes there are “organic” or non-chemical methods of controlling aphids and other insects which attack plants. A few years ago I had aphids on my aspen trees and delayed spraying them for a few days. When I looked again they were gone. I’m sure it was lady bugs that cleaned them up. Chemical sprays can be harmful to lady bugs and other beneficial insects. There are very few plants which aphids will not attack.

You can purchase live lady bugs for release into your garden. However, they only stay as long as there are bugs for them to eat. They will soon migrate to your neighbors or wherever there is food.

The most widely used non-chemical control for aphids and other pests is insecticidal soap. It can be applied with a hose attachment sprayer so you can get some force of water. It washes pests such as aphids and mites off of plants. They cannot find their way back onto the plants. Ordinary dish wash detergent will often work just as well. About 4 ounces per gallon of water is an effective rate.

My favorite organic pesticide is neem oil. Wikipedia describes neem oil as a “vegetable oil pressed from the fruits and seeds of Neem (Azadirachta indica), an evergreen tree which is endemic to theIndian subcontinent and has been introduced to many other areas in the tropics. It is perhaps the most important of the commercially available products of neem for organic farming and medicines.” Neem contains fatty acids which repel many different insects including aphids, mites, cabbage worms, thrips, white flies, beetles, caterpillars, and leaf miners. It is not harmful to people, pets, butterflies, honeybees, or lady bugs. It also controls several common fungus diseases including powdery mildew, rust, and anthracnose. It is most effective if you add a tablespoon of dish wash detergent per gallon of water. Neem oil is generally available only in full service nurseries and garden stores.

In recent years, many organic pesticides have been developed. One of the oldest is Bacillus thuringensis, sold as Dipel and Thuricide. Originally developed for controlling caterpillars, formulations are now available which control other pests such as beetles.

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