Dealing with aphids in your vegetable garden

By Frank Hancock ANR County Extension Agent

Aphids are tiny insects that suck the juices out of leaves and stems and, if left unchecked, can cause leaves to curl up and plants to decline. Inspect plants regularly for the presents of aphids. A small number can reproduce to thousands in a short time. They can reproduce sexually and give live birth to future generations or they can lay eggs that will help in overwintering.

A tomato plant is shown covered with aphids. Special photo

Aphids suck the juices out of the plant and secrete honey dew, a sugary substance preferred by ants. They have two exhaust pipes for the secretion of honey dew, and ants will excite them into excreting the substance on demand. In other words, ants will actually farm aphids. Aphids also attract predators like lady beetles and dusky lady beetles. These beetles and their larvae will consume many aphids.

If ants go up the stem into a plant, they may be shopping for aphids. Ants will also attack aphid predators to keep the aphids for themselves. An infestation of aphids is not necessarily reason to panic, as there is an ecosystem working to control them.

To control aphids found in a garden, hit them with a blast from a water hose, thus thinning out the population without harming beneficial insects. Look for ant nests in order to eliminate them, and remove leaves with heavy infestations. Reflective mulch can also help to control aphids. Following these tips can reduce the population without using insecticides.

For recommendations on insecticides, call the Extension Office at 770-288-8421.