Gardening

If you have plants outside, you have aphids. Here’s what to do about it.

  • Author: Jeff Lowenfels
    | Alaska gardening
  • Updated: July 5
  • Published July 5

Aphids cover a branch of meadow rue. (Photo courtesy Jeff Lowenfels)

The other day I received a nice email from a reader who modified his shop vacuum nozzle with duct tape so that he could use it to suck up aphids. He sent a picture of it in action and there were lots of aphids in there.

We have aphids and I am sure you do, too. If you don't know to what I am referring, put this down and use an Internet search engine to learn what an aphid looks like. Or ask a neighbor, who will tell you that these guys suck the juices from plants' vascular systems and drain the plant of some of its nutrients. Too much draining, caused by too many aphids, can cause a plant to turn color (usually yellow).

In addition, after the animal has removed the nutrients it wants, it rejects the rest in the form of a sticky "dew." Some years everything under birch trees is coated with it.

Anyhow, I am betting that many of you grow meadow rue. It is a lovely plant, though a bit invasive, which is probably why I can safely assume a lot of people have it. If you look at them right now, I am betting dollars to donuts (where ever that came from and means), that the top couple of inches just below flowers are coated with gray aphids.

I mean coated. There are hundreds of thousands of them. They pack themselves in for some reason, maybe because they are intercepting the best stuff and all want the best location to do so. Perhaps it is a defense mechanism, being so thickly crowded. In any case, it is best to get at them. I used to spray these off every morning with a cold, hard spray of water. It is an organic solution that doesn't eliminate them.

So, these days, my wonderful wife deals with them (as with most of the gardening chores), first by spraying them with a homemade garlic solution. Then, when that doesn't work on them all, she simple squeezes them as she collects them. It is messy, but it cuts down on the population considerably.

You can use neem oil and insecticidal soaps in spray form to hit your aphids on flowers. Or you can mince a handful of garlic cloves, soak them in 2 quarts of hot water and then mix a tablespoon or so of dishwashing detergent into the water. Strain and put into a hand sprayer. Dishwashing detergent breaks the waxy coating on the outside of the aphids' bodies. Some people add in hot peppers to the mix while soaking.

Now, that reader-supplied, shop vacuum trick is a great idea. Modified or not, put the entire flower into the nozzle and turn the machine on. Gone. Not the flower, but the pests. A little hand vac works well, but is not as good, based on my testing after hearing from my new reader friend.

OK, so then I started thinking about the future. I am in love with the new plant-based meat substitute burgers. I am actually starting to see a time when we really don't have much by way of cattle. Not only will we make "meat" from plant proteins, we will eat bugs.

And it turns out aphids are edible. Who knew? Protein from bugs is an up-and-coming thing. I am seeing articles almost on a weekly basis, which means it is either a real thing or some food editor is at the bottom of her barrel of ideas. Nonetheless, there are a lot of references to eating aphids raw as well as boiled. Obviously, it would difficult to grill them.

Now I am beginning to laugh, because I know at least a few readers who tell me that they do exactly what is put down in these columns every week. And I have had a few folks tell me their spouses do the same thing. Boiled aphids is the way to go. I just hope they have a wife like mine, who previously sprayed their aphids with garlic. It makes them taste so much better.

Jeff's Alaska garden calendar:

Alaska Botanical Garden: Storytime in the garden (reading to kids) is Thursday, July 12, 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and it is free. Beer in the garden is later that day, 6:30-9:30 p.m. and there is a fee. Go to alaskabg.org for details about both.

Spittle bugs: If you wonder who is spitting into your wild roses and such, no one is. You are seeing the effects of spittle bugs pumping air through their bodies. They and their spittle are harmless. Don't worry. Be happy.

Potatoes: Keep hilling. It is an all-season process.