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Family Aphididae


In moderate numbers, aphids don't do as much harm to garden plants as one might think. But once you start seeing sooty mold or curled leaves, it's time to act.


Gyorgy Csoka, Hungary Forest Research Institute, Bugwood.org

Description: Aphids are tiny true bugs with piercing, sucking mouthparts designed to suck the juices from plants. They are usually wingless and pear-shaped. You can recognize aphids easily by the pair of cornicles projecting from their hind ends – two tiny "tailpipes" that other soft-bodied insects lack. Aphids vary in color according to species and host plants.

Life cycle: The aphid life cycle is unusual in that females can birth live young, and do so without mating. Aphids overwinter as eggs, from which wingless females hatch in spring. These females give rise quickly to the next generation of Amazon aphids, and the cycle continues throughout the growing season. As fall approaches, aphids begin producing some males with which they mate. Only then do the female aphids rely on traditional reproductive methods, laying eggs that will carry her genes through the winter months.

Crops damaged: Nearly all garden crop. In particular, aphids prefer beans, peas, melons, cucumbers, pumpkins, squash, tomatoes, potatoes, and cabbage. Aphids can also transmit diseases to many of these crops.

Signs and symptoms: Curled or yellowed leaves. Stunted growth. Blackening on foliage (sooty mold).

Control measures:

  • Use a strong spray of water to knock aphids from sturdy plants.
  • Attract beneficial insects to your garden. Most predatory insects will feast on aphids when they are present in high numbers. Avoid using broad spectrum pesticides that will kill beneficials along with pests.
  • Don't over fertilize your plants. When you give your aphid-infested plants a nitrogen boost, you're actually boosting aphid reproduction and creating a bigger problem.
  • Keep the garden free of weeds, and check for infested ornamentals near your vegetable garden that might harbor aphids.
  • When possible, prune any heavily infested shoots from plants and destroy them, aphids and all.
  • Apply neem oil, horticultural soap, or horticultural oil when appropriate. These products work on contact, so repeat applications will be necessary. Be sure to get the undersides of leaves where aphids may be hiding.

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