Aphids literally suck the life out of plants by inserting their mouthpieces into leaves and sucking out the plant’s sap. Often the first sign of an aphid problem is not the insects, because they tend to congregate on the undersides of leaves, but puckered leaves or a clear sticky substance called honeydew coating the plants. Aphids feeding certainly doesn’t do your plants any favors, but the real problem is these tiny insects carry viruses, which they introduce to the plants while they eat.
If you spot aphids, or signs of their damage on your plants, don’t worry: there are plenty of completely organic ways to deal with them. The first tactic is patience. Aphids feed lots of creatures, including ladybugs, lacewings, and birds. If aphids make an appearance in your garden, these beneficial insects and birds will soon take note. Waiting a few days to see if the natural predators take care of the problem is easy and a good way to ensure diversity in your garden.
If the good bugs or birds don’t take care of the aphids, point a strong stream of water from a hose at the plants. The force of the water kills the soft-bodied insects and knocks them off the leaves. As a last resort, you can also use an organic insecticidal soap spray, such as Safer Soap. This organic insecticide kills the aphids by smothering them. It only works if it comes in contact with the insects, so be sure to thoroughly coat both the underside and upper surfaces of the leaves.
Willi Galloway is the author of Grow Cook Eat: A Food Lover’s Guide to Vegetable Gardening, and she writes about organic vegetable gardening and seasonal cooking on her blog, DigginFood.