By Lisa Lonsdale
Gardeners everywhere have one thing in common: PESTS! Even those of us with so-called green thumbs face the same challenges with pests as beginners….so don’t think you are alone in your “Battle of the Bug”
My biggest challenge, when it comes to pests in the vegetable garden, is aphids. They attack things like peppers, lettuce, squash and beans. In the succulent garden, you might find them on echeveria flowers and some aloe plants and their flower spikes. You’ll notice when you have an aphid infestation, you will also have ants present. The ants are there because aphids secrete what’s called “honeydew,” which is a byproduct of their consumption of the plant’s sap. The ants feed on this sweet, sticky substance and will carry aphids to new locations in order to provide them with more sap opportunity, hence producing more honeydew for themselves. The ants will also protect the aphids from beneficial insects that prey on them. This activity is called mining, farming or herding and creates larger populations of aphids than if the aphids where left alone.
Due to this insect “partnership,” the most important goal in the garden is to reduce the ant populations, then secondarily, you go after the aphids. The most effective ant control is bait stakes or bait traps. Since there are dozens of products to choose from, use a site like Amazon.com where you can read large numbers of reviews on each product. Since there are always a few folks that have negative opinions, I always go with the majority opinion. If it is over 90% positive, you stand a good chance of getting something that is effective. Always place the bait where you see active ant trails.
Now that you have your ant control in place, go after those aphids. You can use as little as a firm jet of water to remove them or try a mild soap and water spray (2 tablespoons of dish soap per gallon of water) applied directly on the aphids. Be sure to lift the leaves and spray their undersides. You can buy premixed insecticidal soap sprays or you can use a mix of essential oils and water. Essential oils such as peppermint, clove, rosemary and thyme can be purchased online; mix ¼ teaspoon per gallon of water and add a few drops of dish soap to help it mix with the water. When spraying aphids, use your fingers to stroke the plant tips and the leaves as you spray. Always use these sprays in the early morning or late afternoon which will allow the plant surfaces to dry before exposing them to direct sun. Wet surfaces will burn otherwise and damage the plant.
Recently, a friend recommended the use of banana peels; chop them up and mix them in the soil between your plants. Apparently, the aphids don’t like the smell of rotting bananas and will vacate the area. I have recently started using this method and don’t yet have any definitive results.
Gardening can be very therapeutic for most folks, but always be prepared to face the challenges mother nature throws your way. Enjoy the summer!