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May 7, 2013 > Pat Kite's Garden: Aphid attack

Pat Kite's Garden: Aphid attack

By Pat Kite

Yellowish aphids are feasting on my beautiful pink rose buds. At least I think they are beautiful, since all I see are aphids gorging. Aphids feed by inserting a needle-like beak into juicy plant parts. Through straw-like stylets within this beak, they suck plant sap. Sap is to plants as blood is to us. When too much sap is withdrawn [and yes, one aphid is quite teensy, but a plant can be infested with thousands] the plant gets sickly. Leaves may curl, yellow, or become distorted. Buds are no longer soft and flowers look weird.

Since aphids eat a lot, they also poop. Their poop is a sugary liquid called honeydew. If oodles of aphids are infesting a tree, honeydew will drop to whatever is under the tree. It may be your patio; it may be your car. This is not so good for the finish on your car. I find aphids quite discouraging.

There are over 800 aphid species. They come in all colors: light green, red, pink, dark green, white, black, blue, yellow, dark brown. Each female can produce 100 offspring and each offspring has its own litter within a week. If you have nothing more interesting to do, take a magnifying glass into the infested area. Notice that the young may be lining up behind their mother in birth order, smallest to largest, like an assembly line without coffee breaks.

But, you ask, is there nothing "good" about aphids? Well, ladybugs like to eat them for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. Last year I bought a batch of ladybugs. Of the 100 in the container, two stayed around. But it is worth a try, even though I don't approve of plopping ladybugs into a stifling plastic container where many of them die. There is now a problem of ladybug disappearance in the wild. But that's another story.

You can try washing off aphids with a hose blast. My experience is this doesn't kill them. They just fall to the ground where, when dry, they meander back up on the plant or move on to neighboring plants. You can use systemic insecticides. These get into the plant sap, and when aphids suck the sap, they die. However, good insects that feed on a treated plant die too. I tend too use a mixture of the above methods, depending on my mood and the aphid population.

As a note, I tried to find out where the word "aphid" came from. The only thing that surfaced from a Google search was: "Aphid is the name of a heat-seeking missile, carried by MIG jet fighter planes, that hones in on an enemy jet's fiery exhaust." Happy gardening.

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