This Means War: Exterminating Aphids
February 22, 2014 2:38 PM   Subscribe

Location: Los Angeles California, full sun and part sun. We have finally managed to assemble a little mini-garden of some 40 plants, and they have been thriving wildly. Mostly decorative bushes like hibiscus, but also some petunias and the like. Invading enemy: aphids. Panic. What do we do?

The original idea was to surround our hummingbird feeders with a ton of flowers to make it more welcoming to the little birds.

Then things went south. Leaves curled up, yellowed, died, fell off, developed black spots. Closer examination, chilled the soul: APHIDS!

We're peace and love type chumps who are willing to give hippie methods a try, so we gave it the old college try with soapy water + vegetable oil mixture as recommended on the intrawebs. So far - a few days - it doesn't seem to work.

Facing the prospect of losing it all, we sold out the hippie credo and our rotten bourgeoisie nature asserted itself. Jaw set, dead eyes, I faced my wife: Home Depot, whatever poison it takes, it's us or them.

But after the first wave of rage and panic passed, second thoughts occurred. One of the chemical warfare agents recommended is:

Bayer Advanced 32 oz. Concentrate Tree and Shrub Protect with Feed

The mechanism of action seems to be the plants absorbing the poison over a period of time, aphids bite on the plant and croak. Questions and Fretting:

1)Won't the poison work its way into the flowers and nectar, and should a hummingbird imbibe, I imagine this is a disaster? Mind you, I have not seen any bother with the flowers, they go straight for the feeders, but you never know. Then again, I can't imagine soapy water and vegetable oil is a good diet for a hummingbird either.

2)What about other beneficial bugs that might be obliterated by this - are we shooting ourselves in the foot here and poisoning bees and the like (which do come around)

3)How soon after starting that Bayer treatment in the link, does it take for the aphids to go to that Great Leaf In The Sky?

4)Can we do the treatment like for a limited time, kill off the aphids and then stop using this, so that things stop being poisonous, or are we stuck on a pest control treadmill?

5)Are we insanely irresponsible and any decent human being would have a good alternative to buying poison from big chemical companies? Are there better ways of getting rid of aphids without poisoning the environment?

What do we do? Any other poisons or non/poisons recommended?

Urgency: somewhat - I wanted to rush out to Home Depot immediately, but gave myself a cooling-off period until tomorrow. I'm hoping something is left of the plants by the time we are ready to deal with this evil. Faster is better. Thanks!
posted by VikingSword to Home & Garden (18 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
We had a cloud of aphids land on our trellis--in this case, honey suckles. I bought a bag of lady-bugs at the local grange, took it outside at daybreak and tied the open bag to a strut under the honey suckles.

The lady bugs ate all the aphids, then flew away. Took them about two days. These cute little bugs are eating machines.
posted by mule98J at 2:45 PM on February 22, 2014 [7 favorites]

I had aphids on my climbing green beans last year. Like massive, crawling yellow hordes of them. I got to them before the plants withered, so I can't promise similar results but here's what I did:

I BLASTED them with the hose. Using the sprayer attachment to the hose, I just blasted them all off of the plants, morning and night for about 2-3 days. This washed all the aphids away, and probably concussed their little heads while I was at it. Worked great - no more aphids and no pesticide question-marks on my green beans.

The UC ag extension seems to agree with me:

"Another way to reduce aphid populations on sturdy plants is to knock off the insects with a strong spray of water. Most dislodged aphids won't be able to return to the plant, and their honeydew will be washed off as well. Using water sprays early in the day allows plants to dry off rapidly in the sun and be less susceptible to fungal diseases."
posted by foodmapper at 2:46 PM on February 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

Ladybugs or soap will work fine You don't need chemicals. Make sure you use a lot of soap if you go that route, it should look like a rave out there.
posted by fshgrl at 2:52 PM on February 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

Seconding ladybugs!
posted by The otter lady at 2:53 PM on February 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

I was also going to suggest unleashing an army of lady bugs on your garden paradise. I have watched the carnage they create up close--even with a magnifying glass. It is an unrelenting assault. They take no prisoners. It is gruesome. A single ladybug may eat thousands of aphids in its lifetime. Even the small lady bug larvae will demolish the hapless honey dew secreting aphids. You need to go medieval on their ass. Do this tomorrow.
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 2:56 PM on February 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Aphids absolutely love hibiscus plants!

Insecticidal soap should work on them. They also like the tender young shoots -- if they're covered in aphids, you might as well clip those off and dispose of them, aphids and all.

You can also make your own aphid-killing soap.
posted by Ostara at 3:00 PM on February 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Ladybugs are usually about a penny apiece, sold by the thousand. They're available at most garden supply places as well as online. I have had great success with ladybugs vs. aphids (and it's fun as hell to unleash a tiny red army) and I strongly recommend googling up the tricks to persuade some of them to take up residence in your garden. These have to do with optimal time of day to release them, as well as leaving them dishes of juice and such. Most will fly away no matter what you do, but if you get even a small percentage of them to stay, they'll help defend against future aphid infestations.
posted by jessicapierce at 3:19 PM on February 22, 2014

If you compost, you could also try watering the plant with the composting tea. I've done this only one time but it worked really well for us -- the lemon tree was aphid-infested and the next day there were none at all.
posted by gerstle at 3:23 PM on February 22, 2014

Just agreeing with the above: hose off the majority and let the ladybugs get the rest. No chemicals needed.
posted by Vaike at 3:46 PM on February 22, 2014

Bayer tree and shrub: Active Ingredients: 0.74% Imidacloprid [CAS # 138261-41-3] and 0.37% Clothianidin [CAS # 210880-92-5 ]

Several countries have banned Imidacloprid - The EU is restricting it to just agribusiness due to concerns about it contributing CCD (colony collapse disorder)

It can make you temporarily slightly ill if you spray and it blows back at you.
posted by srboisvert at 4:19 PM on February 22, 2014

Soapy water is all you need. Spray them down with a bottle sprayer.
posted by humboldt32 at 4:19 PM on February 22, 2014

I agree with humboldt32. Soapy water - a spray bottle filled with a squirt of dish detergent and water - will suffocate them if you spay it on the aphids wherever they accumulate. You will need to reapply at intervals of a day or two, especially after it rains.
posted by Lycaste at 5:26 PM on February 22, 2014

Release the lady bugs at dusk, on plants you just thoroughly sprayed with the hose. Seriously, they will eat the living shit out of the aphids.

You can buy ladybugs off of Amazon. It's that easy.
posted by lydhre at 7:10 PM on February 22, 2014

May I suggest some appropriate music, and a flowing sort of costume, and someone to intone, "RELEASE.....THE LADYBUGS!!" as you do so?
posted by The otter lady at 7:47 PM on February 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yeah, releasing a bunch of ladybugs is pretty much going to hit that sweet spot between "ridiculously effective" and "hilariously awesome."
posted by infinitywaltz at 8:57 PM on February 22, 2014

Nthing ladybugs. I bought mine on Amazon and they worked a trick on my roses. Also, amusingly, I got to witness ladybug sexing. Because I guess when you have like 1000 alive ladybugs in a small plastic tub they have to find some way to amuse themselves and some fraction of them choose to Do It.
posted by town of cats at 9:19 PM on February 22, 2014

All right. It sounds like ladybugs is the ticket. Conveniently, they sell them at Home Depot too. My preliminary idea is to buy a bag or two of ladybugs, and the chemicals for backup in case the bugs don't work. Thank you everybody! Anyone else wants to chime in is welcome!
posted by VikingSword at 10:51 PM on February 22, 2014

I go to war every spring with aphids. My weapon is a hose and sprayer. I blame the gas powered blowers that plague my neighborhood and for the lack of natural predator insects. I was thrilled to see praying mantises last year, though. They also love aphids. My neighbor swears by neem oil.
posted by feste at 2:08 PM on February 23, 2014

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