Amazon Warriors of the Insect World
Last week we talked about the tiny “sap sucking” spider mites and how to control them; this week we’ll tackle one of the more interesting group of insect pests. When things get hot, Aphid populations explode! They’re the Amazon Warriors of the insect world. During the summer months they’re all females with no males around. They reproduce asexually, giving birth to live, pregnant daughters, a process known as parthenogenesis. So you have three generations of females, all in one, at the same time! With that kind of reproductive potential they can become a major problem quickly.
Excessive temperatures and lack of rainfall take a toll on natural aphid predators like lady beetles, big-eyed bugs, green lacewings and others. So aphid populations grow unchecked. If that weren’t bad enough, just as we do with cattle, ants domesticate and herd aphids (insect husbandry) which they’re very good at! They’ll collect and carry them up onto your valuable plants where the aphids reproduce, feed, and exude Honey Dew (a sticky, sugary metabolic by-product (poop) many insects secrete) which the ants collect and harvest as food. Large populations of aphids feeding eventually weaken plants and can transmit diseases. They’ll also produce copious amounts of honey dew which can become a major problem in and of itself!
Black Sooty Mold will grow on the honey dew. This opaque mess turns stems and leaves black which is unsightly and blocks sunlight further weakening your plants. As gross as it sounds, in the case of a tree aphid infestation, this honey dew can drip down onto patios, furniture, cars, driveways, and other plants turning them into a black, gooey mess.
Fortunately there are many effective insecticides both organic and conventional that will control aphids. Soapy water made with a mild detergent, Pyrethrin, Insecticidal Soap, Diatomaceous Earth, Eight Insect Control containing Lambda-cyhalothrin, Permethrin, and Malathion will all take out aphids. Insecticides that also control ants will help prevent them from re-populating your ornamentals with new aphids. It’s important to treat as soon as you see them before their populations get out of hand.
Success with your Gardening, Naturally!
Written by Rick Stecher
Garden Center Manager