At some point while growing your Tower Garden you will experience aphids, even if you are growing it inside a screen room or inside a building with grow lights.  Often, bugs can be even more challenging on an indoor garden as there will be few, if any, natural predators.  Unfortunately it comes with the territory. Don’t get me wrong, the bug challenges you have with a Tower Garden are, well, less challenging  than those you would have growing in the dirt!
Aphids
Read on to learn about a variety of organic methods for keeping aphids under control.

What are Aphids?
Aphids are small, soft bodied sucking insects that typically have pear shaped bodies that are one tenth of an inch of less in length.  They may or may not have wings and may be green, brown, black, pink, yellow or even colorless and tend to blend in with the leaf they are damaging.  They tend to prefer young, tender growth.Aphids are unlike most insects in two ways:

  • in Florida, almost all are females which reproduce without mating; and
  • they seldom lay eggs, but give birth to living young, as many as 12 a day!

How can I tell if I have Aphids?
Clues can include a black coating on the leaves called sooty mold, curling leaves, or damaged flower buds. The insects themselves are often found on stems or the undersides of leaves. By the time you see them on top you usually have BIG problems!

What plants tend to attract Aphids?
Aphids are certainly attracted to some plants more than others.  They love peppers, cabbage, kale and squash to name just a few.

What can I do to prevent Aphids?
Aphids dislike garlic, chives, onions, mint and petunias so planting these can help deter them.

Beneficial Insects

Some examples of aphid predators are lady beetles (adults and larvae), hover fly larvae, assassin bugs, ambush bugs and spiders.  If predators are present or the pests show signs of parasitism, every effort should be made to preserve the beneficial insects. Delay applying a pesticide until damage appears, and provide the beneficials an opportunity to control the pest populations.

Control Methods

There are literally hundreds of different solutions you can buy or make to use to control or prevent aphids.  It is important to follow directions regarding time and frequency of application.  Most pesticides should be applied no more than every 4 days, some just once a week.  They should be applied after the sun goes down for a couple of reasons.

  1. Many contain oil and spraying during the day could cause the leaves to be burnt by the sun.
  2. Bees and other beneficial insects will not be around and possibly harmed by the solution.  They may be organic but they can still be harmful to good, as well as bad insects.

Water

You can remove aphids and keep populations below damaging levels by spraying with a forceful stream of water.  Use an adjustable nozzle on a hose and spray on the underside of leaves or on stems where aphids appear.

Soap

Soaps and detergents act strictly as contact insecticides, with no residual effect. To be effective, sprays must be applied directly to and thoroughly cover the insect. Some household soaps and detergents also make effective insecticides. In particular, certain brands of hand soaps and liquid dishwashing detergents can be effective for this purpose. They are also substantially less expensive. However, there is increased risk of plant injury with these products. They are not designed for use on plants. Dry dish soaps and all clothes-washing detergents are too harsh to be used on plants. Also, many soaps and detergents are poor insecticides. Identifying safe and effective soap-detergent combinations for insect control requires experimentation. Regardless of what product is used, soap-detergent sprays are always applied diluted with water, typically at a concentration of around 2 to 3 percent. Mix it in a spray bottle and VOILA!

Approximate mix to produce various dilute soap sprays.
Percent dilution desiredApproximate amount of soap to add to water to produce:
GallonQuartPint
12 1/2 Tbsp (-)2 tsp (+)1 tsp (+)
25 Tbsp (-)4 tsp (+)2 tsp (+)
38 Tbsp (+)2 Tbsp (+)1 Tbsp (+)
410 Tbsp (-)2 1/2 Tbsp (+)4 tsp (+)
(+) Will produce a solution of slightly higher concentration than indicated.
(-) Will produce a solution of slightly lower concentration than indicated.

Repeat applications may be needed at relatively short intervals (four to seven days). Also, application must be thorough and completely wet the pest. This usually means spraying undersides of leaves and other protected sites. Insects that cannot be completely wetted, such as aphids within curled leaves, will not be controlled.

Insecticidal Soap (pre-made

Many brands offer ready to use (RTU) Insecticidal Soap sprays.  Safer, Garden Safe and Espoma,  and Bonide all offer sprays approved for organic gardening.

Ladybugs

Ladybugs are a great natural, non-toxic, biological way to control aphids and they can eat up to 50 a day! You can purchase live ladybugs (well they’re no good dead) in quantities of 150 up. 150 ladybugs is enough for a small yard.

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Stages of ladybug from larvae to adult

Sticky Traps

Sticky Traps are a safe, non-toxic, long lasting, weatherproof trap that attracts a wide array of insects including aphids, whiteflies, leafminers, thrips, leafhoppers and moths.

Sticky Aphid Whitefly Traps

Neem Oil

Neem oil is another good organic pesticide.  However, it is important to spray it in the evening to avoid contact with bees or other beneficial insects.

Homemade Concoctions

You will find a plethora of homemade concoctions for dealing with aphids with a simple search online.  Below you will find a couple of common recipes.

Tomato Leaf Spray

Tomato plants, as members of the nightshade family, contain toxic compounds called alkaloids in their leaves. When the leaves of tomato plants are chopped, they release their alkaloids. When the alkaloids are suspended and diluted with water, they make an easy to use spray that is toxic to aphids, but still safe around plants and humans.

What You’ll Need:

To make tomato leaf spray, simply soak one to two cups of chopped tomato leaves in two cups of water. Let it steep overnight. To make the spray, strain the leaves out of the liquid using cheesecloth or a fine strainer. Add another one to two cups of water to the liquid and add it to a spray bottle.

To use the tomato leaf spray in your battle against aphids, spray the stems and foliage of the infested plant with the spray, paying special attention to the undersides of leaves, since that is where aphids most commonly congregate.

Caution: While this spray is very safe for humans, some people are allergic to members of the nightshade family. If you are one of them, use care in making and applying this spray.

Garlic Water Spray

Crush a half dozen garlic cloves and let them sit in water for a few days, then spray the solution on leaves and other areas of plants that are infected with aphids

Essential oils

Here is an aphid insecticide recipe taken from the Essential Oil Desk Reference:

  • 10 Drops of Spearmint Essential Oil
  • 15 Drops of Orange Essential Oil
  • 2 Quarts of Salt Water

Shake it up and spray it on the plant!

Repel Aphids

Ginger spray: Mix ½ cup of finely chopped ginger with two cups of warm water, and let it sit for a few hours. Shake well and spray your plants. It won’t kill existing aphids, but it will repel them with weekly sprayings.

What do you use to control Aphids in your garden?

9 Comments

  1. great article Dee!

    • Thanks Tracy!

  2. Thanks for the info! I am having big problems with bugs- have only had the tower garden for about 2 months. I am also having problems with a bigger bug on my cucumber plant.

    • Check our other post for tips on being successful. Strong healthy plants have fewer bug problems. If you are losing the battle with a plant it is easier to just remove that one than continue to fight it. I once had just one red Kale plant that got aphids. All the other 8 or so were fine. I just removed that one plant in the end.

      I will be doing posts in the coming weeks on other pests. In the meantime try reading the cucumber growing guide. Your pest may be identified in there.

  3. Thank you very much!

  4. Thank you so much for this good info, I will print and share it with a neighbor who doesn’t have a tower.

  5. Is a mixture of soap, water and vinegar safe for the plants? If the leaf or stem is overridden with those pesky aphids, I should probably just cut it off? Sorry. I’m new to this.

  6. Cutting off really affected leaves would be a great start. Soap and water work well as does neem oil or an insecticidal soap. Make sure anything you apply to the plants is done after the sun goes down

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