Aphids are common pests in gardens that feed by sucking the nutrient-rich sap, significantly weakening and distorting the plant. These pesky insects can enter a home through open windows, on cut flowers, or newly purchased indoor plants and become a threat to your houseplants.
In most cases, aphids tend to hide in hard-to-reach areas of the plant and can easily go unnoticed. In large populations, they can curl leaves, turn plants yellow, and stunt growth. They also secrete a sticky sugary substance that often turns black with the growth of a sooty mold fungus.
Identification of aphids on houseplants
Aphids are tiny soft-bodied insects, less than 1/4 – inch in length with long antennae and legs. They have oval-shaped bodies and both young (nymphs) and adults look similar. They can be green, yellow, pink, gray, red, brown, or black in color.
Most species have a pair of cornicles projecting backwards from their hind end which distinguishes them from all other insects. Aphids multiply quickly and their population can easily get out of control. Females give birth often to live offspring, as many as 12 per day without mating.
Some species of aphids are covered in waxy or woolly substances and can be mistaken for mealybugs. Adults are usually wingless but some species grow wings to enable them to move from one plant to another. Aphids commonly feed in large groups but you can also get them singly.
Ants are often associated with aphid populations, as explained in Pests in Gardens and Landscapes, a publication by the University of California. The ants are attracted to the secreted honeydew and they can be a clue that aphids are present in your garden.
How to get rid of aphids on indoor plants
Aphids can easily be controlled when in small populations. Management of severe infestations has proved futile and some gardeners have even opted to do away with their gardens. There are several methods you can use to control these pests and save your plants.
- Manually remove visible aphids with your hands. You can use a cotton swab dipped in isopropyl alcohol to wipe them away. Alcohol kills most insect pests by disintegrating their cells and organs.
- Hose them off with a strong strand of water. Aphids will be dislodged from the stems and leaves by the high pressure of water. However, be careful not to damage delicate parts of the plant or overwater the soil. Cacti and succulents are prone to root rot when overwatered.
- Treat with insecticidal soap or neem oil. These are organic insecticides that kill aphids upon contact. Neem oil kills insects by smothering them and by disrupting their hormone system stopping them from breeding. Insecticidal soap on the other hand breaks down the insect’s cell membrane by removing their protective waxes.
- Destroy the infested plants or cut away the affected parts. You can remove heavily infested plants from your collection and dispose of them. The only affected parts of the plant can also be cut away and destroyed to prevent the spread of aphids to other plants.
- Use chemical sprays recommended by a plant specialist. Insecticides are highly effective against aphids and other pests but you have to consult a specialist and use them as directed on the product label. However, it may also kill beneficial insects around the plant.
- Biological control involving the use of aphid predators can also be a solution to the problem, particularly in open fields and outdoor gardens. The Royal Horticultural Society lists some of the best aphid predators that can be bought by mail orders or from garden centers.
Aphids are common in neglected plants and you’ll find them on overfertilized, overwatered, overcrowded, and underwatered plants. If you can keep tabs on your plant progress then you won’t have this problem. Well-cared plants hardly get infested with pests including aphids.
How do aphids reproduce?
Understanding the lifecycle of aphids can help you understand why aphids seem to increase in your garden just in a matter of a few days.
Aphids reproduce either sexually or asexually depending on the season and the kind of environment where they live, explains the National Library of Medicine.
In late spring, male and female aphids mate and lay eggs that are capable of surviving cold temperatures. The eggs will hatch in spring producing special females with abilities to reproduce without mating.
In about 10 days, the nymphs mature into adults and the females begin giving birth to offspring, as many as 12 per day. This cycle continues year-round and without any intervention, their population can quickly get out of control.
Aphids can cause serious damage to any houseplant including cacti and other succulents. They feed on plant sap and can also transmit plant viruses. Since they multiply and spread quickly, it can be difficult to control them. However, some of the listed methods of getting rid of aphids in this guide can help save your plant.
Even with effective control, aphids can still come back. You have to keep monitoring your plants for early detection and control. Providing great care for your plants can discourage all forms of pests. Do not overwater, overfertilize, underwater or crowd your plants.
My name is Diane M Lewik, and I am the founder of this website. I am a degree holder in plant biology from the University of California – Berkeley. Over years, I have cultivated a vast collection of succulents and I have learned a great deal about how to grow and care for these unique plants.