Column by Gary Church: Aphids driving gardeners a little buggy this year

Aphids attack hoya plant leaves.

Many years ago, before I ever thought of becoming a garden writer, I planted a perennial near my lamppost.

Like most of you, I did not save the tag, which nowadays is a big no-no for me. It is some type of false sunflower, which has yellow-orange blooms and gets 4 feet tall. It is in flower most of the season and has never given me any problems.

Since the season is about over, I got out my trusty old battery-operated wheelchair, took a ride over to the lamppost, and started cutting the 4-foot stems down to the ground. That’s when I noticed it.

Every inch of the 25 or so 4-foot stems was covered with red aphids. It was so bad my hands were turning red, like I had just cut myself. One of the dumbest things I’ve ever done was to burn the stems without taking a photo. Well, maybe not the dumbest thing I’ve ever done. My wife keeps a list of those, if you ever want to hear them.

My old friend Sue called me the other day, and said she had bugs on her hoya plant. She sent me a photo, and sure enough, she had aphids also. This must be a good year for aphids.

Aphids are small sap-sucking insects that feed on many plants. There are many different species, but they all do the same thing, destroy your plants.

Aphids reproduce very quickly, and you can have a full blown infestation before you know it. I’m a professional, and have probably killed billions of aphids while working in the greenhouse, but never noticed them on my own plant. I think the word for that is stunad.

The females are flightless, so they don’t leave home much. They do have children, and get this, the female kids are born already pregnant. I guess the males are completely useless in this group of bugs.

The aphids are friendly neighbors, and always cluster in groups. They leave a deposit on the stems or leaves that the ants enjoy. If you see a lot of ants crawling on your plants, it’s time for a closer examination. They also leave a black sooty mold on the plants.

There are many ways to get rid of aphids and I will start with the cruelest one. Dust your leaves and stems with flour. What this does is constipates them. I’m sure some of you know how miserable this might be. Just picturing 10,000 constipated aphids might deter you from trying this.

An easier way is to spray the plant with cold water, to knock the aphids to the ground. Since they don’t have a GPS, they usually can’t find their way back home.

Spraying them with an insecticidal soap will also kill them. You can make a homemade solution by adding one teaspoon of Dawn and a pinch of cayenne pepper to one quart of water, and spray the plants. The soap smothers them, and they die, which is a lot quicker than waiting to die from being full of you know what.

Sevin spray will also knock off the aphids right away. Just spray every inch of the plant and they will quietly pass away.

Imidacloprid is a systemic insecticide that is applied to the soil. When the aphids suck the juices out of the plant, they will also ingest the poison. All you have to do is sprinkle it on the soil and water it in. Bonide Systemic Insect Control is one product that contains this chemical.

Fall is upon us, and you need to check your houseplants carefully, before bringing them inside, for insects.

I’ve been thinking about that flour and constipation thing. I was wondering if you start feeling bad after applying the flour, can you then apply some sort of laxative to reverse the effects? Be sure to have a lot of toilet paper on hand if you do.

Make your space a green space.

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