Aphids on Attack

Scale and aphids are natural pests for Florida Hibiscus
A severe aphid infestation

My pink hibiscus is under assault from aphids! As I walked past the plant and took a quick glance at an unopened blossom, I saw tiny black spots. An aphid problem will spread and infect the whole plant, and others, if left unchecked. It can easily spread to other plants in the yard.

You can see that the aphids in my photo are covering the base of the bloom and are making their way up onto the blossom.

Treating aphids is relatively easy if you catch the infestation early. I prefer to start with natural solutions and work my way gradually to pesticides if and when they become inevitable.

Introducing Natural Predetors.

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A ladybug diligently battles aphids on a hibiscus.

Ladybugs are already present on this huge plant, which is another indication that insects on the premises. Ladybugs are my favorite fighters against aphids and other pests. Ladybugs are an organic deterrent to aphids, but once an infestation has taken hold. These hard-shell insects in large quantities can eliminate an infestation. Ladybugs don’t damage the plants and should be encouraged in the garden. I’ve even imported live ladybugs to boost their population.

Ladybugs are shipped live in the spring and cost approximately $20 per 500 count. Each ladybug can consume up to 5,000 aphids in its life. Their optimal temperature is between 60 and 88 degrees.

Another natural preditor of aphids is the Green Lacewing. Lacewing eggs can be purchased online for about $30 per 5,000 eggs. The eggs should hatch in a few days and they have a life cycle of 30 days. Lacewings thrive on aphids, mealybugs, spider mites, leafhopper nymphs, moth eggs, scale, thrips, and whiteflies. These beneficial insects are active in temperatures between 65 and 90 degrees and therefore are good in Florida gardens.

If you like flowering plants like roses, hibiscus, and gardenia, you will battle aphids at some point.

Organic deterents.

I am always looking for simple ways to enhance my garden soil. Essential oils effectively drive aphids from plants temporarily. A homemade spray of water mixed five drops each of peppermint, clove, rosemary and thyme sprayed on the plant will drive away adult aphids and larvae. However, this is temporary and will need to be reapplied to continue to be effective.

Aphids hate bananas. Mix finely chopped banana peel into the soil of affected plants. The scent will drive away aphids and several other pests. You should not use the banana peels on indoor plants as the banana peel will attract fruit flies and gnats indoors.

Insecticidal Oils.

An aphid infestation rarely kills a mature plant, but they may severely damage the blooms and presence of the plant. A bigger issue is when aphids weaken the plant enough that diseases and other pests attack. A plant that is weakened to that point may need treatment with an insecticide oil or spray insecticide to get things under control.

There are several insecticide oil blends available over the counter. Neem oil is probably the most popular, but Seventh Generation also makes a good version. These oils are typically made from mineral or vegetable oil mixed with a chemical agent. Horticultural oil is labeled as an insecticide (non-organic) and needs to be used sparingly and according to instructions. Good bugs (like my favorite Ladybug) will be negatively affected by these sprays along with pests, so only use them when necessary.

The oils spray sticks to the plant’s surface and block the reproduction of insects and their ability to feed. But the oils can cause the leaves and foliage to burn in our hot climate. Avoid using oil-based products when the temperatures are near 100 degrees or near freezing.

Organic Treatment.

Aphids succumb quickly to soap and water. This is one low-toxicity bug control solution that may kill the soft-bodied aphids without harming the plant or the environment.

Mixing a few teaspoons of liquid dish soap (no need to get the dawn or anything with hand softening features) with one quart of water in a hose-end sprayer is the recipe for basic homemade insecticidal soap. Spray the plant from the base to the leaves and blooms. Some aphids will drop off to the ground and others will simply die on the plant. You’ll need to repeat this process weekly until the aphids are completely gone.

My Organic Solution.

Yesterday I applied a soap and water spray to my hibiscus. I cut away overgrown branches. The pruning allows me to tighten controls on the plants and leaves fewer surfaces for aphids to settle.

Aphids do not like bananas or onions. An effective way to permanently control aphids in a garden is to mix chopped banana peels into the soil under the most susceptible plants. A spray made with onion skins soaked in water applied to plants weekly can keep many insects away.