Having fruit trees and plants in your yard and garden can add some amazing color to your landscape. Not to mention having fresh fruit available! But did you know some aphids love fruit and can damage your precious trees and plants?
Aphids do not eat fruit, they eat the sap from the leaves and shoots of fruit trees. Some common fruit trees and plants affected by aphids include watermelons, cherry, cucumber, plum, citrus, apple, pear, and peach. Removing aphids is usually unnecessary, but can be done without pesticides.
If you notice the leaves of your fruit trees twisting or turning yellow, you may have an aphid problem. But not to worry! Below we’ll go over all the fruits that aphids target and how you can keep them away.
Why Do Aphids Love Fruit?
Aphids are well-known insect pests that often congregate on our garden vegetables and fruits. You can find them on the underside of leaves and climbing up plant stalks.
These soft-bodied insects come in many shapes, sizes, and colors. According to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, there are over 1,350 species of aphid in North America alone.
Many aphid species eat from specific types of plants, but some overlap with one another. For example, both the green peach aphid and the mealy plum aphid will eat plums, while the brown ambrosia aphid feeds almost exclusively on watermelons.
So, why do aphids LOVE fruit so much?
Aphids do not necessarily love the fruits themselves. In fact, aphids do not eat fruit. Instead, they suck out the sap from fruit trees and plants using needle-like mouthparts.
Sap is the only food aphids eat. Although it is rich in sugar, aphids are looking for a good source of nitrogen and amino acids, not sugar.
Unfortunately, to get enough nitrogen in their diet, they need to consume a ton of sugar. However, aphids have adapted to this and have special digestive filters to excrete the excess sugar almost immediately as honeydew.
This is important to mention because one sign you have an aphid problem is to have an ant problem. Ants love honeydew and will sometimes protect aphids from predators to keep their supply of it.
More on that later! For now, let’s check out all the fruits that aphids love and how to keep these pesky insects away from them.
Aphids Love Watermelon
Watermelons are more or less the official fruit of summer. There’s nothing quite as refreshing as a fresh slice of watermelon!
Aphids love summer and watermelon, too, and can often be seen crawling on the underside of your watermelon plant leaves.
The most common aphids seen on watermelons are brown ambrosia aphids and melon aphids. If you’re not sure if your watermelon is experiencing an aphid problem, look for these signs:
- Leaf curling
- Plant distortions – strange shape to the vine or plant itself
- Stunted growth
- Yellowing of the leaves
Watermelons are especially vulnerable to aphids when the plants are young. Aphids will suck the sap from the tips of the vines, which stunts growth and can severely limit the growing capacity of your watermelon plant.
Aphids feast on your Cucumbers
Cucumbers are one of those weird plants that you’re not sure if you’re supposed to call a fruit or a vegetable.
Similar to tomatoes, cucumbers are commonly referred to as a vegetable, but they are, in fact, a fruit! And it’s a fruit that aphids commonly infest.
Brown ambrosia aphids are one of the most popular species of aphids to infest cucumber plants. They will feed on the underside of leaves and new cucumber shoots.
Since aphids feed by injecting their mouthparts into the plant, they cause a lot of harm by passing viruses from one plant to the next. However, this only happens when aphid populations explode.
Therefore, it’s very important to check your cucumber plants at least every few days for aphids. If you spot them and treat the problem early, there is far less of a chance of your cucumber plants being infested by aphids.
Cherry Trees are an aphid snack
Unlike watermelon and cucumber, cherries are grown on trees and can be a little harder to control than a garden plant.
There are some differences between aphids on garden plants and aphids on trees:
- How They Are Born: The first wave of aphids born in the spring were eggs laid on the underside of leaves the previous fall. Eggs are laid more often on tree leaves than garden plant leaves. Aphids on garden plants are typically born live, not hatched from an egg.
- Less Chance of Relocation: Having a bigger area to roam, such as on a tree, can prove beneficial when aphid populations explode. There is less chance of relocation and therefore less chance of spreading any plant virus from one tree to the next.
Trees are a little more sturdy when it comes to aphid damage unless the population is large, and the tree is very young. But all in all, trees can withstand a lot more aphid damage than garden plants.
Green peach aphids and black cherry aphids (also called black aphids or blackflies) are the most common aphid species that infest cherry trees.
Signs of aphid damage on your cherry tree will most likely start with curling leaves. Aphids will consume sap from the tips of leaves, which causes them to grow in a curled manner.
Next, you may notice black spots on the leaves. This is mold, which doesn’t harm the plant, but can cover up parts of the leaves, making them less able to photosynthesize. This leads to yellowing of the leaves (chlorosis), which eventually die off and drop from the tree.
Aphids Munch On Plum Trees
Plum trees are another fruit tree that aphids love to eat the sap from. Although plum trees are called ‘trees’, they reach a maximum height of only 20 feet, with most only reaching 10 feet.
Similar to cherry trees, aphids born on plum trees are most likely born from an egg in the Spring. Once those aphids hatch, the females will produce live young while on the tree.
The most common aphids that make a meal of plum tree sap include:
- Green peach aphid
- Leaf curl plum aphid
- Mealy plum aphid
- Black aphid
- Hop vine aphid
- Thistle aphid
With plum trees, you’ll want to catch your aphid problem early, before leaves curl. Once the leaves are curling, it’s difficult to get rid of aphids as the curling leaves on plum trees will protect the aphid colony from predators.
Check new shoots often to see if aphids are present. You can also check for the presence of an unusually high number of ants.
Similar to how circling vultures indicate a deceased animal, an abundance of ants can be a sign of a large aphid colony.
During the summer, some aphids of the plum tree will migrate to other plants. The leaf curl plum aphid and the mealy plum aphid both migrate to other plants in the summer.
In terms of control, knowing this can help you decide when to treat your plum trees and when you can sit back and enjoy the fruits without so much worry!
Citrus Trees Attract Aphids
Citrus trees provide citrus fruit that’s sweet and sour and just perfect on a hot summer day.
Citrus trees are grown solely in the southern and southwestern portions of the United States, as they are not cold-hardy. States like Florida, California, and Texas can grow citrus trees fairly well.
The melon aphid, black citrus aphid, and spirea aphid are the primary types of aphids found on citrus trees.
According to the University of California, aphids on citrus trees will feed on the sap from flowers and leaf buds. The main damage to citrus trees is leaf curl. Secondary to leaf curl is an overproduction of honeydew which can attract other pests.
Like most fruit plants aphids infest, the problem rarely warrants going as far as using pesticides or other chemical control methods. Unless citrus trees are very young or continually produce new shoots (in tropical climates), you shouldn’t need to do too much to keep aphids in check.
We’ll get into more detail about control methods later!
Apples Are An Aphid Snack
Orchards are a common place to find aphids crawling all over shrubs and trees. Aphids commonly target apple trees.
The green apple aphid, rosy apple aphid, and woolly apple aphid are the three most common aphid species you can find on a variety of apple trees.
Just like plum trees, you’ll want to catch your aphid problem early, before leaves start curling. Once aphid populations establish enough to cause leaf-curling, it can be difficult to get rid of them.
The University of California Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources suggests checking your apple trees twice a week for aphids. As with our other susceptible fruits, look out for ant populations as well, since this can indicate an aphid problem.
Aphids will be at their most pesky in late spring. This is also when new shoots and buds are growing, making apple trees especially susceptible to aphid damage.
An article in the Journal of Ecological Modeling found as fruit densities and aphid densities both increase so does the damage done to fruit crops. However, the highest damage is done when fruit production is low and aphid densities are low.
This correlates with late spring when fruit production is low and aphid populations are just starting out. It is super important to monitor your apple trees during this vulnerable time.
Sometimes, you’ll find aphids on the apple blossom flowers instead. If you have aphids on these, or any other flowers, take a look at our guide on the flowers that aphids love here for a full list to see if they’re in your garden!
Aphids Enjoy Pear Trees
Pear trees are one of the few trees where aphids will damage the fruit of the tree, along with the leaves and new shoots.
The three aphid species that affect pear trees the most include:
- Green peach aphid
- Melon aphid
- Bean aphid
Woolly apple aphids have also been known to attack pear trees, but not as often as the three species listed above.
In pear orchards, aphids will often establish colonies on pear trees in mid to late spring. They do not overwinter on pear trees. Instead, they use surrounding weeds to survive the cold temperatures.
Similar to our other vulnerable fruit trees and plants, aphids will feed on the leaves of the tree, causing them to curl. This may be the first sign you have an aphid problem.
It’s best to catch aphid colonies before this happens.
One of the major differences between pear tree aphids and other fruit aphids is that aphids will feed directly on pear fruit.
While feeding, aphids produce honeydew. This will cause the pores of the fruit to darken as they become clogged with the sticky substance. Honeydew also promotes fungus growth, which can further darken the fruit and make it unusable.
The University of California’s Integrated Pest Management Site also states aphids will chow down on the sap of newly growing leaves and shoots, stunting new growth and causing leaves to curl.
Aphids Adore Peach Trees
Peaches, along with plums and cherries, are called stone fruit. They’re often a target of aphids along with a host of other pest insects.
The green peach aphid, mealy plum aphid, and black aphid are the three prominent aphid species that infest peach trees.
You can find aphids overwintering at the base of buds on a peach tree. If you’re lucky and spot them early, you can eliminate the eggs before they even hatch.
According to Utah State University, aphid eggs usually hatch around mid-spring when the buds are beginning to open and bloom on the peach tree. Depending on the weather, this may happen earlier or later in the season.
You’ll want to catch your aphid problem early on peach trees rather than later.
Begin inspecting your peach tree before fruits begin developing. This time is called ‘petal fall’ and happens during the final stages of flower development when the petals fall from the blossom.
During the summer when aphid populations are highest, they will leave peach trees and find new hosts. In fall, aphids will return to peach trees to lay their eggs.
Look out for curled and yellowing leaves and deformed fruit. This is a sign your peach trees are infested with aphids.
How To Keep Aphids Away From Fruit
Now that we know the most common types of fruits that aphids attack, let’s go over how to keep these pesky bugs away!
It’s important to note aphids rarely cause enough damage to warrant action. However, there are some steps you can take to reduce aphid damage and give your fruits a fighting chance to increase production. Aphid repellents and natural scents are a fantastic place to start.
You can view our guide on the best overall aphid repellents here!
Keep Aphids Away By Encouraging Natural Enemies
One of the best ways to keep aphids in check is by letting nature take its course. Aphids have a ton of natural predators that are more than happy to gobble them up and keep them off your fruit trees and plants.
Some of the most prominent predators of aphids include:
- Lady beetles (ladybugs)
- Parasitic wasps
- Lacewing larvae
- Soldier beetles
- Syrphid fly larvae
- Minute Pirate Bugs
- Hornets & Yellow Jackets
A study done over six growing seasons looked at how spider populations naturally affect aphid populations in an apple orchard.
They found that an increase in spider web area in the fall correlated with a reduction in aphid numbers the following spring.
There are many other examples of natural enemies keeping aphid populations under control. Parasitoid wasps are another major predator of aphids. You can tell when parasitoid wasps are at work by the presence of aphid ‘mummies.’ These mummies are bloated brown representations of dead aphids.
To help encourage the presence of natural enemies, it’s recommended to reduce, if not eliminate, any pesticide or insecticide use.
The University of Minnesota recommends planting perennial flowers that bloom at different times of the growing season. These will serve as an alternative food source to keep predators around, even when aphid populations are low.
If you can’t seem to attract the right predators, you can purchase them online! NaturesGoodGuys’ Live Ladybugs are available online and come in different sizes ranging from 150 to 9,000 live ladybugs.
The company gets great reviews and they will not ship on the weekend to ensure the ladybugs do not sit in a warehouse but are delivered live and ready to chow down on aphids.
Read the directions and suggestions before releasing, or your ladybugs will immediately fly away and be ineffective.
Use Your Hose To Remove Aphids
Aphids will gather in large numbers on the leaves, stocks, and branches of our favorite fruit plants. One way to get rid of them is to use your garden hose.
Set the spray to a setting that is firm enough to wash away the aphids but gentle enough not to harm your plant or tree. Simply spray the aphids off the leaves, shoots, and branches of your fruit plants.
Don’t forget to check on the underside of the leaves. Aphids will try to hide here to avoid predators and an unexpected spray!
Control Ants To Control Aphids
An abundance of ants is a good indicator that there is an aphid infestation. Ants love honeydew and will often congregate in large numbers around aphid colonies.
Ants will protect aphids from natural predators to protect their source of honeydew. If you control the ant population, you will leave aphids more exposed to their natural predators.
You can use ant baits such as Terro’s Liquid Ant Killer Bait Stations to reduce ant colonies. The fewer ants, the more exposed aphids are to natural enemies like parasitoid wasps and lady beetles.
That’s All For Now!
Aphid populations can quickly explode in late spring and early summer. These pesky insects can damage fruit trees and plants by sucking the sap from leaves, roots, stems, and new shoots.
To recap, the fruit trees and fruiting plants that aphids love the most include:
Aphids do not eat the fruit of these plants (except for pear) but use their needle-like mouthparts to suck out sap from the plant.
This can cause damage in a variety of ways. The most common aphid damage is leaf-curling and yellowing leaves (chlorosis).
You normally do not need to do anything to keep aphids under control. However, during times of extremely high populations, you may want to take a few steps to keep them in check.
Provide habitat for their natural enemies by planting perennial flowers. Remove aphids from plants using your garden hose. Finally, make sure you keep ant populations in check so that aphids do not have protection from their natural predators.
If your aphid problem doesn’t seem to go away and your fruit trees are truly suffering, you can contact a professional through our nationwide pest control network.
Cahenzli, F., Pfiffner, L., & Daniel, C. (2017, December 11). Reduced crop damage by self-regulation of aphids in an ecologically enriched, insecticide-free apple orchard. Agronomy for Sustainable Development, 37(65).
DeBerardinis, E., Baronio, P., & Baumgartner, J. (1994, March). The effect of aphid (Dysaphis plantaginea pass., Hom., Aphididae) feeding on apple fruit growth. Ecological Modelling, 72(1-2), 115-127.
Hodgkiss, D., Brown, M. J.F., & Fountain, M. T. (2019, April 01). The effect of within-crop floral resources on pollination, aphid control and fruit quality in commercial strawberry. Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment, 275, 112-122.
Rousselin, A., Bevacqua, D., Sauge, M.-H., Lescourret, F., Mody, K., & Jordan, M.-O. (2017, August 23). Harnessing the aphid life cycle to reduce insecticide reliance in apple and peach orchards. A review. Agronomy for Sustainable Development, 37(38).
Wearing, C. H., Attfield, B. A., & Colhoun, K. (2010, December 13). Biological control of woolly apple aphid, Eriosoma Lanigerum (Hausmann), during transition to integrated fruit production for pipfruit in Central Otago, New Zealand. New Zealand Journal of Crop and Horticultural Science, 38(4).
Zack is a Nature & Wildlife specialist based in Upstate, NY, and is the founder of his Tree Journey and Pest Pointers brands. He has a vast experience with nature while living and growing up on 50+ acres of fields, woodlands, and a freshwater bass pond. Zack has encountered many pest situations over the years and has spent his time maintaining and planting over 35 species of trees since his youth with his family on their property.
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