Aphids. Just the mention of these plant-draining pests can send gardeners into fits. These tiny insects can quickly set up and multiply so fast that it almost seems like they have a magical means of reproduction. They can mess up a garden, damage plants, and spread issues across your entire crop!
Aphids are attracted to common vegetables such as tomatoes, cucumbers, leafy vegetables, and some root vegetables. Some plants that repel these insects include plants from the allium family such as garlic and onions, and strong-smelling herbs like mint, rosemary, and basil.
Companion planting is one way to repel these common garden pests. You can also attract predatory insects to keep aphid numbers in check, or use trap plants to lure them away. Keep reading as we go into detail about vegetables aphids love and how to repel them.
Most Common Vegetables That Aphids Love
There are several species of aphids. Some are specific to certain plants like the potato, green peach, or cabbage aphid, while the common aphid is less discerning in its taste. Most aphids like to target weak or soft plants and suck the moisture out of them.
You’ll notice aphid infestations by the tiny, soft-bodied insects congregated along the stems, or under leaves of plants. While a few aphids won’t do much damage to a plant, they multiply so quickly that they can easily overpower plants and start shriveling leaves and fruits.
While the common aphid will attack plants like roses, sunflowers, and fruit trees, there are several vegetables in your garden aphids love the most. These include:
- Brussels sprouts
- Bok choy
If you have any of these plants in your garden, you’ll probably end up battling hordes of aphids. Don’t despair because there are things you can do to repel these sap-sucking pests.
Why You Should Use Companion Plants To Keep Aphids Off Your Vegetables
A not-so-new technique to maximize space in your garden and mutually benefit the plants is called companion planting. You can use this technique to repel pests like aphids and other pests. Companion planting can also attract beneficial insects that will feed on those pesky aphids.
One very familiar companion technique is called the Three Sisters. Native Americans would plant corn (maize), climbing beans, and winter squash together. The corn offered something the beans could climb up, while the squash stayed low to the ground and their broad, spiky leaves helped to keep moisture in the ground and prevented many garden pests.
These three aren’t the only companion plants that offer a beneficial, symbiotic relationship. Many plants, herbs, vegetables, and even flowers can be combined to help each other out.
One plant that is a staple in almost any vegetable garden is the tomato. As much as we love these plants for the prolific, juicy, red fruits on sandwiches, in salads, and as sauce, so do aphids.
What leafy herb pairs so well with tomatoes? If you said basil, you get a gold star! Basil is a phenomenal companion plant for tomatoes and peppers.
Plant basil at the base of tomatoes and peppers not only to repel aphids, but this herb attracts pollinators which will increase the yield. Basil also enhances the flavor of tomatoes and peppers.
Now if only I could find that elusive mozzarella plant… What could be better than a cool Caprese salad during the hot summer days, or a savory margherita pizza made from fresh ingredients straight from your garden? Yummy!
Connecticut.gov mentions companion gardening as a way to deter many pests. Using plants such as garlic, chives, nasturtium, dahlias, marigolds, rosemary, and mint in the garden can repel a variety of insects. Mix these plants in your garden, because if you only plant one kind, it can attract other pests!
Best Companion Plants To Keep Aphids Away From Vegetables
Here are some companion planting ideas for most of the 14 vegetables that aphids love. If you are planting beets, add some onions around them to repel those soft-bodied pests.
Beans can benefit from sunflowers or nasturtiums, as these are often used as trap plants. We will get into trap plants shortly, but for now, sunflowers can also offer shade to the beans if you live in an area that is prone to drought or very intense sun in the hotter months.
Plant dill, nasturtiums, or oregano around cucumbers as these either repel aphids or attract predatory insects that will control the aphid population.
For broccoli and brussels sprouts, add some oregano to the mix as this herb has not only repellent properties but is also insecticidal to some pests.
Aphids hate the smell of garlic. As do other pests such as caterpillars, slugs, armyworms, and even mosquitoes. And of course, if you have a problem with vampires, you’ll need all the garlic you can grow.
You can read our full list of scents that aphids hate here for more info.
To keep aphids off lettuce and other leafy vegetables like bok choy and kale, surround them with chives, basil, onions, or garlic. Cabbages and garlic also work together in unison.
To protect the crunchy pop of sugar snap peas—or other pea varieties—mint is an excellent aphid deterrent. A large, neon, blinking warning about mint though. If you’re not familiar with this herb, it will take over your garden if you are not careful.
Keep mint contained to its own area of the garden by walling it off, or keep it in containers. Also, watch for when it seeds. You’ll want to remove those before they drop or you’ll basically have a mint garden.
Add catmint or cilantro to your potato patch to prevent aphids from ruining your starchy tubers. Catmint is similar to catnip, except it doesn’t attract cats or cause them to soar into outer space when they eat it. It’s also a perennial so you won’t have to replant it year after year.
For all your winter squashes and pumpkins, oregano, marigolds, and nasturtiums are the way to go to keep pests away.
Utilize Plants That Attract Aphid Predators
Another way to keep aphids away, or at the very least, keep their population in check, is to introduce plants that attract predatory insects to feed on these pests.
Ladybugs (lady beetles, or lady birds), lacewings, hoverflies, and predatory wasps all feed on aphids. If you introduce flowers and plants that invite these insects into your garden, then you’ll have a natural security force to remove aphids for you.
Ladybugs are great aphid decimators, but their larvae are the biggest devourers, as full-grown ladybugs often have a tendency to fly off once they’ve had their fill. While in the larval stage, they can’t fly and will patrol the area as they pick off the slow-moving aphids.
If you’ve been having a reoccurring issue with aphids, take a look at our detailed guide on the 7 reasons why aphids keep coming back!
Plants That Attract Ladybugs (To Get Rid Of Aphids)
To attract ladybugs to your garden, plant herbs like dill, cilantro, parsley, chives, and mint. Most of these herbs, while inviting ladybugs to stick around for a while, also signal to aphids that they aren’t welcome here.
Other flowers that ladybugs like are Queen Anne’s Lace, nasturtium, and sunflowers. Plant these flowers along the edges of your garden to attract both ladybugs and beneficial pollinators like butterflies and honeybees.
You can even purchase ladybugs from Amazon right here, 1500 Pre-Fed Live Ladybugs to help control the aphid population. Be careful with pesticides once you attract beneficial bugs to your garden. Most pesticides don’t care what insects they turn into hashtags.
Another note here about ladybugs: their larvae can appear quite disconcerting. The first time I saw one, It was way back in grade school. They’re quite the sight!
Ladybug larvae look like tiny, spiked nightmares. They are black with orange, red, or white splotches, covered in cactus-like spikes, (these are harmless, not like venomous, spiked caterpillars), and have black, menacing heads that look like they are ready to burrow into your skin.
But, even with their fierce appearance, these ladybug larvae are completely harmless to humans. Aphids, on the other hand, better lookout for these roving tiny insect devouring nightmares.
Plants That Attract Lacewings (To Get Rid Of Aphids)
The green lacewing is another insect that loves to snack on aphids. The adults are typically active at night and do not exhibit the predatory instincts the larvae do, so you’ll need to attract the adults and let them lay eggs somewhere in your garden.
Plants that attract lacewings are dill, Queen Anne’s Lace, parsley, coriander, mint, oregano, verbena, anise, and caraway. If you use a lot of these herbs in your cooking, grow them for yourself and to attract these beneficial insects.
You can also purchase the eggs which will hatch and become the aphid decimators you’ve been looking for here, Green Lacewing 5000 Eggs.
Plants Alliums To Attract Alliums (Predators Of Aphids)
You’ve probably seen hoverflies buzzing around flowers, and as their name suggests, hovering near them or around your head.
When they come around your face, they can bring on a sense of anxiety because they closely resemble wasps and yellow jackets, but aside from being annoying, they can’t hurt you.
Their larvae, much like ladybugs and lacewings, love to eat aphids and other soft-bodied pests in your garden. The best way to attract these insects is to plant alliums.
Alliums are in the same family as garlic, onions, and leeks. You can find these flowers in most nurseries. They have lollipop-looking, round flower clusters atop a straight, green stalk.
They come in many sizes and colors and can be a bright addition to your garden, as well as attracting a host of beneficial insects like the hoverflies. When their eggs hatch, their larvae act just like ladybug and lacewing larvae and hunt down as many aphids as they can find.
Best Aphid Trap Plants To Keep Them Off Your Vegetables
Another way to prevent aphids from attacking your garden veggies is to use trap plants.
The way this works is by offering other plants—aside from your food plants—that aphids congregate on. You then remove the aphids, spray them with pesticides, or leave them alone if you so choose.
Just don’t plant your aphid traps too close to your garden, because the bugs could travel to other plants to start their own colonies.
Once the aphids have established themselves on the trap plants, you can use pesticidal soaps, spray neem oil, or make your own solution to deal with them. These plants can be somewhat sacrificial, unlike your prized cabbages, potatoes, or tomato plants.
Nettles work great to attract aphids early in the season, and then later on they will start attracting the aphids’ mortal enemies—ladybugs. You may not have to do anything with this combination.
Plant the nettles to have the aphids gather around the plant, then when it flowers, ladybugs will be attracted to the plant and probably stick around because they will have a built-in food supply. Then just let nature take its course.
Sunflowers are great aphid attractants. They are also so fast-growing and large that they can usually withstand a full-blown aphid invasion without damaging the flowers too much.
As these plants grow big and strong, you can clip the leaves aphids are clinging to, and drop them into a bucket of soapy water to get rid of them. For the insects on the stalks, put on a pair of gloves and play “pop-a-bug.”
Like nettles, nasturtiums attract aphids and their predators. Ladybugs like these plants as well. Plant nasturtiums away from the garden to get the little sap suckers to come to the plant, then introduce some ladybugs.
So, using trap plants is a good way to divert the aphids and then get rid of them. Though this isn’t a foolproof way of dealing with aphids, it can help to reduce the number of pests that snack on your garden before you can get to it.
When you are getting rid of aphids, be careful to keep them from dropping to the ground when you are snipping leaves or other parts of the plants. If the aphids drop, they could simply crawl back up the plant or relocate to another plant.
You can read more about trap plants in our piece on the most common flowers that aphids love!
Essential Oils And Sticky Traps
Aphids can’t stand many essential oils. Mixing up a spray bottle of their most hated scents and spraying your plants periodically is a great way to repel these beasts before they can even get started.
The most effective essential oils for repelling and ridding your vegetables of aphids are coriander, lavender, fennel, oregano, juniper, peppermint, and clove oil. In a spray bottle of water, simply drop in 4-6 drops of one of these essential oils, mix well and keep shaking between sprays.
Then, spray your plants!
The essential oils, when diluted, won’t harm the plants, and will repel most insect pests. You can even spray the insects directly if they have already established themselves in your garden.
If you have peppermint, clove, lavender, and clove essential oils in your house already, you can mix up a “mega-spray” of essential oils to keep the pests away.
Mix up a half gallon, or 2 liters of water, then apply 4 to 8 drops of each of these essential oils, then fill your spray bottle and apply to your plants. You can adjust how many drops you want if you’d like to have a stronger or lighter scent.
Do this about once a week, or after a rain to keep aphids and other garden munching pests away. Just don’t spray beneficial insects like honeybees or butterflies because this brew could harm them.
Another way to trap and get rid of aphids is by using yellow sticky traps. Aphids are attracted to the color yellow, so you can use this to your advantage.
Many aphids don’t have wings and have to crawl around on the ground, so pop up some of these 48 Pack Sticky Traps to stop aphids before they can get started.
Aphids are drawn to the yellow pads like moths to porch lights, and then they are stuck to the glue where they stay. When the pad is full, replace it with a fresh one and continue to get those annoying aphids.
Introduce the yellow sticky traps early in the growing season before you have an infestation. If you put them down after the aphids have settled down to a vegetable buffet, it will be hard to convince them to “unalive” themselves on a yellow sticky trap.
If you’d like to use a commercial product, check out our guide on the best aphids repellents here!
Get Rid Of Ants To Keep Aphids Off Your Vegetables
If you notice ants in your garden, you probably don’t have to worry about them eating your plants too much, but they cause another problem. Ants are aphid caretakers and have probably introduced them to your garden.
While aphids feed, they produce a sticky substance called honeydew that is an irresistible treat for ants. They will care for the aphids, protect them from predators, and move them from plant to plant to keep the honeydew flowing. So if you see ants marching around on your vegetables, you might have an aphid and ant problem.
You may have to treat the plant with a pesticide to remove both the aphids and ants or treat any ant mounds you find in your yard
Another way to prevent ants from crawling up your plants is to make an ant proof barrier. Start by wrapping the trunk of the plant in plastic wrap. Not too tight because you don’t want to squeeze the plant, but keep it snug so the ants can’t crawl under it.
Next, slather some petroleum jelly on the plastic wrap. The ants won’t be able to pass the petroleum jelly, so they won’t be able to transfer aphids from one plant to another.
This also keeps other crawling pests from getting to your vegetables, as long as there aren’t any branches laying on the ground.
Keep Your Plants Healthy
Keeping your plants well watered, fertilized, and healthy is one of the best ways to either prevent pests or help your plants be able to withstand the damage they can create before you treat them.
Aphids seem to have a “spidey-sense” about weak and struggling plants. If your garden hasn’t been feeling its best or you have some plants that are looking a little weak, it will certainly attract aphids to it.
In this weakened state, the plant will have a tougher time fighting off the parasites.
By keeping your garden well watered, and doing your best to prevent them from wilting, you’ll not only help to stave off any damage, but you may keep aphids away for a little while.
Making sure your plants are properly fed is another way to keep them growing tough and strong. Compost or other organic fertilizers help to keep the nutrients in the soil the plants need.
Don’t forget to feed your garden; growing plump vegetables drains the soil of essential nutrients.
Monitor your plants, and inspect them at least every two weeks to stay on top of pests and other problems. If you find a few of them, you can easily pluck them off yourself, hose them away, or trim the areas that have the pests.
How To Recognize Aphid Damage
Aphids are so small that it may be hard to spot them. They also like to hide out underneath leaves away from the sun and sight.
Recognizing the signs of their damage can help you discern what is happening to the plants, then you can take the proper steps to control them.
It takes a large congregation of aphids to cause visible damage to your crops, but if you see dried up, mottled, distorted, and/or yellow leaves, you’ve probably got an aphid infestation taking place.
Also, if you see or feel a sticky substance on the stems or leaves of the plants, it could be the honeydew aphids drop while feeding.
A black or dark gray, fuzzy, mottling could be another indicator of aphids as the honeydew often allows a fungal growth called sooty mold to form on your plants.
That’s A Wrap!
Aphids are one of the most common garden pests we have to deal with. They love some of the most popular vegetables that get planted and can severely damage these plants.
They willingly devour tomatoes, beans, potatoes, broccoli, and many other leafy vegetables, but they can be thwarted if the proper steps are taken.
Planting flowers and herbs that repel aphids and attract natural insect predators is one way to keep aphids checked and under control.
Essential oils, sticky traps, getting rid of ants, and companion planting are all tricks that can help to ease the aphid menace.
Don’t be afraid of aphids and the damage they can cause, just follow these steps and these annoying pests won’t “bug” you anymore. Sorry, I couldn’t resist the last pun. Happy gardening!
Bugg, Robert L., et al. “Flower flies (Syrphidae) and other biological control agents for aphids in vegetable crops.” (2008).
Dedryver, Charles-Antoine, Anne Le Ralec, and Frédéric Fabre. “The conflicting relationships between aphids and men: a review of aphid damage and control strategies.” Comptes rendus biologies 333.6-7 (2010): 539-553.
Simons, John N., and Thomas A. ZItter. “Use of oils to control aphid-borne.” Plant disease 64.6 (1980): 543.
Sæthre, M-G., et al. “Aphids and their natural enemies in vegetable agroecosystems in Benin.” International Journal of Tropical Insect Science 31.1-2 (2011): 103-117.
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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