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Travis Hawkins

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How to Protect Your Trees from Aphids and their Not-so-sweet Honeydew

Do you have a sticky situation occurring at your home? Have you noticed that your smooth tree leaves, or even your garden plants, are now shiny and tacky to the touch? If so, you may have aphids.

Protect your trees from aphids

Aphids are from the insect family called Aphidoidea. They are sap-sucking bugs with sharp mouths and they range from 1-7 millimeters in size. They can be green, yellow, black, red or brown in color.

Certain types of trees, Crepe Myrtles for example, attract this pest, which can devour your leaves if left unchecked for too long. Aphids are very tiny, so the first noticeable sign that they are feasting on the leaves of your trees is often their droppings, which is affectionately known as “honeydew”.

Aphids on a leaf

When aphids feed on the leaves of certain plants and trees that have high sugar content, they excrete a sugary waste that covers the leaves, called honeydew. Not as sweet as it sounds, huh? If honeydew remains on the leaves long enough, this sugar-filled aphid waste turns to a sooty mold, which has a black appearance. Yep, we agree... disgusting!

How do they arrive at your tree you ask? Strangely enough, ants often bring them to the area. They have a symbiotic relationship. Ants often transport them to a particular tree, or plant, and then protect them from predators, and in return, the aphids provide food (ants love the honeydew!).

Protect your trees from aphids with ladybugs

If this weren’t strange enough, ants will often paralyze the aphids with a substance on their feet and then clip the aphid’s wings so they can’t leave the plant. Ants then will stroke the aphid’s abdomen which causes it to release honeydew, which the ants eat or take to their nests. If you see lots of ants around your tree, chances are you may have aphids. One additional fun fact, aphids are often born pregnant and will lay eggs quickly. It won’t take long for you to spot aphid eggs covering the leaves as well.

But there are ways to fight these pests and help save your trees and plants from a slow, sticky demise. One of nature’s ways to combat aphids is ladybugs. It is a common fact that ladybugs are very helpful insects and we should welcome them in our landscapes. Ladybugs, and their larvae, can eat up to 400 aphids a day.

Protect your trees from aphids with ladybugs

It is important to know what ladybug larvae look like because you want to make sure you leave them on the tree. They don’t look much like an adult ladybug. They are a bit prehistoric in appearance so take a close look at this photo so you are familiar with what the young ladybugs look like. They can be one of the best natural defenses you will have against aphids and they will eventually morph into the familiar ladybug appearance you adore.

Protect your trees from aphids with ladybugs

Other methods of treating your plants and trees for aphids involve spraying the leaves directly or using a systemic treatment that is poured on the ground at the base of the tree and watered into the root system. You can research these methods online or ask your local nursery what they recommend.

Just know that if you use a chemical treatment that kills aphids, you will kill most of the beneficial bugs in the tree as well. That is a decision you should carefully make, based on the degree of damage you are experiencing and the presence of other live creatures in the area that might be affected by toxic chemicals, including ladybugs, birds and even family pets.

One last thing to note: aphids will sometimes move off of their host plants and their honeydew can the cover your porch, house siding and even sidewalks. One tip to remove this sticky substance is to wash the area with vinegar and water and then scrub with a hard bristle brush. It will take some elbow grease but should eventually wash off.

If you have lovingly planted, watered and fertilized the plants around your home, you will want to pay close attention throughout the Spring and Summer months, and be on the lookout for any pest infestations that might arise. Once you spot any of the signs of aphids, including the presence of ants and ladybugs, do your best to combat this issue quickly so you can enjoy your trees or plants for many years to come.

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