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Natural Aphid Killer: How to Control Aphids in a Pesticide Free Garden

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Looking for a natural aphid control method to protect the tender growth on your plants? You’ll need a two-pronged approach, controlling both the aphids AND the ants.

Here are some other pest control methods to embrace – naturally!

black ants and green aphids on a branch

Odds are good that if you have an aphid problem, you also have an ant problem. If you see ants marching up and down the main stems of your plants, take a closer look. Check the underside of leaves and the soft stems for signs of an invasion. Do you see both ants and aphids? It’s time for a little aphid control with a two-pronged approach.

While ants are generally harmless—and can even be counted on to aerate the soil and help decompose organic matter—they become a nuisance when they start to cultivate garden pests like aphids. These sap sucking insects  secrete a substance known as “honeydew” and ants love it. They love this sweet food source so much in fact, that they work to keep these garden pests close at hand. (Scales,  mealybugs, and leafhoppers also secrete honeydew.) This symbiotic relationship means that you can tackle large aphid populations by also controlling the ants.

What are aphids anyway?

These small pests have pear shaped bodies, ranging in color from light neon green to dark green and brown. They have soft bodies and suck plant juices from infested plants, causing them to wither and ail. Singly, small aphids are difficult to spot. When a plant becomes infested, you’ll easily spot them, usually covering the tender new shoots of garden plants and orchard trees.

Natural aphid control

Sometimes a strong stream of water is enough to blast aphids from an infested plant. If you have a larger invasion you can whip up a batch of homemade garden bug spray. I don’t have my recipe here on the site (yet) but here are a few others to check out:

Another very important aspect of controlling garden pests is to encourage beneficial insects — the kind that will nosh on the bad guys. Aphids are a particular favorite of ladybug larvae. Here’s the catch-22: Even natural sprays can deter natural predators. Spray to kill aphids, and the ladybugs might stay away.

ladybug larvae on a leaf - natural aphid control

Years ago I was fretting over a serious infestation of aphids on my pluot tree. The poor leaves were just covered and the tree was really looking unhealthy. Just as I was about ready to break down and spray, I happened to be out in the garden with a friend and we spotted something odd.

Little yellow things on the underside of the leaves alongside the aphids. I did some research and discovered that those little yellow things were ladybug eggs! Mother Nature doing her thang, right there in my backyard.

It wasn’t long before we spotted lots of ladybug larvae (photo above) munching on the aphids, and the problem ultimately resolved itself very quickly. If I had gotten involved, it might have resulted in a very different outcome.

Related: Garden Store Products You Can Make at Home for Less

two red ladybugs on a leaf - natural aphid control!

Banish the ants

“How do I get rid of ants?” is probably the question I am asked most often. There’s no magic bullet, unfortunately. For the most part, I let the ants do their thing as long as they stay outside. But when they start creating a little aphid buffet for themselves on my garden plants, it’s time for action.

There are a couple of things that have been somewhat successful in my garden. (Note that I don’t say “foolproof.” I don’t know that there is such a thing while maintaining a natural/organic garden.)

One natural aphid control method that also works on ants is diatomaceous earth. I sprinkle this natural powder around the base of plants and over any visible ant trails. (It’s good for many natural control of other garden pests, too.) The fine powder is abrasive and absorbent; ants (and other pests) that crawl through it will essentially dehydrate and die.

The second is something called Tanglefoot. Now, this is a petroleum product so some of you might take exception to its use. But I’ve had the same tube for about four years now — it goes a long way, so I feel like the end justifies the means. To use it, you simply spread a band of the sticky stuff completely around the base of plants. Make sure there aren’t leaves touching the ground or other ways for ants to climb up, too. The ants can’t cross the barrier and therefore their aphid farming days are over. You will need to reapply every once in awhile. As dust and dirt lands on it, the effectiveness becomes limited.

Another consideration is one that I read about years ago in a book called Natural Pest Control: Encourage ants to go farther afield by putting out some non-poisonous bait in areas far from your garden beds. The idea being that the ants will shift their interest from they honeydew laden aphids to the sweet snack of sugar or fresh fruit you put out on the other side of the yard. Then you won’t even need a natural aphid killer — problem solved!

black ant farming green aphids on a stem

Originally published June 2014; this post has been updated.

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Meet the Author

Kris Bordessa

Kris Bordessa founded Attainable Sustainable as a resource for revitalizing vintage skills. Her book, Attainable Sustainable: The Lost Art of Self-Reliant Living (National Geographic) offers a collection of projects and recipes to help readers who are working their way to a more fulfilling DIY lifestyle.

21 comments… add one
  • Wayne Gossman Aug 10, 2014, 4:43 am

    Why try to get rid of the ants?  What harm do they do? I have seen them as friends because they tell me i have an aphid problem!  what do i not understand?

    • Kris Bordessa Aug 10, 2014, 6:50 am

      The ants actually “farm” the aphids, so by them being there, they are perpetuating the aphid problem.

    • Ben Di Gaudio Jun 11, 2017, 9:43 am

      Wayne, I have never considered ants to be useful nor friendly. If you rely on the ants to be present before you notice those little green critters, some of your plants may be badly damaged. Ben.

  • Pamela Castle May 11, 2015, 6:41 am

    Grits have been working fairly well for us controlling ants. It has taken a couple of applications but it seems to be working faster than using Club Soda.

    • Lyn Hillman Sep 12, 2017, 3:32 pm

      I live in Alaska, and we have carpenter ants. I’ve used grits with great success. It takes a few application’s, but its worth it if you don’t want to use pesticides. I sprinkle it in my garden and around my trees.

  • Jean Hollander Dec 18, 2015, 1:25 pm

    I used baby powder around all my plants the ants were eating. I ALSO powdered around the concrete base of the house and inside the house against baseboards and carpeting where they were coming in. Anywhere I found them, I powdered them. My rose bushes and trees have finally started to grow again and no sign of them moving in the house again. My Gardner friend powdered in between her rows of vegetables and was very successful with larger produce and no pesticides.

  • Debbie Feb 1, 2017, 7:07 am

    Controlling aphids is easy, plant garlic in the area, aphids are gone by the end of the day. Have been doing this for years and never had an aphid problem.

  • Brittany Mar 19, 2017, 8:55 pm

    I’ve been using cinnamon to get rid of the ants, and banana peel water to get rid of the aphids. 🙂

  • Caron Mar 22, 2017, 10:47 pm

    I am actually at my wit’s end between the aphids and the ants, and the ants and the aphids! I have a square foot veg garden and have tried almost everything to get rid of both pests…If I put baby powder or diatomaceous earth down wont it just wash away when I water ?

    • Kris Bordessa Mar 23, 2017, 7:59 am

      Yes, it will need to be reapplied.

  • Ben Di Gaudio Jun 11, 2017, 9:38 am

    Kris, your idea of using the water and soap to rid the aphids is great and economical also. I know that you can use water pressure to rid the plants of the aphids but, the ants keep coming as long as the honey scent is on the plant. Thank you Ben.

  • Anne de Bruyn Jun 26, 2017, 8:49 pm

    i find a great way to get rid of the pests in the garden is a dishwasing detergent and water , its the only thing we use for pest controland it works

  • Audrey De Sousa Apr 4, 2018, 9:32 am

    I love gardeing ,and i enjoy reading on pests in the garden.
    I spend so much on my garden but still have so much problems,please help
    I have this blackish power on my fruit trees,i can get ride off it .
    My roses also have lots off aphids,

    • Kris Bordessa Apr 9, 2018, 5:21 pm

      Sooty mold, maybe? Definitely work on your soil, too. A plant growing in healthy soil will be able to fend off pests better.

    • Sarah Mar 31, 2020, 2:18 am

      You can use diluted Neem Oil. It will kill the aphids and not harm any hard bodied insects. The mold is most likely cause from the matter left behind from the aphids, possibly the tree is weak.

  • Riesah Aug 25, 2019, 5:26 am

    I found chewed up leaves: rhodiola, sunflower, and bean. I apply red chili powder to the leaves and around the plant on the ground. Stopped ants immediately. The ants were gathered around the head of my sunflower and the cayenne pepper application immediately deterred them and they left.

    • Kris Bordessa Aug 25, 2019, 12:31 pm

      Great solution!

  • Lisa Murano Jan 19, 2020, 4:41 am

    Luckily I haven’t had much of an aphid problem outside, I did manage to get them inside the house though on a miniature pepper plant! Saving this post…since I’m sure I’ll be battling them outside at some point!

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