Container Garden Pest Problems: Aphids

by Fern on May 10, 2010

in Pests & Problems

Post image for Container Garden Pest Problems: Aphids

In the past, I’ve shared my preferred method of dealing with aphids, ladybugs. They are still my favorite way to get rid of aphids, but I’ve noticed that it’s harder to keep ladybugs around on my new balcony, probably because there is less nearby landscaping that they like. And since I’ve started growing seeds in my potting shed, I’ve somehow developed an aphid problem in there (how did aphids get in my garage?). Obviously I can’t release ladybugs in my garage!

Preventing Aphids From Arriving

First, don’t over fertilize with nitrogen fertilizer. Most of the time this happens because someone is using a Miracle Grow type fertilizer more often than the package recommends. But you can over-fertlize with organic fertilizers too, so always follow package instructions. Heavy applications of nitrogen cause tons of weak new growth that aphids love. You might as well throw out a welcome mat.

An ant cultivating aphids

Second, keep ants off your balcony or patio. Ants “farm” aphids, moving them from plant to plant and harvesting their honeydew secretions. If you can keep ants away, you can prevent them from bringing aphids to your plants.

Finally, another way of preventing aphids from attacking your plants it to start them indoors and provide a transparent barrier (cloches, clear plastic “tarps,” etc) for them when they are first moved outdoors. Plants are most susceptible to irreparable damage from aphids when they are young. If you can prevent aphids from getting to your seedlings you’ll give them a better chance.

What to do When You Find Aphids

If you see just a few aphids, cut those leaves off the plant and throw them in the garbage. It’s important to not allow your plants to become infested, because aphids are more difficult to treat when there are already hundreds (or thousands) of them. A female can produce 50-100 offspring in her lifetime, and her offspring are ready to reproduce a week after birth. So you can see how things can quickly get out of hand.

Aphids at multiple different life stages

If the plant is sturdy (such as a rose) you can blast the aphids off the plant with a strong spray of water, though not all container gardeners have easy access to a hose. You can use a spray bottle with water in it, but I find this to be too tedious.

In my potting shed, I have been using insecticidal soap with great success. It’s an organic option that is great in situations where it’s not really possible to use biological controls, such as lady bugs. You have to spray the plants thoroughly, covering both the tops and bottoms of the leaves to the point that they are dripping with the liquid. Wait at least a week before reapplying (only if needed).

It should be noted that if you are committed to allowing natural controls to take care of aphids, you shouldn’t use insecticidal soap, because you’ll also kill whatever beneficials have arrived, and more predatory insects will only arrive if there is enough for them to eat. So killing aphids too soon will prevent that from happening.

How do you control aphids in your container garden?

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{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

Bob May 10, 2010 at 8:08 am

Thanks for the tips, Fern. Out of curiosity… is it your nasturtiums that have become home to aphids? Nasties and dahlias seem to become infested pretty easily in my garden. I blast them with water in a spray bottle (since soap can damage nasturtium leaves). Its pretty effective to control them until the heat of summer kills them off.


Fern May 10, 2010 at 12:48 pm

Bob–Nope, my nasturtiums are already outside, and I don’t ever treat them for aphids. They do seem to attract a lot of them, but it doesn’t seem to harm them too much, so I just let beneficials do the dirty work for me. It’s convolvolus and cerinthe that are still in my potting shed and covered in aphids. Well, not anymore, since I sprayed them with the insecticidal soap.

Mary C. May 10, 2010 at 9:57 am

I’ve been lazy about aphids so I’ve had a few badly infested plants :( I try to do a careful check of each plant at least once (trying to make it twice) a week and wipe them off with either my fingers or a damp cloth. Sometimes I use a spray bottle but like you said that is REALLY tedious, usually only necessary if they’re in a tight area I can’t get my fingers into. I do remove whole leaves if they’ve suffered bad damage or I find more than a couple of aphic clusters on it. I was allowing a couple of brocolli plants to go to seed (they were attracting bees and butterflies and I wanted the seeds) but the flower/seed pod stems started attracting big clusters of aphids so I had to nix them yesterday :( I really hope the summer heat will tame them down!


Blake May 10, 2010 at 10:13 am

I often use biodegradable soap sprays for my aphid problems. I haven’t tried it on nasturtium leaves, but so far I haven’t had any plants react badly to it. I add a teaspoon or so of Dr. Bronners to a liter of water for my spray mixture. After a week most of the bugs are gone, but sometimes it does take a second round. The bugs die from eating the soap suds, but at least it is biodegradable, and smells nice, too!


bad alley May 10, 2010 at 10:59 am

Yeah, I had to give up on growing nasturtiums. It was heartbreaking, because I love them so, but they were like a beacon drawing aphids to my balcony.

Quitting nasturtiums and hand-wiping aphids that find their way to other plants are my main tactics. I don’t think ladybugs would stick around on my balcony.


Jennifer Donohue May 10, 2010 at 5:45 pm

any suggestions on aphids in your home??


Fern May 10, 2010 at 6:40 pm

Jennifer–I would use an insecticidal soap, as described above.


Poliart November 25, 2012 at 2:42 am

We had an errant two days of uosbasnnaely warm weather here this week too. I peeked under the row cover, and discovered all of our California Early White garlic has sprouted! Good thing we also planted heat tolerant Late White. I didn’t expect a heat wave in November, especially after this summer. Staggering planting, and planting bolt/heat tolerant varieties of vegetables may have to become the norm in our future fall plantings. Global wierding indeed! On the upside, your tomatoes still look great!

Debra Lee Baldwin May 10, 2010 at 8:41 pm

I control aphids that infest the tender bloom shoots of succulents with rubbing alcohol. I keep it in a spray bottle on the balcony and spritz the bugs. The alcohol desiccates them and doesn’t harm the plants. In my book (Succulent Container Gardens) I advise diluting the alcohol, but in actual practice, I don’t bother. Even so, if you try this on other types of plants, especially if you want to avoid possibly damaging leaves or buds, dilute the alcohol with equal parts distilled water.


Shawna Coronado May 11, 2010 at 5:46 am

Same as for my non-container plants: soap spray. I make it myself and spray the little suckers viciously. If they are large pests like Japanese Beetles (ick), I hand pick them and toss them in a bucket of soapy water.

Very important: while killing you must viciously shout, “Die Sucker Die!” It helps you feel better while laying down death and carnage.



meryemilymay May 11, 2010 at 8:34 am

that is accectly what i did i think i overfirtilized and as aresult the plants are full if aphids


Kathi May 11, 2010 at 12:18 pm

I’ve found a method to keep the aphids under control on edible plants (my sage is infested). It’s almost to simple to tell: I just brush them off with a brush and dustpan. Just hold the dustpan close to the infested stem or leaves and brush a few times. You can collect the aphids in the dustpan and then throw them away (maybe into the toilet, because they will escape from anywhere!).

btw Fern: This is a great blog, I’ve been reading it for ages now and finally dare to comment ;)


Sara May 11, 2010 at 4:42 pm

I stumbled on an aphid control at least for peppers.

Last year I grew 5 different types of peppers. As you probably know peppers like more magnesium and sulfur, which can come from dissolving 1 tablespoon Epsom salts into a gallon of water. In addition to this I added a few drops of liquid kelp meal. I liberally sprayed the plants with this every morning before the sun hit the plants. I never had aphids until the fall when I stopped doing this because I wanted the plants to put all their energy into ripening up the peppers they had instead of producing more. When I stopped the plants became horribly infested with aphids. I had them right in front of my living room window and it took several washings to get all the sap off the window.


Emily May 19, 2010 at 10:25 am

I’ve started my first container garden this year and it has been pretty succesful so far! Just recently though I’ve noticed my spinach plants dying. As I looked closer I noticed I have quite a few ants in the soil. I quickly inspected the rest of my plants and so far have only noticed them on one other pepper plant as well.

The pepper plant seems to be healthy so far but the spinach plants all of a sudden died the other day. I’m not sure if it’s the ants hurting the plants or if it is something they are hunting. There are tiny red-ish larvea the ants are carrying around and I don’t know if it’s theirs or if the larvea belong to another pest.

I’ve tried Nutria (i think that’s what it’s called) insecticidal soap for organic gardens but it hasn’t seemed to phase them yet. I need help because I don’t want my last few spinach plants to die or my pepper plant! I could repot everything but the soil is getting expensive to replace.

Any suggestions???? I’d really appreciate it!


Fern May 19, 2010 at 10:46 pm

Emily–They might be carrying aphids, ants are known to farm them. What did the spinach plants look like when they died?


Susan February 16, 2012 at 11:44 am

I’ve been reading about using food grade (OMRI approved, of course) DE (diatomacious earth) for aphids and ants. Any thoughts?



Fern February 16, 2012 at 11:54 am

For ants it’s be possible to use diatomaceous earth to get rid of them in whatever part of your garden you put down the DE, but with aphids it would be pretty difficult for you to use DE. DE is a sandy like substance and has to come in direct contact with the pest to work. Since aphids are clinging to stems and leaves, it would be hard to get the DE on those areas. Also, the DE dust can be very aggravating to human and pet lungs, which would seem to be a bigger problem when you’re dusting leaves versus putting it on the ground.

Adina April 28, 2012 at 7:57 pm

I live on the 5th floor of a condo, so have had to settle for a container garden. My chive plant was infested last year and again this year with green aphids. Maybe aphids can live in soil all winter? So now my chive plant is in the bathtub and I have sprayed it with a soap dilution I found online. I am nervous to keep growing chives as I don’t want any problems with my other container plants. Last year, the aphids spread from the chives to all my plants! Any advice?


Fern May 3, 2012 at 10:31 pm

Have you tried the tips in this post?

Kathy Bergman June 26, 2012 at 10:12 am

Can you help me. I have both white flies and aphids in my petunias especially. They are in pote with other plants–geraniums, vinca vine, etc. I’m using regular dish soap? Do you think it will work?


Kathy Bergman June 26, 2012 at 10:14 am

Can you help me. I have both white flies and aphids in my petunias especially. They are in pots with other plants–geraniums, vinca vine, etc. I’m using regular dish soap? Do you think it will work?


thriftygirl August 23, 2012 at 2:24 pm

I heard need oil works and i used it once. it worked but after a relapse, and not knowing what else was in the container along with the neem oil, i sprayed a mixture of garlic soaked water + dish soap and it worked. hate aphids with a passion!!! don’t know how they make it to my 4th floor balcony!!!


thriftygirl August 23, 2012 at 2:25 pm

oops, meant to say “neem oil”


cristine February 17, 2013 at 1:32 pm

I’m in Colorado and bought several small Hens and Chicks potted plants from a reputable grower at our Farmers Market back in October. I have the plants indoors, but noticed almost immediately that one evidenced what I assume are aphids. They are black and so small that I cannot detect body parts with the naked eye. I have at various times blasted them with water, sprayed the plant lavishly with soap, submerged the plant (not the soil/roots) in water, and even left the plant outdoors for several cold days. All to no avail, however, since the micro-critters seem to reappear after several days. Have they just burrowed in out of sight to escape my efforts or are they reproducing so prolifically that I cannot keep up with them? I fear that, if I leave the plant outside for too many nights in hopes of killing off the aphids, the plant itself will freeze in our below-freezing night temps. Suggestions? Perhaps the plant is hardier than I think and it might survive if I insulated the pot some? Could these be something other than aphids? Thanks for input. I don’t want aphids to spread any indoors but am loathe to pitch the cute little plant!


christine neily June 30, 2013 at 9:31 pm

I’m in Joliet, IL. and also bought several potted plants but from several different places. Several of the potted plants i bought from different stores such as Kmart, Jewel, and so on got infected with aphids. So I tried buying plants from more reputable growers in hopes that will solve the problem. But not even a week later my new bee balm lost all its leaves and I found the aphids everywhere. The problem I am having is I check my plants everyday and am dumb founded as to how they are getting so bad. I have tried all the organic sprays and it seems like the aphids have adapted to the chemicals in the sprays. I just put organic soap on the bee balm and put it outside to see how it will effect the growth..I just want to know how i can save my other plants from the same fate.


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