7 Different Methods to Get Rid of Aphids on Roses
How do you handle aphids on your roses? These little pests appear in early spring and feed on the new tender growth of your plants. In this article, expert gardener and rose enthusiast Danielle Sherwood walks you through 7 methods for getting rid of aphids, including what NOT to do.
Once the warmer temps of spring reach your garden, little soft-bodied bugs congregate around the ends of your rose’s new growth, feeding on the plant’s sap. Aphids, the true sign of spring! As much as we hate seeing these pests feeding on our plants, they are common worldwide and hard to avoid.
Most of the time, aphid infestations are easily detected. Though small (normally about ¼ inch long), aphids are easily visible and can be seen crawling on the tips of your rose’s most recent growth. They suck vital juices from the rose causing it to weaken.
If you’ve spotted aphids on your roses, this article will give you 7 methods for managing them. I’ll also tell you what not to do! Soon, you’ll kiss these critters goodbye for the season.
Though there are about 250 different species of aphids that feed on crops and ornamental plants, most of those you see on roses will be the Rose Aphid or Macrosiphum Rosae. These aphids are large enough to see, pear-shaped, usually light green (though sometimes pinkish or brown), and produce several generations in one season.
The first generation of aphids can produce asexually and give birth to live young, while later in the fall they reproduce via mating and egg-laying. Once conditions become overcrowded, they can produce wings, enabling them to travel to a new plant.
As aphids use their piercing mouthparts to suck the juices and nutrients from new growth, it becomes weak and disfigured. They are the biggest insect vector of plant viruses and disease. The honeydew aphids secrete (the excess sugar they can’t digest from the plant sap) attracts an unattractive fungus called Sooty Mold. This greyish fungus is unsightly but washes off easily.
It goes without saying that we’d like to give aphids the boot. So what are the most effective ways to get rid of aphids while maintaining the health of your roses and your garden? Let’s dig in!
Method 1: Hose them Off!
Often, the simplest method is the best one. Aphids are slow-moving and dumb. Put your hose on the jet setting, and simply spray those suckers off your rose.
Be thorough and hit the undersides of the leaves as well. Once knocked off, aphids can’t figure out how to crawl back up your plant. The hose can also damage their soft bodies. Those who survive are often eaten by beetle species that live in the surrounding soil.
This method is cheap, low-effort, and yields quick results. It is also harmless to pollinators (as long as you don’t spray them too) and the health of your garden.
You really need to be thorough and make sure you get all of them off the plant. You may need to repeat as necessary until the aphids are gone.
Method 2: Invite Their Natural Enemies
A major tenet of companion planting is that you should aim to create a garden that attracts beneficial predators, which then stick around and control common rose pests for you. Thankfully, aphids are a tasty treat for many natural predators, like birds, hoverflies, lacewings, ladybug larvae, pirate bugs, parasitic wasps, and damsel bugs, among others.
Fortunately, the aphid population boom that arrives in early spring is usually controlled by natural predators within 2 weeks if left unsprayed by pesticides. They are slow, easy pickings! If you poison the aphids, you also poison their predators, which are less likely to return in significant numbers than the aphids who bounce back easily.
To attract aphid enemies to your garden, plant a variety of plants that create a habitat for them. Consider Yarrow, a native plant with pretty fern-like foliage and umbel flowers adored by hoverflies and parasitic wasps.
Other beneficial attractants to consider are Penstemon, Nepeta, and Sweet Alyssum. These not only increase the beauty of your garden; they help create a biodiverse environment friendly to the natural predator-pest cycle that does a lot of the work for you.
Planting beneficial attractants is pleasing to the eye and has long-term benefits. You will avoid poisoning predators and creating a secondary population boom of aphids with no natural control. It will also help restore a natural balance to your garden, resulting in fewer pests over time.
You have to tolerate the aphids until the predators arrive (usually a couple of weeks). New plants are an investment and take time to get established.
Method 3: Repel and Confuse Them
Just like companion plants are used to attract the aphids’ natural predators, they can also be used to repel and confuse these ubiquitous pests. Many plants have an odor that keeps aphids away, while others protect your ornamentals by masking their desirable smell.
To repel aphids, interplant roses with plants that have a distinctive odor like the allium family (ornamental varieties or even plain chives look lovely next to roses), feverfew, and hardy geraniums.
To mask the smell of your roses, consider marigolds or basil, both of which have strong odors that will confuse the aphids, causing them to miss the presence of their desired plant host.
Many of these plants are easy to grow, inexpensive, and quickly established. They’re a natural and harmless way to make your garden a less hospitable spot for aphids to call home.
You have to buy seeds or starts and wait for your plants to work.
Method 4: Use Trap Plants
My roses are rarely infested by aphids. My lupines, however, are another story. I hate to see gorgeous lupine spikes covered with thousands of aphids (until the predators wipe them out), but I do appreciate that the roses the next row over are left untouched.
This is an example of trap planting, where you lure aphids in via a particularly desirable plant that’s so attractive they ignore the plants you wish to protect.
Several plants are so appealing to aphids that they won’t care much about your roses. The major plus is that they’ll generally stay on the trap plant, making it easier for you to contain and target them with the hose. Try nasturtiums, astrantia, calendula, and dill (or if you have the space, a sacrificial lupine bed, like me!).
This method of control works long-term and will lead to less damage to your roses in the coming season. It’s environmentally friendly and improves your garden’s overall health by increasing biodiversity.
It may take a few seasons for the new plants to establish, requiring some patience before the trap plants have full effect.
Method 5: Manual Removal
We know aphids appear in early spring and reproduce quickly. If you watch for them at the beginning of the season and get rid of them before they have the chance to increase in number, you can go a long way toward controlling the population.
You’ll either love or hate this method depending on your personality and tolerance for the ick factor. Here’s what you do: put on some gloves, run your fingers along your rose tips, leaves, and stems, and squish those buggers as you go. Some gardeners even find this somewhat therapeutic.
Instant gratification and very effective (a dead aphid is gone for good), as long as aphids are caught early in the season. No special tools. Low impact and easy.
It’s pretty gross to squish bugs with your hands and they often reproduce too quickly for manual removal of all of them to be feasible. If you’re squeamish and only see a few so far, try squishing/knocking them off with a q-tip.
Method 6: Horticultural Oil
Organic horticultural oils are widely-available, naturally-derived oils. They work to suffocate pests and interrupt their lifecycle so they can’t reproduce. While there are many horticultural oils that work similarly, Neem oil, derived from the Neem tree native to India, is one of the most popular.
Neem works on active pests and can also control some diseases. While horticultural oils are considered non-toxic to most wildlife and people, they can kill beneficial insects and may pose risks to pollinators like bees and butterflies while they’re still wet (but not while they’re dry). Remember that organic doesn’t mean harmless!
Because of this, they should only be used if you’ve exhausted low-impact methods first. Spray your roses only in the evening (first looking for the presence of beneficials) to avoid harming the good guys most active in the daytime.
Most horticultural oils, like Neem, can cause damage to your roses, especially if you’ve coated your plants on a sunny day. High temperatures and sunshine combined with Neem can leave roses brown and withered, causing more damage than a managed population of aphids would have. Avoid spraying horticultural oils when the temperatures are above 85 degrees Fahrenheit.
Suffocates your aphids.
May require several applications over time. Possible harm to other beneficial insects. Potential to cause plant damage if not applied carefully and at the right time.
Method 7: Insecticidal Soap
Insecticidal soap, which you can purchase at your local garden center, is less damaging to plants than a homemade dish-soap solution (as dish soap can strip the surface of leaves and leave them open to fungal or bacterial infection). Insecticidal soaps kill off pests by penetrating their skins or shells and dehydrating them.
While insecticidal soaps can work to kill off your aphid infestation, they will do so only temporarily. They kill all bugs, including natural aphid predators and valuable pollinators, leading to an interrupted pest-predator cycle and secondary outbreaks.
Dries out the aphids, killing active infestations.
You must thoroughly coat the bugs in the soap for it to work. Harms all bugs, not just the bad ones.
What Not to Do
Don’t use a broad-spectrum insecticide on your roses. Though it’s tempting to break out the big guns when you see any insect infestation, the reality is that spraying for pests does more long-term damage than good.
Aphids are tenacious, adaptable bugs that easily create new generations that return to your roses after initial pesticides have faded. Soon you’ll have another infestation, but their natural predators will have been eliminated by your prior spraying.
Spraying with insecticides also leads to secondary outbreaks of other pests, like spider mites (as you’ve also killed off their predators). They can quickly become a bigger problem than the aphids. You can keep spraying to manage the new bugs, but your garden will be plagued by repeated pest visits, no predators or pollinators, and poisoned birds (including impact on the larger predators that eat the birds).
Aphids don’t have to be a big deal. Fortunately, they are usually controlled by nature, and the damage they cause rarely threatens the life of your rose. If you practice companion planting to attract beneficial predators, repel or confuse aphids, and lure them to less desirable plants, you’ll see huge results over time. If you don’t want to wait until their enemies arrive, a spray with the house or a bit of manual removal can control the population.
Avoid insecticides whenever possible to maintain the pest-predator balance and healthy garden ecosystem. They aren’t a viable long-term solution and can cause your pest problems to worsen in the long run. Do all you can to catch aphids early, work with nature to control them, and enjoy your roses!