A while back, I had aphids on my potted Kaffir lime tree. The tree’s leaves began to curl and at first, I didn’t know how to get rid of them. But after some research and testing, I found the best 3 ways to get rid of aphids. Here’s what I found.
The best ways to get rid of aphids on fruit trees are by spraying the infected leaves with water or neem oil, or releasing ladybugs. Most often, a jet of water is enough to get rid of aphids, but neem oil is a good second choice. Additionally, ladybugs are a natural predator of aphids and can reduce their numbers.
So, while these 3 solutions are proven and highly effective treatments for aphids on fruit trees, what do aphids do to fruit trees in the first place, and what are the best ways to apply these solutions? Let’s take a closer look.
How Do Aphids Affect Fruit Trees?
Aphids are small bugs that suck the sap from underneath the fruit tree’s leaves. This loss of sugar and moisture causes the leaves to curl, yellow, and drop. They also deposit honeydew, which attracts ants. If left unchecked, aphids can damage the fruit tree’s health and potentially stunt or kill it.
Just about every gardener will have to deal with aphids at some point. While they can affect most plants, fruit trees are one of their favorites.
Aphids come in multiple colors including white, yellow, or black, and usually hide underneath the leaves. Typically, they won’t cause damage to the fruit, but because they suck sap from the trees, they can compromise its health and reduce fruit size. Aphids also deposit honeydew, a sticky substance on the leaves and fruit.
When aphids suck the sap from the tree, they’re taking the tree’s sugar, which is its energy source. The fruit tree created this sugar through photosynthesis and uses it for just about every function: canopy growth, root development, bearing fruit, maintaining its immune system, and more.
Not only do the aphids take the tree’s energy, but they damage the leaves—reducing the amount the tree can photosynthesize and create new sugars. If this goes on long enough, the tree will be so deprived of energy that its health will start to decline and can result in the tree’s death.
You can tell if your fruit tree is affected by aphids if you start seeing leaves curl and notice small white, black, or yellow dots underneath the leaves.
Once the aphids are done feeding, they’ll leave behind a sticky substance called honeydew. This greatly attracts ants, which is why ants often farm aphids.
Ants can also pose problems for fruit trees, such as increasing the aphid population through farming. If you’d like to learn more, I recently wrote a post on how to get rid of ants on citrus trees.
To help with this, let’s look at are the best 3 ways to treat aphids on fruit trees (tested firsthand by yours truly).
How To Treat Aphids on Fruit Trees
Water is by far the easiest and cheapest way to get rid of aphids on fruit trees. It’s actually what I do whenever I see aphids on any of my plants.
You might be thinking, “Water doesn’t sound like enough to kill the aphids. I want to get rid of them, not just knock them off the leaves!“. But I can assure you—water is more than enough.
When aphids are knocked off of the fruit tree’s leaves by the water, they fall to the ground and lack a food source. Without access to the fruit tree’s leaves, the aphids will quickly die.
Also, you don’t need a special nozzle or anything to spray aphids off of the leaves—any garden hose will do. The only thing to keep in mind is that you want strong enough pressure to knock the aphids off of the leaves, but not too strong to rip the leaves apart.
All I did was remove the nozzle from the hose and fit my thumb over the opening to create a stronger blast of water. It was strong enough to remove the aphids, but not strong enough to damage the leaves. To this day, the aphids haven’t returned.
Now, if you find that a spray of water isn’t quite doing the job, or if you want something extra, neem oil is a great next step.
2. Neem Oil
Neem oil is a naturally occurring pesticide that is made from the seeds of the neem tree. The oil has a yellow to brown color, bitter taste, and smells like garlic and sulfur. While it may seem new, neem oil has been used for hundreds of years and can be traced back to India.
So, how does neem oil exactly work on aphids?
Neem oil is made of many components. Azadirachtin is the most active. It reduces insect feeding and acts as a repellent. It also interferes with insect hormone systems, making it harder for insects to grow and lay eggs. Azadirachtin can also repel and reduce the feeding of nematodes. Other components of neem oil kill insects by hindering their ability to feed.National Pesticide Information Center
As you can see, neem oil is highly effective at control aphid populations. Not only does it repel aphids chemically, but its oil can also bind their movement, preventing them from feeding. Without the ability to move or feed, aphids will quickly die.
Neem oil can also be used as a repellent to whiteflies and spider mites.
There really isn’t a downside to using neem oil. It’s easy to use, organic, and affordable. And because it’s organic, most brands can be used up to the day of harvest.
Keep in mind that neem oil will wash off in the rain, so apply a day or two after rain (or as needed) for best results.
You can find neem oil at just about any nursery or garden store. Additionally, you can find them online. Here are some of the best brands of neem oil on Amazon.
In both their larvae and adult form, ladybugs are natural predators to aphids. They’re able to consume around 50 aphids a day. While aphids are a ladybug’s main prey, ladybugs also feed on other pests such as mites, thrips, whiteflies, mealybugs, leafhoppers, and other soft-bodied bugs.
As you can see, ladybugs are incredibly effective at reducing and removing aphid populations (among other pests such as mites). Even though aphids reproduce quickly, a small number of ladybugs will be more than enough to help curb their population.
Simply open the package and release ladybugs into your garden. The best time to do so is at dusk—when the weather is cooler. The ladybugs will stick around, finding and eating the aphids. For best results, release them near or on your affected plants.
As with most beneficial bugs and pollinators, ladybugs will stay around longer if you have a diverse garden, especially if you have flowering plants.
To help boost beneficial insect populations, such as ladybugs, avoid using pesticides and consider planting flowering plants such as fruit tree companion plants.
Aside from ladybugs, there are a few more aphid predators that will help reduce their population:
There are many beneficial insects that graze on aphids, and in most years, these natural enemies do a fair job of keeping aphid populations in check. Beneficial insects include lady beetles, lacewings, syrphid flies, and parasitic wasps that sting and lay eggs in aphids.Michael R. Bush, Washington State University
As with neem oil, you can find ladybugs at many nurseries and garden supply stores. If you’d prefer to order them online, you can also buy ladybugs easily off of Amazon.
If you’d like more information about using ladybugs in your garden, make sure to check out this post by The Bug Lady!
While spraying the aphids off with a jet of water was enough to get rid of them on my potted Kaffir lime tree, you can combine all three of these solutions for maximum results!
Can Fruit Trees Recover From Aphids?
Fruit trees can recover from aphids if you catch them in time and apply a proper solution. If aphids are allowed to multiply on fruit trees for a month or more, they can cause enough damage to stunt or kill the tree. For best results, check your fruit tree’s leaves for any signs of aphids such as curling or dots.
While a small number of aphids won’t harm the fruit tree, they can multiply quickly and overwhelm it, especially if it’s a younger tree. For best results, check your fruit trees every 1-2 weeks for any signs of aphids.
Unlike some other fruit tree pests, aphids are visible to the naked eye. If you get close enough to the leaves and see small moving dots underneath them, it’s most likely aphids.
In general, it’s a best practice to inspect your fruit trees every 1-2 weeks. Not only will this mean catching aphids early on, but by checking the tree’s water, sunlight, and issues such as yellow leaves, you can increase the chance your fruit tree will stay healthy and thriving.
However, if your fruit tree does get aphids, it’s typically not too big of a deal and it can be treated rather quickly using the above methods.