Succulents are drought-resistant plants with vibrant colors and unique shapes. Some varieties grow to just a few inches tall, while some can reach as high as 12 feet or more. However, while they are easy to care for, they can be plagued with bugs and pests such as aphids. These sneaky pests blend with the color of most plants which makes them hard to spot.
Aphids on Succulents: What are they?
Aphids are small insects that belong to the family Aphidoidea. They are also called greenflies and blackflies. Some are fluffy white, although certain species may vary in color. These soft-bodied pests use their piercing, sucking mouthparts to feed on the sap of succulents and other plants. Their colonies are often found on the undersides of leaves; heavily-infested plants turn yellow, become wilted, and fall off.
These insects inject their saliva into plants, causing the leaves and flowers to pucker or become extremely distorted. They also produce a sugary liquid waste called honeydew.
Sooty mold fungus can grow on honeydew deposits that accumulate on leaves, turning them black. The presence of this mold in succulents is an early indication that aphids are lurking in the plants. The honeydew deposits attract ants that feed on sweet materials. Aside from mold, these pests may also be vectors for certain viruses.
The Life Cycle of Aphids on Succulents
Winged adults deposit their eggs on succulent leaves before they fly off to other plants and lay eggs again. These pests usually attack entire gardens with this tactic. The eggs will then hatch and start to feed on the leaves. They may stay on the same plants for a few lifecycles before the winged adults lay eggs again.
The ants are the aphids’ partners in crime since they are known to herd and protect aphids on the plants in exchange for the honeydew deposits. They have chemicals that are said to keep the aphids calm and techniques to get the honeydew. The ants, or ant farmers, act as protectors of the aphids and are known to fight off other insects that attempt to eat the latter. Interestingly, ants will keep the aphids on the same plant and prevent them from leaving by biting off their wings.
How can I get rid of aphids on succulents?
These are some ways to get rid of aphids on succulents:
By spraying or rinsing aphids off with a strong jet of water
Aphids usually cannot withstand hot temperatures and die on their own. You can also spray or rinse them off your plants with a strong jet of water. This is often enough to eradicate these pests, although they may eventually come back or transfer to other plants.
By pruning off affected plant areas
You can also get rid of these pests by pruning or cutting off affected stems and leaves. Remove and burn them to avoid other plants from being infected.
By spraying the pests with a soap and water mixture
You can also get rid of aphids by spraying them with a dish soap and water solution. Some plant owners recommend Castile since it contains vegetable oil or animal fat that smothers and kills the pests. Simply grate three teaspoonfuls of Castile and mix it with warm water. Spray the plants directly and repeat daily until you cannot see any more of the pests.
By getting rid of the ant farmers
You cannot successfully eradicate aphids if the ant farmers are still lurking. Destroy the anthills by pouring boiling water on them. You can also plant bright-colored flowers near the colonies or anthills to attract predators, or buy nematodes that like to feed on ants.
By planting companion plants alongside the succulents
Certain plants produce strong phytochemicals that deter aphids from approaching succulents, such as garlic and onions. Aphids dislike the sulfur scent. Certain herbs also emit scents that aphids hate. These include mint, cilantro, and oregano, which are also good for cooking. Plant the mint in pots and not directly into the ground.
Plants like feverfew lure aphids away from succulents. You may also place plants that attract aphid predators, such as ladybugs. These plants include marigolds, sunflowers, and Nasturtium. Aphids do not like the smell, but their predators are attracted to these plants because of the flowers.
By using essential oils
Essential oils like peppermint, thyme, and cloves are also effective in eradicating aphids. Simply add five to six drops of each of the oils, mix it with water, and spray it on the affected areas liberally. The pests dislike the scent and chemical reactions, so they should go away or eventually die.
By using Pyrethrum
Pyrethrum is a chemical and pesticide made from the chrysanthemum plant. It is effective in killing aphids and ants as well as other pests. Use this with extreme caution and do not allow pets or children to go near the area where you are spraying the chemical.
Aphids on succulents can be disgusting and life-threatening for the plants. Heavy infestations of these pests cause succulents to develop yellow spots, become wilted, and die. These insects are also known to be carriers of fungal diseases and viruses. Get rid of these harmful pests by using essential oils spray, a soap and water mixture, or chemicals like Pyrethrum. It is also helpful to kill the ant farmers by pouring boiling water on the anthills or attracting pest predators like ladybugs.
Image: istockphoto.com / Andy Nowack