What do you do when you see damaging insects such as aphids sucking on your plants?

Do you reach for the nearest bottle of insecticide? Pluck them off or spray them with a hose?  

Believe it or not, sometimes the best thing is to do nothing.  I learned this lesson long ago before I went to school to become a horticulturist.

I remembered this important lesson when I passed by a severely pruned oleander shrub on my way to our weekly bagel lunch after church.  

The oleanders were growing back nicely.  However, there was some yellow aphids on the young leaves.

Years ago, my oleander shrubs had an infestation of yellow aphids like this, and I was anxious to get rid of them.

I had several methods at my disposal – insecticidal soap, a strong jet of water or my fingers – all of which, would help get rid of most of the aphids.  But, life got in the way, and I didn’t have a chance to get out to treat my shrubs until about ten days later.  

Can you guess what I found?  Not a single aphid.  I didn’t have to do a thing, and the aphids were gone, and my shrubs look great.

So, what happened to the aphids?

When harmful insect pests first appear, it can take a week or two before their natural predators follow.  In the case of aphids, lacewing and ladybugs showed up and ate the aphids.  

Plants are tougher than we give them credit for and can handle a certain amount of insect pests without any adverse effects to the plant itself.  

So, when I come back in a couple of weeks to the same bagel shop, I expect to see no aphids in sight and a healthy oleander shrub.
Noelle Johnson, aka, 'AZ Plant Lady' is a horticulturist, certified arborist, and landscape consultant who helps people learn how to create, grow, and maintain beautiful desert gardens that thrive in a hot, dry climate. She does this through her consulting services, her online class Desert Gardening 101, and her monthly membership club, Through the Garden Gate. As she likes to tell desert-dwellers, "Gardening in the desert isn't hard, but it is different."

5 replies
  1. RobinL
    RobinL says:

    I generally do nothing about the aphids, but boy do they like to eat up my milkweed! Their natural predators don't seem to do anything about this particular batch. It's very frustrating.

  2. jeansgarden
    jeansgarden says:

    This is such an important lesson. The way I looked at insects on my plants was totally changed by reading Doug Tallamy's Bringing Nature Home, particularly his analysis of the importance of insects in the lives of birds. Now I don't panic when I see aphids or caterpillars in my garden; the plants will usually survive, and the insects will be important food for birds. -Jean


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