Happy May! The lovely spring weather has been absolutely perfect this year with 'April showers bring May flowers' as our motto. The cool mornings with the nice slow warm-up throughout the day has been the gardeners dream!
Unfortunately the cloudy days have been the impetus for rapid aphid reproduction... bright daylight tends to impede it. Aphids are known throughout the world as perhaps the single most destructive pest known to both farmers and gardeners alike. They arrive in the spring and with the damp and favorable conditions this year they seem to be in great abundance, making their presence known throughout all of central and western Oklahoma.
Known as plant lice, greenflies, or blackflies they are small sap-sucking insects who will literally suck the life out of plants. A little known species of the aphid family is the white or wooly fly, that tiny dab of white thread-like fluff that jumps when you jiggle the plant they are resting upon. Fossils indicate that Aphids have been present for 280 million years and today there are approximately 4,000 aphid species found throughout the world. These monsters can migrate great distances by riding on winds looking for a fresh food source... one of our lettuce aphids arrived on the wind from Australia.
As with most invasive garden pests, aphids are extremely adaptable to ever-changing conditions. In fact if a host plant becomes ill or conditions become overly crowded, some aphids are able to spontaneously sprout wings to fly to a new food source. They have specialized mouth parts that enable them to stick a straw-like mouth piece into a plant stem and begin sucking the protein from it, therefore making it ill. They secrete a chemical that allows for free flowing fluid from the plant while exuding droplets of a quick-hardening fluid that surrounds their body with a shell for protection.
During feeding Aphids also produce a fluid called 'honeydew' which is a sticky goo which may be found on any surface where aphids have resided. An unusual side effect of this substance is that when it hardens it turns black creating a sooty mold fungus... roses are the most frequent victims.
This honeydew is a food source for several species of ants who actually 'farm' the aphids, causing them to produce honeydew by a process of 'milking' by a stroke of their antennae. These ants manage thousands of aphids which are called herds and to assure survival of their food source, the ants gather aphid eggs and protectively store them for the winter. In the spring, the ants carry the newly hatched aphids back to the plants to settle in and once again become their grocery store. (*Sarcastic note: 'Thanks ants'.)
Heavy aphid infestations will cause leaves to curl, wilt or yellow with stunted plant growth and aphids can actually cause a plant to die a slow death of dehydration, since liquids have either been drained or compromised. Aphids are simply not allowed in the garden as they provide nothing but destruction... unless you are an ant.
Therefore they must be exterminated and instead of spraying a pesticide which will kill beneficial bees, butterflies, Praying Mantis, beetles and everything else, purchase a flat of lady bugs. Each Ladybug will eat over 75 aphids a day and are able to discover them in their secret hiding places... plus discovering ladybugs in the garden is a delight every child as well as those of us who still retain childish joys!Photo: Just released Lady bugs here on May Day... they are getting to work!
*They may be ordered online for as little as $12 for 1,200 voracious ladybugs... get some this week.