The Grumpy Gardener – Soft-Soaping the Aphids: The Weight on Today’s Gardener




The Grumpy Gardener – June

Hints & Tips With Mike Alexander

In his regular column for French News Online, professional gardener Mike Alexander suggests that any failure to soft-soap the aphids on your plants this month leaves you open to a charge of throwing the earth off its axis.

Aphids on a rosebush (Credit Wikipedia)

Aphids on a rosebush (Credit Wikipedia)

 

I suspect that gardeners have been plagued by aphids ever since gardening first began. For many gardeners in France, June and July are the months when their gardens look at their best and this is also the time when aphids are most prolific.

Prolific in aphid terms can be quite astronomical. Aphids are parthenogenetic which means that the female aphid can give birth without ever encountering a male aphid. Not only that, but the speed and regularity with which they reproduce can be mind boggling.

When studying horticulture I was taught that if all the progeny from a single aphid were to survive and breed for a year their combined body weight would be enough to throw the earth out of its orbit.

While I’m not sure quite how accurate this analogy is, even if it is only approximately close to the truth, the weight of responsibility it casts on us gardeners is extraordinary. With the help of only a few ladybirds, finches and hoverflies, the entire earth’s rotation rests on our shoulders. Were it not for the sedative effects of red wine I am sure I would lie awake at night petrified by such an awesome mission.

Fortunately the Atlas-like aphid is quite a fragile creature that, despite its rapid breeding capacity, is easily dispatched.

Years ago the accepted response to aphids was to spray them with chemicals. The effect was guaranteed and instantaneous but I am pleased to be able to record that most gardeners now recognize that this quick fix solution is not necessarily the best one over the long term.

For many years now I have avoided using insecticides altogether and whilst I am not a die-hard greenie (contrary to the opinions of some readers of this column) the problems I have encountered with aphids have not been difficult to beat.

My decision to reduce chemical use was made years ago when the decline in bee numbers began to be better publicized. More and more evidence is pointing to colony collapse disorder as being chemical related despite the best efforts of the large pesticide manufacturers to muddy the waters over this touchy toxic subject.

Group of Aphids (Credit: Sanjay Acharya, Wikipedia)

Group of Aphids (Credit: Sanjay Acharya, Wikipedia)

My weapon of choice in the war against aphids is savon noir, that multi-purpose olive-oil based soap that was first introduced by the Romans.

Providing you catch them early enough, aphids can be kept at bay with a soapy spray fired from a squeegee bottle and though I find savon noir to be the best, most soapy liquids work well enough.

The secret to non-chemical aphid control is regularity of treatment. When sprayed with soapy water, many of the aphids will be washed away. The residue of soap may briefly discourage repeat attacks, but not for long.

Savon noir - olive oil soap (Credit flickr Trevor Huxham)

Savon noir – olive oil soap (Credit flickr Trevor Huxham)

So vulnerable plants, particularly roses, need to be checked regularly and sprayed as soon as there is any sign of an aphid presence.Undoubtedly this takes time but as one does it more often one develops a knack for knowing where the aphids are most likely to be found and in the case of roses this will invariably be on the newest growth.

A quick blast on the infested areas as I do my habitual circuit of the garden in the morning is all it takes to keep these pests under control providing I have been diligent in keeping on top of them and their numbers have not been allowed to get out of hand.

The regular surveillance hopefully means I automatically spot other pests or signs of disease. In many ways observation is as important to gardening as the response is to the problems encountered.
blue31 The Grumpy Gardener – The Rose Of Japan

triangle down21 The Grumpy Gardener – The Rose Of Japan

blue31 The Grumpy Gardener – The Rose Of Japan

Previously – click an image below
wisteria alba 1501 The Grumpy Gardener – The Rose Of Japan
honey bee 1501 The Grumpy Gardener – The Rose Of Japan
Prune for Results
A World Without Bees?
apple tree fruit 1501 The Grumpy Gardener – The Rose Of Japan
prize winning rose 01 The Grumpy Gardener – The Rose Of Japan
Fruit Tree Pruning
Wars of the Roses
forsythia 1501 The Grumpy Gardener – The Rose Of Japan
cistus salvifolius 1501 The Grumpy Gardener – The Rose Of Japan
Prune When Finished
Herald of Spring…
cherries tree 01 The Grumpy Gardener – The Rose Of Japan
lavandula angustifolia 01 The Grumpy Gardener – The Rose Of Japan
You’ve got to be quick!
Un-thirsty Lavender
nettles 01 The Grumpy Gardener – The Rose Of Japan
star jasmine 01 The Grumpy Gardener – The Rose Of Japan
Grasp the Nettle
Star Jasmine – Madrid
stachys byzantina 01 The Grumpy Gardener – The Rose Of Japan
autumn arrives 01 The Grumpy Gardener – The Rose Of Japan
Jihad – on Bunnies Ears
Autumn Arrives
wellies 01 The Grumpy Gardener – The Rose Of Japan
newton gravity 01 The Grumpy Gardener – The Rose Of Japan
Designer Chic?
Gravity – not to be ignored!
snowdrops 01 The Grumpy Gardener – The Rose Of Japan
habenero 01 The Grumpy Gardener – The Rose Of Japan
If Winter Comes….
Hottest chilli in the world
daffodils 01 The Grumpy Gardener – The Rose Of Japan
irises 01 The Grumpy Gardener – The Rose Of Japan
Dog Days…
Fleur de Lys
marqueyssac hedges 01 The Grumpy Gardener – The Rose Of Japan
To read a previous article
– click an image –
Hedge Your Bets
www.french-news-online.com

blue111 The Grumpy Gardener – The Rose Of Japan

Grumpy Gardener

Our Grumpy Gardener has been gardening professionally in France for more years than he cares to remember and before that in Africa and the UK. Today he happily shares his expertise with French News Online readers. Your gardening questions are welcome and while they may not be individually answered, they may form the basis of future monthly columns.

Writer: Mike Alexander
mike@mikealexander.fr
Follow Mike on Twitter 

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9 Responses to The Grumpy Gardener – Soft-Soaping the Aphids: The Weight on Today’s Gardener

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  2. Susan Walter June 10, 2014 at 6:36 am

    I really hate to sound like an apologist for the biocide industry, but the scientific evidence is genuinely not linking CCD with biocides as the main cause (although they probably don’t help, even in sub-lethal doses). Actually we still don’t know what is causing CCD, although the evidence we have is suggesting it is a combination of Nosema fungal disease and Varroa mites. CCD has existed for far longer than most people realise, maybe even back into the 19thC, so it predates many synthetic biocides and certainly predates neonics. The latest (Harvard based!) study of honey bees and neonics is deeply flawed and no credible bee researcher is endorsing it. I belong to a specialist entomological mailing list based at Guelph Uni in Canada, where there is a very highly regarded bee research unit, and I get regular updates on research from all over the world by independent scientists. Unfortunately the general public gets their information from ‘science journalists’ who don’t understand the complexities of bee research nor the nuances of science writing. I am not advocating wholesale use of biocides, just trying to unskew the message many people have received about bees.

    • admin June 10, 2014 at 6:41 am

      Many thanks for the clarification. The health of bee colonies is of grave concern to many so all contributions to the debate on what to do are most welcome.

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