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Bugs in your bush

When the neighbor notices, it's time for action

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In college, during wilder and looser times, a "friend" told me a tale about his current sleeping partner. She had called him up and casually mentioned that she had crabs. Being wilder and looser times, she wasn't sure if he was the giver or givee, but whatever the case, he probably shared her experience. Hey, it was college. At least it wasn't a more permanent affliction.

Dejavu in 2005.

Last week my neighbor and I were talking on my front steps and she casually looks at a tree branch hanging over my porch. She scrunched her face up and told me, "You've got aphids."

How embarrassing. Gardening shame overwhelmed me. Sure enough, the leaves were curled inward and the whitish coating all over the branches was-upon closer inspection-moving and made up of a mass of small insects. Inspecting another tree in the backyard that had yet to push its leaves out, I discovered the aphid problem again, only worse. They were so numerous on this particular tree it was sucking the life right out of it. Sticky dew coated the ground under the tree and when the neighbor returned to my yard and told me her bush had aphids too, I knew I needed to take action.

Every gardener has had to deal with aphids at one time or another. They are the scourge of the plant world and one of the most common pests in any garden. Aphids form colonies and love feeding on new shoots, twigs and branches. They cause leaves to curl and become deformed and once this happens, it becomes difficult to treat them because the curled leaves create safe areas inside. They are plant vampires, sucking the juice and life out of plants. Some of the little bastards even sprout wings, allowing them to move around the neighborhood. They have a high reproductive rate and some females can even give birth to nymphs without mating.

I hate them. I hate them. I hate them.

But no matter how extensive your problem, options are available. While most people prefer not to use chemicals, sometimes it is the easiest option. Insecticides such as acephate malathion, diazinon, permethrin, or chlorpyrifos will kill aphids, but they also kill the aphid's natural enemies and can potentially contribute to the problem. Choose an insecticide that may have a lower impact on the environment. Insecticidal soap is an option but for large areas, it can be difficult to apply. In my yard, there are aphids at the very top of my trees, so even a spray might not reach up there.

Although it may be a little late to treat the aphids using imidacloprid, known commercially as Merit, it will eventually treat the entire tree. This liquid control is applied in late winter to the base of a tree trunk and is transported to the leaves, where it makes the tree taste bad for the aphids. The only thing is, the aphids will probably go find something else to eat. It also moves up the tree about a foot per day, so by the time it reaches the top, it will be mid-summer and the tree might already be dead.

High pressure spray from a garden hose is a good option on smaller plants. Blowing them away with H2O can work, but again, you're just moving them around. Some aphids will make their way to other plants.

Another method is a trap. Aphids are attracted to the color yellow and you can make yellow sticky traps. Put petroleum jelly on yellow index cards and place them around areas with aphids. Also try yellow pan traps with soapy water. Some gardeners recommend the Soviet retreat method-in other words, if a plant is completely infested, destroy it. If you can't enjoy it, then no one else should either.

In my case, I believe in the natural cycle. If something dies ... well, it wasn't tough enough to live anyway. I chose to go with nature's fury, albeit with a little assistance. I bought $60 worth of ladybugs and praying mantis eggs. A single ladybug will eat 80 aphids a day, so I figure if I've got a million aphids on my tree, that will feed my ladies most of the summer. They scrambled up the trunks of the trees and began their feast. I was entertained for hours and giggled as I watched each little aphid's life being sucked out. Revenge is sweet, ya' little bastards. You can also treat aphids with parasitic wasps, an even more enjoyable form of aphid torture. The wasps lay eggs inside the aphid and when they hatch, the cute little babies eat the aphid from the inside out. While you can buy ladybugs (I got mine at Zamzow's), you can also plant marigolds, which will attract beneficial insects. Whatever you use, just kill the buggers.

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