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The Enemy in Your Orchard: A Guide to Dealing With Aphids on Apple Trees

There’s nothing worse than going to check your garden or orchard and finding pest-damaged plants. Pest control is an integral part of any orchard management, and aphids on apple trees can be a kiss of death for your harvest.

Aphids are small insects common in orchards. Finding aphids on apple trees can be difficult until there is a large infestation, which will weaken mature trees and kill younger trees. Luckily treatment for aphids on your apple trees can be straightforward and easily achieved with either store-bought or homemade solutions.

If you’ve had problems with aphids in the past, or you’re not sure if they’re what’s wreaking havoc on your tree, keep reading! We’ll go over all you need to know about aphids on apple trees.

Closeup of aphids on new growth on an apple tree. Aphids on apple trees are just one pest battle to fight.
Aphids on new growth on an apple tree.

What are Aphids and How Do I Know I Have Them?

Aphids are small insects that feed on sap and are the most common orchard pest. The damage caused by aphids on apple trees can be identified by withering branches or twigs, halted tree development, or curled up leaves. If you see a curled-up leaf and open it, you’ll likely find a small swarm of these bugs.

Look for the Actual Aphids

Closeup of aphids on an apple tree leaf.
Aphids on an apple tree leaf.

Identifying aphids can be done by spotting two cornicles at the abdomen’s end. Because of their very small size, this may not be easy for most people, so looking for a swarm of gray bugs may be a good secondary identifier.

Look for Secondary Signs

Leaf curl on an apple tree caused by aphids.
Leaf curl caused by aphids.

Another way to spot aphids on apple trees is to look for ant infestations. Ants are attracted to the honeydew secretion from aphids, so following a trail of ants can lead you to an aphid infestation. You can also look for white exoskeletons stuck on leaves or sap, as aphids shed and leave their exoskeleton behind.

Look for Sooty Mold

Sooty mold, another sign of aphids.
Sooty mold.

Lastly, looking for a sooty mold can be a key identifier of an aphid infestation. Generally, if you have reached this stage, you have a significant presence of aphids on your apple trees. Luckily, with a mature tree, aphids generally won’t kill them, though they can cause significant damage.

Store-Bought Products for Dealing With Aphids

Treatment for aphids on apple trees can be very easy, but it’s important to first identify if your issue is pest related. Use our Apple Tree Care Guide to ensure that your issue isn’t related to other environmental factors such as soil.

There are many different store-bought products that can help you with aphid on apple trees. Many are broad-spectrum insecticides such as Fruit Tree Spray. These types of products will not only help with aphids but other apple tree pests you may have.

Person using a spray bottle to spray an apple tree.

With store-bought sprays, you want to use them in the morning when treating aphids on apple trees. The insects are dormant in the mornings and so treatment can be far more effective at killing off all of them.

You only want to apply store-bought sprays once a day, and not more than 10 times a season (though each spray does differ slightly, so check the instructions). When treating aphids on apple trees it’s important to check your trees between treatment sessions to ensure that you’re not over-treating.

As with any chemical compound bought in a store, you must be mindful of spraying around children and pets. There are so many health benefits to apples that you don’t want to offset them by coating your fruit in chemicals. Wash your apples thoroughly if you have treated with chemicals. Even if you sprayed weeks earlier, residual residue is always possible.

Home Remedies for Dealing With Aphids

If you prefer to go with a DIY approach to treating aphids on apple trees, there are a number of home remedies you can utilize. Most are inexpensive to make and use common household or grocery store items.

Soap and Water

The first home remedy to try is a mixture of water and soap. Using a small amount of soap mixed with water and sprayed on trees can eliminate aphids that have not fully swarmed. This method is the least harmful to your trees and easily created, though if the aphids on your apple trees have fully infested the plants this may not be enough to remove them.

Peppermint Oil, Soap, and Water

A bottle of peppermint oil and a sprig of fresh peppermint.

A more aggressive approach can be used if the soap mixture does not work. Using 2 teaspoons of peppermint oil mixed in with water and soap can create an effective spray that will deal with the hard shelled aphids. This spray is more aggressive than simple soap and water and can be more effective at eliminating the swarm.

With both the soap and peppermint mixtures, you want to apply them early in the morning using a standard spray bottle. Once you have done so, wait 2 hours and rinse off your trees. If you leave the mixture on for much longer than that, you can burn your trees.

Homemade Pepper Spray

Lastly, if the peppermint and soap mixtures do not work, you can use a next-level home remedy using peppers. Start by boiling water, mix in hot pepper such as cayenne or jalapeno, and let it simmer for 10 minutes. Strain the mixture to remove the large pepper chunks and spray this on your tree.

This mixture is much more aggressive and care needs to be taken when applying it. Wear safety goggles and face protection to ensure you do not breathe in the hot peppers. Apply this to your tree and rinse off after 30 minutes to prevent lasting damage.

Garlic and Onion Spray

Overhead view of a mixture of garlic and onion.

If you do not want to use hot peppers, an alternative is six cloves of garlic and a minced onion, though this is slightly less effective.

Applying Solutions to Your Trees

With either a store-bought or a homemade remedy, the application is key to success. When dealing with aphids on apple trees, you need to make sure you’re spraying the right locations so they will be impacted.

Many store-bought solutions come in spray bottles, but if it is not premixed, you’ll have to mix and then put the mixture in a bottle. Follow the instructions carefully to ensure you are mixing the solution correctly. Too many chemicals will do more harm than good.

Spraying an apple tree that has green fruit on it.

The same can be said for any home remedy. You want to ensure that your mixture is made correctly to prevent damaging your trees.

If you use a spray bottle you already have, make sure you wash it thoroughly. Use a garden sprayer to apply a nice even coat for best results, and ensure you have good control of where the solution ends up.

Spray anywhere you see aphids, including the branches and leaves. Try to avoid hitting roots or any open, broken branches. If spraying before you have apples, take care that you don’t get the solution in any open buds. If spraying after your apples have formed, wash them thoroughly before eating them.

The Best Defense is Prevention

While there are several easy methods for eradicating aphids on apple trees, the best defense is prevention.

Check Early and Often

Person treating apple trees in the spring.
Aphid treatment begins in the spring.

Monitoring your trees constantly is key to spotting early indications of an infestation.

Start checking your trees frequently in early spring, as this is the time when aphids start to show, but predators may not yet be prolific. At the first sign of aphids, you can utilize any of the methods listed above to prevent them from spreading and the problem worsening.

Invite Guests

Biodiversity can be a great natural way to prevent aphids on apple trees in the first place. Add plants that attract ladybugs and other aphid-killing insects like earwigs to your landscape. Inviting insects into your garden that feed on aphids will keep the aphid population under control.

Closeup of a ladybug on a daisy.
The ladybug is an aphid’s worst nightmare.

Biodiversity has long been seen as the best remedy for any garden as it encourages a natural and eco-friendly environment that also ensures your garden is healthy. Many other food-producing plants attract ladybugs, like cilantro, dill, and fennel, so you can diversify your food production while also preventing aphids on your apple trees.

Keep Trees Healthy

One of the most important ways to prevent aphids on apple trees is to keep your trees healthy. When first planting your apple trees, follow our Apple Tree Planting Guide to ensure you’re planting them in an area where they’ll thrive. If you start off with a bad site, you’re setting your tree up for failure.

Maintain healthy soil conditions and test your soil levels when possible. Your trees need a correct pH balance to thrive; a healthy tree will help prevent pests. Of course, ensuring adequate water and supplements for your soil are key to the tree’s health and the prevention of aphids on your apple trees.

Person using a garden hose on an apple tree.

FAQs About Aphids on Apple Trees

What is the best method for treating aphids?

If not through prevention, the best method for treating aphids on apple trees is to use either a store-bought solution or a strong hot pepper solution made at home. Both are effective at breaking down the hard shells of the pests.

What damage can aphids cause to my trees?

Aphids on apple trees can kill young trees. If they infest mature trees, they won’t kill the tree, but they can weaken it significantly. They can make leaves curl up, twigs and branches wither, and attract other pests.

Treating Aphids in Your Orchard

Closeup of the underside of an apple tree leaf with aphids on it.

Aphids on apple trees are the last thing that an orchard owner wants to see. The best way to prevent them is by inspecting trees frequently and keeping your trees healthy with good planning and management.

If you already have aphids, store-bought and homemade products can help you treat the problem. Keep in mind that both have their pros and cons, and both need to be prepared and applied safely. Ultimately, you should choose whatever remedy works best for you.

For more information about growing healthy and productive apple trees, visit the Apple Trees page on our website.