How do you control aphid attacks on a rose bush? Here’s the scene!
It’s springtime and after a long weekend, coffee in hand you visit your heirloom rose bush collection. All your eyes see are the flower buds of your beautiful roses covered with aphids, including the Knock Out roses.
It is not in a small area or in small numbers but overnight it appears the entire aphid population attacked your rose garden.
You know if this aphid infestation is not dealt with, these sap-sucking pests, feasting on the plant juice of new growth, flower buds and rose stems will soon become:
- Distorted and crippled flowers
- Leaves and stems get covered with sooty mold as the aphids excrete a sweet sticky substance called honeydew all over even the undersides of leaves.
- A plant that attracts ants which protect and farm aphids
- Gnarled and curled leaves
- An entire rose bush plant with less vigor
The first questions many new to battling aphid attacks on roses are:
- Where do you start in the control of rose aphids?
- What chemical or natural sprays will get rid of the aphids on my roses?
- What natural enemies will eat aphids lunching on the rose bushes?
Before you grab the aphid killing sprayer, let’s take a moment for some aphid education.
First, aphids gather in colonies.
What Species Of Aphids Attack Roses?
First, there are various species of aphids (100’s) which attack all kinds of plants.
- Oleander Aphids
- Apple Aphid
- Green Peach Aphid
However, there are a couple of aphid species which fancy rose bushes.
The two “rose aphid” insects are the:
- Macrosiphum rosae (Rose aphid)
- Macrosiphum euphorbiae (Potato aphid)
When Do Aphids Come Out And When Do You Start Spraying For Aphids?
Here’s a “Master Gardener” tip: Nature gives aphids a “feeding” head start every spring.
When temperatures start to reach 50° degrees Fahrenheit, aphids “come out” and begin to hatch.
The warm spring weather arrives and new growth begins to emerge, the plant juices start flowing, the live young begin feeding, and the aphid population starts to increase reaching their peak in early summer.
This allows aphid populations a solid 10 to 14 days to become established before the beneficial “bugs” can begin their work.
Don’t wait until the garden is full of pests. During this 10 to 14 day period apply sprays to keep the aphid pests in check and keep the aphid colony from growing too large.
Holding the aphids in check until the predators get going, helps maintain an even balance.
This reduces the need for spraying. Plus, the aphid sprays will not wipe out the aphids or harm beneficial insects.
Where Do You Start The Control Of Aphids On Roses?
Many home gardeners start their aphid control by pulling out the garden hose and hit the new colony of young aphids feeding on the new growth with a strong spray of water.
While this home remedy of blasting the aphid colony with water works for starters on many types of plants, we don’t recommend that approach with roses.
When these conditions come together: Water + Moisture + Rose Leaves all come together they add up to Powdery Mildew or Black Spot.
Instead of getting the entire plant wet, why not opt for one of the natural spray solutions.
What Chemical Or Natural Sprays Can Yo Use On Rose Aphids?
Both chemical and natural spray options will work in controlling aphids.
However, we always want to exhaust all the options to reduce and control aphids populations on roses organically before pulling out synthetic chemicals like Malathion, Acephate (Orethene), Merit® 75W and others.
Natural Spray Remedies To Get Rid Of Aphids include:
- Insecticidal soap solution
- Liquid Dish Soap Spray
- Neem Oil
- Horticultural Oils
- Rubbing alcohol
This insect killing soap is not a hand-washing dish soap or detergent.
A true soap like “Castile soap” contains fatty acids. These acid dissolve or remove the cell membranes and the natural waxy protective coatings of soft-bodied insects causing death from dehydration and excess water loss.
These insect soaps can be a home remedy or purchased ready-made. Here’s our recipe for insecticidal soap or buy the Safer soap band.
Liquid Soap Solution Spray
This aphid spray is a simple homemade solution fine for use on small outbreaks.
Two ingredients are all that is required:
- Dish soap – like pure liquid castile soap, without any additives (like chemicals, moisturizer or fragrance)
Follow these steps:
- Use a sprayer or small clean spray bottle
- In one quart of water mix in 1 tablespoon of soap. For a one-gallon spray solution add 4 to 5 tablespoons to a gallon of water.
- Mix thoroughly and use immediately.
For best results, evenly coat infected plants including the underside of leaves. The insects need to come in contact with the soap-spray to be effective.
Neem oil is one of our favorite natural pest control options for aphids, scale insects, spider mites, mealybugs and a host of other garden pests.
The oil has a low toxicity for animals and humans along with being a powerful deterrent to unwanted insects.
Neem oil is a useful natural insecticide against soft-bodied pests, but it also interferes with the feeding activities of larger, tougher pests such as beetles.
Though this article is focused on controlling aphids or rose bushes, Japanese beetles and other pest attack roses as well.
In general, use horticultural oils as your last option for controlling aphids.
Oil sprays use to be heavy. Today, these horticultural oils are refined and “lightweight.”
Most of these oils are safe for use on many plants throughout the growing season as new colonies of pests appear.
The oil is applied, dries up and is non-toxic to plants, but very effective in pest control.
The phrase “dormant spray” refers to the timing of when to use the oil and not the type of oil utilized.
Always follow the application directions on the insecticide label.
Look for products with these “labeled terms”:
- Dormant oil spray
- Volck oil
- Dormant spray
- All seasons spray oil
- Summer oil
For more read our article: What Is Horticultural Oil And How To Use It In The Garden
A cotton swab and 70% rubbing alcohol has long been a home remedy for controlling aphids.
Take a cotton ball swab dipped in rubbing alcohol, and dab it directly on the aphids to kill them.
To make a rubbing alcohol pest spray mix 1/4 cup of alcohol with 1 cup of water.
Place the solution in a small, clean spray bottle and spray the aphids on infected plants.
NOTE: Beware that the leaves on some plants may burn. To treat roses apply on cloudy days.
WARNING: Can You Make A Homemade Spray To Get Rid Of Aphids With Vinegar? Yes! But Don’t
If you search the web you’ll find the “recommendation” of mixing vinegar and water in a spray bottle to kill aphids.
The mixture will kill the aphids on contact but will also do some damage to your roses and other plants sprayed.
If you want to kill weeds use the vinegar spray but NOT on your roses.
What Natural Predator Insects Will Kill or Eat Aphids Attacking My Roses?
Many people when they hear the word “bug” assume all bugs or pests are bad. Not True!
There are lots of many good bugs (beneficials) waiting for the opportunity to rid your garden of “bugs” and lunch on some aphids.
Timing is important when using “natural enemies” if the food source is not available they will leave and hunt elsewhere or die for lack of food.
A few natural predators for controlling aphids include:
- Ladybugs or Lady beetles
- Green Lacewings
- Parasitic Wasps
Ladybugs or Lady beetles
The cute little-spotted lady beetles (ladybug) are voracious aphid predators and the best-known enemy of aphids.
Both larvae and adults actively prowl the garden during the day hunting for soft-bodied “true bugs.”
Once spotted, the cute ladybug uses its powerful jaws to grasp and consume their prey.
In fact, egg-laying adults can gobble up two hundred aphids per day.
The green lacewing earned the name “aphid lions” because of their aggressive voracious appetite.
After hatching, the lacewing larvae begin searching for garden pests to consume with a favorite delicacy – aphids.
These “eating machines”, are constantly hunting for the next meal.
If they encounter a slow-moving, soft-bodied insect or their eggs – they will eat it.
Hoverflies larvae often are found in the midst of an aphid colony devouring their prey.
The larvae love soft-bodied pests like thrips, aphids and plant scale. Hoverflies are also excellent pollinators.
The hoverfly takes second place to the lady beetle or ladybug with their capability of wiping out large numbers of aphids.
Parasitic wasps may be tiny but are important natural control agents.
These wasps, live a portion of their lives inside other insects as parasites. They vary in color and size but are usually black or brown and small to medium in size.
In general, parasitic wasps do not sting and provide natural biological control of other insects.
The wasp lays their eggs inside the bodies of aphids using their ovipositor, a pointed egg-laying structure.
The young parasite eggs hatch and begin feeding on the contents of their “host,” killing it.
Two parasitic wasps common in the garden are:
- Aphidius colemani (Braconid wasp)
- Ichneumon Wasp
Pest management is the key to insect control for aphids on your roses and other plants in the garden.
- Learning when aphids feed
- Knowing your control options
- Understanding when sprays are the most effective without killing off the good bugs.
You have many options available for keeping aphids on your roses under control. It’s learning to use the tools and maintain the balance.