Of all the unwelcome visitors that gardeners receive, aphids are the ones that are the most common. These insects can decimate entire plants within days if left unchecked.
Fortunately, they are also among the most easily and successfully treated insect pests. They respond to a large number of natural, homemade remedies, which is a big sigh of relief for those of us growing our own produce.
We have put together a comprehensive list of the best methods out there to treat not only basil plants but virtually all plants affected by aphids.
It is important to keep in mind, however, that anything you put on your plants should be spot-tested on one or two leaves before dousing the whole plant. This applies to both store-bought and homemade products.
How To Identify Aphids
Aphids are usually easy to identify, and so is the damage they do. Aphids appear as small, football-shaped bugs, usually around 1/16 to ⅛ inch long. Their color can vary between white, red, orange, green, or black. They attack plants by sucking and feeding on sap, which ultimately destroys cells and causes the affected area to die off.
Aphid damage can seem to appear out of nowhere, and before you know it, an entire plant has succumbed to these pesky little critters. Tell-tale signs of aphid presence are raised bumps or patches of translucent, gray, or brown areas on leaves, which appear very thin.
How To Rule Out Other Causes of Damage
If you suspect a plant has been attacked by aphids, check for their presence on the underside of leaves and on stalks. Because aphids will continue to feed on a plant until it dies, you can be almost certain to find these guys.
You can also hold a clean, white sheet of paper beneath a plant, and gently shake the plant. A few of these bugs will fall off, and you will be able to recognize them immediately.
How To Get Rid of Aphids on Basil – 10 Easy Solutions
There are several different approaches to dealing with aphids, and it seems that every gardener has their own opinion on the best solution. What you have to keep in mind is that these methods are all tackling the problem in a different way, so therefore, we can’t quite compare one to the other.
Thankfully, we have taken the time to take a closer look at the most common methods and explained their function and application so that you can decide what’s best for you.
1. Remove by Hand
This is the old-school method of declaring war on these harmful pests, and it may be the fastest and most cost-effective way of managing an aphid problem on a small scale in its early stages.
A great way to do this is by taking a piece of Scotch tape, turning it on itself and sticking the ends so that you are left with a ring of sticky-side-up tape. Place this on your finger, and then run your way over the plant stem and the underside of leaves, collecting all aphids you see.
2. Blast With Spray of Water
A quick, hard-hitting spray from a hose can be a great front-line treatment for an aphid presence. It is important not to use an excessive water jet as the delicate stems and leaves on basil can easily break from this force.
3. Neem Oil
Among the most well-known treatments for insect infestations, neem oil is both a pesticide and insecticide, meaning it can be used to kill adult aphids as well as overwintering eggs. Neem oil is regarded by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) as an accepted form of organic pesticide and therefore is safe to use on basil and all other edible herbs, fruits, and vegetables. I use and recommend this organic neem oil.
4. Insecticidal Soap
Insecticidal soap is the industrial version of homemade dish soap-and-water solutions, comprised of a more researched and measured formula of chemicals. These products have been designed specifically for insecticidal properties; however, they are not available at all garden centers.
These products generally don’t outperform their homemade rivals and are usually not organic certified either, meaning that potentially harmful chemicals may remain in your basil.
5. Homemade Insecticide
Homemade insecticides might refer to some of those we have mentioned in this article; however, they can be quite varied, and there are many gardeners who swear by their own recipes. It seems that most of these homemade insecticides have a few things in common.
First, they may rely on something to penetrate the insect’s exoskeleton and essentially poison them through their exterior. These include oils, soaps, and diatomite.
Others rely on toxins, like permethrin or essential oils. Then, there are recipes that call for aromatic ingredients like chili, essential oils, or garlic, which are irritants, but these are not unanimously accepted treatments.
6. Spray With Soapy Water
A method that goes back to small-scale home gardens of the 20th century, soapy water solutions can be very effective, immediate killers of aphids. Dilute 2 tablespoons of good quality, organic, biodegradable dish soap in about 2 gallons of water, mix, and fill a sprayer of your choice.
7. Horticultural Oil
Horticultural oil is a broad category of substances that are used as insecticides and pesticides. The downfall is that they are often derived from chemicals, like petroleum. This means that they are not organic certified and may leave harmful residue on fruits, vegetables, and herbs.
8. Permethrin Spray
Commonly used as an insect and mosquito repellant, permethrin is also used in agriculture for the treatment of insect infestations. A downfall to this is that it is lethal to beneficial pollinators like bees.
A valuable natural alternative to this chemical is pyrethrin, a naturally occurring insecticide found in chrysanthemum flowers. There are pre-mixed sprays available, but just make sure the spray has not been mixed with other chemicals and is certified organic.
You can also make it yourself by drying chrysanthemum flowers, pulverizing them, and mixing them into water at a ratio of 1 tablespoon to a quarter gallon of water.
9. Attract Natural Predators
One of the best ways to avoid aphids in the first place is to ensure that there is good biodiversity in the garden. This means companion planting other flowers and herbs close to your basil and providing shelter for beneficial predators with insect hotels (find them here).
You could even try setting up your own zero-maintenance fish pond! Our favorite thing about this method is that it makes gardens more productive, more interesting, and more beautiful.
10. Diatomaceous Earth
Diatomaceous earth, or diatomite, is a naturally occurring mineral that kills aphids by, essentially, drying them out on contact — gruesome! While this can be an effective and fast-acting pesticide, there are some major drawbacks.
Diatomite will kill almost all insects it contacts, and if not used carefully, it can remove many of the bugs that healthy gardens need to thrive. This product is also high in silica, which can pose serious health risks to humans if used repeatedly.
11. Baking Soda, Neem Oil & Dish Soap
Last but certainly not least, this multi-purpose spray is incredibly effective at controlling aphids and a whole host of other insect pests. All the ingredients are 100% natural and work in unison to kill aphids quickly. The mixture is as follows:
- ¼ gallon of water
- 2 teaspoons of sodium bicarbonate (baking soda)
- 1 teaspoon of neem oil (can be substituted with vegetable or olive oil)
- ½ teaspoon of eco-friendly dishwashing soap
Mix these ingredients thoroughly, and apply to stems, undersides of leaves, and any other areas where you see aphids.
How To Prevent Aphids on Basil
Keeping your basil in prime health is the best way to prevent an aphid problem. To do this, provide basil with plenty of sun, which means six or more hours a day. Also ensure the soil is never waterlogged or dries out and provide a balanced fertilizer as per product instructions.
Can You Eat Basil With Aphids?
As with most bugs, aphids are totally fine to consume. Whether you do or don’t mind eating a few bugs, you should always wash your basil before consumption to clean off any dirt or possible pollution.
Will Vinegar Kill Aphids on Basil?
There are many people who report vinegar to be a good pesticide; however, there is no evidence that vinegar does indeed kill aphids, and there is an excellent chance that the vinegar will damage or kill your basil.
They say that prevention is better than the cure, and this is absolutely true for plant health. Aphids and other insects are usually found to attack plants that are already suffering stress or are not as healthy as they should be.
This may stem from a lack of sunlight, too much or too little water, an absence of companion plants, a nutrient deficiency soil, an incorrect potting mix for container plants, or inadequate grow room. If, however, you do find aphids, don’t panic — they are easily treated, and most plants can be saved.