David Auston Heritage rose and buds with aphids

Whether you are the proud owner of a single rose bush in a pot, or you have an extensive rose garden, you’ve most likely come across aphids. If they are kept unchecked, these tiny pests can multiply quickly and cause havoc with your rose bushes. Keep you roses – and other plants – happy and healthy with these natural ways to control aphids, without using chemical sprays.

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rose bud with aphids with text "7 natural ways to control aphids on roses"

What Are Aphids?

Aphids are tiny insects with soft bodies that feed by sucking on sap from leaves and plants. They are often green, but come in many other colours as well, from yellow or red to black. You can tell aphids apart from other bugs as they have antennae and two small ‘cornicles’ or tails at the back. Aphids are only about 2-4mm long, so you may not notice them at first. Usually aphids are noticeable once they multiply to large numbers, or you notice changes to your plants. This could be wilting leaves or rose buds, change in leaf colour, or a plant that just isn’t thriving. Aphids also leave behind a sticky ‘honeydew’, which can cause mould on your plants.

rose buds with heavy infestation of aphids
Aphids on rose buds

Why Use Natural Aphid Control Methods?

Aphids are a really common garden pest, and they are especially fond of roses. If you don’t treat aphids, they cam multiple and cause a lot of damage to your plants and your beautiful rose blooms.

Despite the damage they can do, you should think carefully before reaching for a chemical spray for aphids. If you use an insecticide, you might end up killing the good insects that help keep your tree healthy. Ladybugs (lady birds), predatory wasps, lacewings and praying mantis are all natural predators of aphids, and other pests, so you want to keep these unharmed. Bees and other pollinators need to be protected too.

Toxic insect sprays can also end up in soil and waterways, and aren’t great for you to breathe in whilst spraying either.

Here are some of our favourite natural ways to keep aphids under control in your garden, without resorting to insect sprays. These natural ways to control aphids can be used on more than just your roses. If aphids are munching on your other ornamental plants, or even you vegetables, make sure to give these methods a try.

Just Use Water

Removing aphids with water spray is an easy and effective method. Just use your hose to direct a stream of water at the aphids to dislodge them from your roses. This interrupts their sap sucking ways and gives your plants a chance to recover. Ideally, use a hose with an adjustable spray nozzle so you can concentrate the spray directly at the aphids. This method works especially well for roses, which can usually tolerate quite a strong stream of water. If you are trying to remove aphids from more delicate plants, you’ll need to adjust the water strength according so you don’t cause any damage to the plants.

For best results, don’t just rely on a one and done spray with the hose. You’ll need to repeat this method over a few days to make sure all the aphids have been removed (and haven’t come back).

Spraying roses with water to remove aphids
Spraying roses with water to remove aphids

Hand Removal

If you are dealing with delicate new growth or buds, or water isn’t doing the trick, you can also remove aphids from your roses by hand. You’ll also need to remove any eggs. For physical removal of aphids, I wear gardening gloves and wipe the affected buds and leaves with a damp cloth, washing it in a bucket of soapy water between wipes. If a leaf is very infested, you might decide to remove it all together.

Manually removing the aphids is very effective, but can of course be very time consuming if you have a lots of plants. It’s also easy to miss some aphids or their eggs, so you need to keep a close eye on your roses and repeat as needed.

Beneficial Insects

Remember all those beneficial insects we mentioned earlier? Ladybugs, small predatory wasps, lacewings and even large insects like praying mantis love to eat aphids. If you have these insects in your garden, they will do a great job of keeping any aphids on your roses under control. We are lucky to have many ladybugs in our garden. They tend to find somewhere to hibernate inside over winter, so when spring comes I carefully relocate them outside to my roses to protect the new growth and buds.

If you don’t have many of these friendly insects in your garden, you can actually buy them too!

Ladybug (ladybird) on rose bud with aphids
Ladybug (ladybird) at work eating aphids on a rosebud

Non-toxic Soap Spray

For a step up from water, you can spray your roses with a homemade spray made from simple ingredients you have at home. Simply mix together:

  • half a cup of vegetable oil;
  • half a Tablespoon of dishwashing liquid detergent; and
  • 5 litres of water.

For a small tree, fill up a spray bottle and soak the leaves and buds of your rose bush. Spray the underside of the leaves too. Spray once a week while the aphids are still present. This homemade soap spray won’t kill aphids, but will deter them from making your roses their home. (It’s also a great spray to use for pests like whiteflies and citrus leafminer.)

gloved hands spraying roses with spray bottle of soap spray to manage aphids
Spraying rose bush with homemade soap spray

Horticultural Oils

For very large numbers or hard to control aphids, you can choose to spray with neem oil. This natural pesticide is made from the seeds of the neem tree, Just be aware that while it is a natural pesticide, neem oil can affect beneficial insects too. Another mixture that can be effective is natural pyrethrum mixed with canola. Both of these are effective for aphids on roses, but I wouldn’t use them on pants that you are going to eat.

If you use an oil, make sure to spray your citrus trees in the early morning to minimise harm to beneficial insects. Don’t spray when the weather is too hot, windy or when it’s going to rain.

Disclaimer: These notes about spraying are for general information only. If you have any questions about whether a product is suitable for your needs, speak to your local garden centre or contact the manufacturer. Please also make sure to read and carefully follow any instructions on the labels of citrus pest sprays.

Companion Plants

Some people say that planting the right companion plants can keep aphids at bay. Marigolds are a popular choice with organic gardeners wanting to repel insects, especially for vegetable gardens. There’s a commonly held belief that the smell of marigolds can repel insects. I am yet to be convinced that this works particularly well (and I’ve had aphids feast on my marigolds too).

Red rose in flower surrounded by orange marigolds
Roses and marigolds planted together

I find that the main benefit of choosing the right companion plants is in attracting pollinators and beneficial insects that roses need to thrive. And when it comes to companion planting, it’s also important to make sure you leave enough space around your roses and don’t overcrowd. This leaves plenty of room for air to circulate, helping prevent disease like black spot and powdery mildew, and also providing less places for aphids to hide.

Prevention

Which brings me to tip number 7. You can also help protect your roses and other pants from aphid attack by keeping them healthy. Weak or unhealthy roses are more prone to attack from pests. So look after your roses well by fertilising and watering regularly, and pruning as required. Aphids are less likely to become a serious problem if your plants are in tip top shape to start with.

More Tips For Healthy Plants

We love growing things, from indoor plants to patio pots, herb gardens or large green spaces. If you’re an indoor green thumb, check our our posts on caring for indoor plants while you’re on vacation. Or if growing your own food is more your style, read how to easily grow rosemary from a cutting. For some truly green gardening inspiration, you’ll love this collection of 16 green flowers to grow.

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