Aphids attack the leaves of plants: but do aphids live in the soil as well? We answer this question in the blog below.
There are upwards of 4,000 aphid species on earth. While most aphids attack the leaves of plants, there are a few that may be buried deep under the ground, extracting sap directly from the root.
In this blog, let us talk about these aphids that live in the soil, which plants they infest, how to control them, and more.
Can Aphids Live in Soil?
Yes, certain species of aphids (called root aphids), such as lettuce root aphids and wooly apple aphids, can comfortably live in the soil. These aphids can also multiply in the soil.
Most of the time, aphid populations under the soil can go unnoticed because they don’t attack the leaves, and their impact is not immediately visible. In this way, they do more damage to the host plants.
What are Root Aphids?
The common species of aphids that live under the soil are known as Root aphids (Rhopalosiphum Fufiabdominale). Unlike aphids found on the surface, root aphids have a different lifecycle. Here are a few important things to know about identifying these destructive pests.
How Are Root Aphids Different?
The first thing is their difference in color. These aphids are white or yellowish and found under or above the soil. Most root aphids have shorter antennas and legs. They use these to latch onto the roots of the plants.
Other aphid infestations appear as black spots on the underside of leaves and stems. But for root aphids, you have to look for a white, waxy substance near the root of the plants instead.
Varieties of Root Aphids
You can find a few different types of root aphids in your garden. Root aphids belong to the Phylloxera family and vary in a few types.
- Lettuce Root Aphids: These aphids mainly infest the roots of lettuce plants, along with the roots of chicory and endive crops. These are some of the common aphids that overwinter as eggs.
- Auricula Root Aphids: Auricula root aphids are common in potted indoor plants and primulas, especially the auricula primulas. They are brownish or yellowish and surround the roots of plants, leaving a mealy substance on the roots. These aphids can also be found in new seedlings.
- Wooly Apple Aphids: These are white, wool, or lint-like creatures that attack the roots of apple trees.
- Grape Phylloxera: Technically, these are not aphids, but we are mentioning them here since they are very similar. These insects live on the roots of vine plants like Vitis vinifera grapes, affecting vineyards all over the world. They are microscopic pale yellow insects and act on both roots and leaves, extracting the plant sap from them.
What Damage Do Root Aphids Cause?
Plants infested with root aphids appear withered and turn yellow. They start to get curled leaves and show other signs of nutrient deficiencies.
Infected plants experience stunted growth since the root aphids extract the main nutrients from the plant, and the crop will come out looking weak.
With root aphid infestations, plants are likely to suffer from early root rot, mildew, and other plant diseases if not taken care of.
While root aphids normally attack perennial plants and crops, they also infect smaller potted plants. These plants experience more damage and are harder to save in case of an infestation.
Root Aphid Control
There are a few things you can do as part of root aphid control:
- Yellow Sticky Traps: Aphids are attracted to the color yellow. These traps are covered in a sticky substance and can attract these bugs and trap them. When the aphids land on the trap, they are unable to move, and you can easily remove them from your plantation or garden.
- Beneficial Nematodes: These microscopic, soil-dwelling beneficial insects work effectively against various garden pests, including root aphids. They attack by finding and entering an insect pest through natural body orifices and then release bacteria that quickly kill the host.
- Root Cleaner: Root cleaners are specialty products designed to remove aphids and other pests from your plant roots without harming your plants.
- Garden Essentials: Some insecticides like Garden Essentials are effective in root aphid controls that help clear roots with regular spraying.
- AzaMax (Azadirachtin): AzaMax can be a good deterrent against minor root infestations and stops them from feeding on the roots of plants.
- BotaniGard ES: BotaniGard can be a useful biological insecticide that works on fungal infestations and help control root aphids.
Can Aphid Infested Soil Be Reused?
In most cases, aphid-infested soil can be used as compost. Make sure that there is no sooty mold in the soil. Moreover, it is usually possible to reuse the soil for planting again in a few days.
Reusing the soil you have removed from an aphid-infested plant is the best way to use it. Root aphids don’t live beyond a month. Moreover, when you remove the plant, its main source of food is gone, and any aphids still in the soil won’t live for much longer.
If you doubt that aphids are still present in the soil, one way is to spray insecticide on it regularly. Once you have replanted a healthy plant in the soil, you can keep treating the soil regularly to prevent re-infestation.
You can also use natural oils and normal soap-water sprays to treat the aphid-infested soil before planting it again.
Fish Emulsion Spray
If you want to go the extra mile to use aphid-infested soil, using fish emulsion can be a good idea. Fish emulsion is a good organic fertilizer that has nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.
Fish emulsion fertilizer will remove any remaining aphids and also improve the quality of the soil for replantation.
Where Do Root Aphid Eggs Overwinter?
No, root aphid eggs do not overwinter in the soil. Female aphids lay their eggs on the undersides of leaves and stem near the root of the plant, where they overwinter. Once the eggs hatch, the aphids fall to the ground and infest the roots.
Aphids can even reproduce asexually during the growing season. After they drop to the ground, they start extracting sap from the roots, and as the root sap dries up, they keep moving up towards the stem.
Once the entire plant is nearly dry of sap, they move to another plant. Some root aphids can even develop wings. These winged aphids then fly out to seek out new plants. They reproduce during the fall and, sometimes, are herded around by ants to new plant locations.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do I get rid of aphids in my soil?
A strong spray of insecticidal soap directly on the roots can help control root aphids. Most aphids in the soil stay on the surface or just below.
They can easily be dislodged with water or insecticide sprayed directly on them. Organic horticulture oils are also helpful. With repeated use, they can remove these pests from the soil.
What do aphids in soil look like?
Root aphids in the soil are white, brown, or yellow in color. Unlike plant aphids, root aphids usually have shorter antennae. You can distinguish these aphids from plant aphids by their color and size.
How do I remove aphids in my soil organically?
There are a few biological controls for soil aphids, such as beneficial insects, including ladybugs and beetles.
These insects are natural predators of aphids and can clear out an aphid colony very quickly. You can also use garlic spray and banana peels to deter these bugs from infesting your plant roots.
How do you tell the difference between root aphids and soil mites?
There are a few key ways to tell the difference between the two common pests. For one, root aphids are typically much larger than soil mites.
They also tend to be more brightly colored, often with distinctive patterns on their bodies. Root aphids also typically have longer antennae than soil mites.
Root aphids are as stubborn as plant aphids and equally difficult to control. These aphids live under the surface and slowly suck out the essential nutrients from your plants.
There are three or four main types of root aphids, such as lettuce aphids and wooly apple aphids. You can control root aphids using beneficial insects, insecticides, and home solutions like banana peels in the soil.
Over the years, our readers have sent us several emails on this topic. Please go through them below.
Letter 1 – Woolly Aphid
Fluffy little gnats
Location: Foristell, MO
July 10, 2011 1:09 am
These fuzzy little guys come flying around my house near St. Louis, Missouri in early June each year. Their wings look like some sort of fly, but they’re as small as a gnat. They look like little pieces of cotton fluff floating through the air until they change direction. I haven’t had any luck finding them on your site. Can you tell me what they are? ps – absolutely love your site!
Signature: Kathy Spalinger
We haven’t posted a recent photo of a Woolly Aphid in some time. Woolly Aphids are in the subfamily Eriosomatinae and according to BugGuide: “Nearly all members of this subfamily alternate between host plants, generally with a woody primary host (on which overwintering eggs are laid, and on which some species induce galls) and an herbaceous secondary host.”
Wow, thanks for the superfast response. I never even thought of looking under aphids – they have such big wings. Glad to know what they are. They seem to love landing on our basil plants, but I never see them eating anything, so I wasn’t too concerned. Cute little bugs.
Keep up the great work! I show the site to people all the time, because I just love the beautiful, fascinating photos from all over the world.
Letter 2 – Woolly Aphid
Subject: Unique bug
Location: City park of Iron Mountain Michigan
October 23, 2015 9:19 pm
I was at the park with my son, a tiny little bug landed on me. I have never seen this type before, I tried to find out what it is but am having no luck. I am hoping this site will help me find my answer. It’s getting to the end of fall.
Your insect is a Woolly Aphid in the subfamily Eriosomatinae, and you can compare your image to this image on BugGuide. According to BugGuide: “Nearly all members of this subfamily alternate between host plants, generally with a woody primary host (on which overwintering eggs are laid, and on which some species induce galls) and an herbaceous secondary host.”
Letter 3 – Woolly Aphid
Subject: What is this
Location: overland park, kansas
June 27, 2016 2:08 pm
I saw this speck of fluff the outer day, blowing around. Realized it wasn’t fluff, but a flying creature. Can you identify it?
Signature: Ellen Zipf
Many folks liken the appearance of Woolly Aphids to Angels or Fairies.
Letter 4 – Woolly Aphid
Subject: tiny blue and black bug
Location: Burlington, KY 41005
November 23, 2016 11:32 am
This little guy landed on me outside earlier today. I’m in northern Kentucky, Burlington to be exact. It’s a chilly day out, temps are in the low 50’s and it was drizzling earlier. I can’t seem to find a bug similar to this on the Web, and am curious to know what it is.
As you can see by comparing your image to this BugGuide image, your insect is a Woolly Aphid in the family Eriosomatinae, but since many Woolly Aphids look quite similar, we cannot provide you with a genus nor species.