How to Get Rid of Wooly Aphids: Easy & Effective Tips

Woolly aphids are small insects that can infest various trees and shrubs, causing damage and sometimes spreading diseases.

These pests are covered with a distinctive fluffy white wax, making them easy to spot on affected plants.

To maintain your garden’s health and appearance, it’s important to address woolly aphid infestations promptly and effectively.

How to Get Rid of Wooly Aphids
Woolly Aphid

There are several strategies for controlling woolly aphids that minimize the use of harsh chemicals, promoting environmental health while keeping these insects at bay.

By practicing Integrated Pest Management (I.P.M.), you can combine multiple control methods for the most effective results.

Some examples of woolly aphid control include avoiding over-fertilization, manual removal, and introducing natural predators such as ladybugs or lacewings.

In the following sections, we will explore these and other strategies in more detail, helping you choose the best approach for your garden.

Identifying Woolly Aphids

Appearance

  • Length: about 0.12 inches
  • Body shape: Pear-shaped
  • Outer covering: White, fluffy, waxy coating
  • Body color: Purplish
  • Winged: Yes

Types of Aphids

Woolly aphids belong to the subfamily Eriosomatinae. There are several species of woolly aphids, including:

  • Woolly apple aphid (Eriosoma lanigerum): Also known as the American blight, this aphid targets apple trees and causes damage to their roots, branches, and twigs 1.
  • Woolly alder aphid (Eriosoma americanum): Affecting alder trees, elm trees, and sometimes maple trees 2.
  • Prociphilus tessellatus: This aphid is often found on maple trees 3.

Some natural predators, such as lacewings, help control these aphids in the environment.

Signs of Infestation

To identify a woolly aphid infestation, look out for the following signs:

  • Fluffy white wax: Woolly aphids produce a white, wax-like substance, giving them a wool-like appearance 4.
  • Clustered colonies: These aphids tend to gather in colonies, often found near the base of new shoots or on branch terminals 5.

Recognizing these characteristics is crucial to addressing the problem and implementing control measures.

Woolly Aphid

Causes and Effects of Woolly Aphids

Preferred Host Plants

Woolly aphids are sap-sucking insects that infest various host plants. Examples of their preferred host plants are:

  • apple and crabapple trees
  • alder
  • elm
  • maple trees
  • hackberry
  • pyracantha
  • hawthorn
  • cotoneaster

Damage to Plants

Woolly aphids can cause significant damage to plants, affecting both their appearance and overall health. Some common effects of their feeding habits include:

  • poor plant growth
  • twisted and curled leaves
  • branch dieback

These aphids have feeding habits that involve extracting sap from plant roots, leaves, and branches.

This results in the appearance of galls, cankers, and sticky residues on the affected plants.

Additionally, the honeydew they produce attracts sooty mold, leading to blackened foliage.

Relationship with Ants

Woolly aphids have a unique symbiotic relationship with ants. Ants protect woolly aphid colonies from predators like lacewings and parasitic wasps.

In return, the ants benefit from feeding on the aphids’ honeydew secretion.

Citronella Ants tend Root Aphids

Comparison Table: Woolly Aphids vs. Mealybugs

FeatureWoolly AphidsMealybugs
AppearanceFluffy white wax coveringWhite, powdery wax
Feeding HabitSap-sucking from roots, branches, and leavesMainly feed on plant sap from leaves, stems, and fruit
Relationship with AntsSymbiotic, ants protect aphids in exchange for honeydewSome species have mutualistic relationships with ants
Plant DamageGalls, cankers, sticky residue, sooty mold, poor growthStunted growth, leaf drop, sooty mold, damaged fruit and flowers

How to Get Rid of Wooly Aphids: Natural Control Methods

Introducing Beneficial Insects

One effective way to combat woolly aphids is by introducing beneficial insects that prey on them. Some natural predators of woolly aphids include:

These insects help control the aphid population and maintain your garden’s health.

Companion Planting

Companion planting is another natural method for woolly aphid control.

By planting certain plants near each other, you can deter aphids and encourage their predators. For example, mustard is known for repelling aphids.

Consider planting the following plants to attract beneficial insects:

  • Fennel
  • Dill
  • Marigolds
  • Yarrow

Manual Removal Techniques

Finally, use manual removal techniques to get rid of woolly aphids. One option is to spray plants with water to dislodge aphids.

Another option is using soapy water, with a 2% soap solution (2 teaspoons of dish soap in 1 pint of water), to kill the aphids without harming your plants.

Remember that prevention is key to controlling aphids.

By introducing beneficial insects, practicing companion planting, and using manual removal techniques, you can maintain your garden’s health and keep woolly aphids at bay.

Chemical Control Methods

Insecticidal Soaps

Insecticidal soaps are an effective and eco-friendly way to manage woolly aphids. These soaps, made from natural ingredients, kill aphids by breaking down their outer protective layer.

A popular homemade solution involves mixing 2% soap solution: 2 teaspoons of dish soap in 1 pint of water. Here are some pros and cons:

Pros:

  • Environmentally friendly
  • Easy to make and apply
  • Safe for beneficial insects

Cons:

  • Requires direct contact with aphids
  • Might need multiple applications

Neem Oil

Using neem oil is another less toxic method to combat woolly aphids. It is a natural extract from neem tree seeds and acts as a repellent and insecticide.

Apply neem oil on affected plants, making sure to cover the entire plant surface. Pros and cons include:

Pros:

  • Natural and eco-friendly
  • Works against multiple pests
  • Has additional benefits for plants

Cons:

  • Requires repeated applications
  • Should not be used during hot weather

Synthetic Insecticides

Synthetic insecticides, like acephate, are stronger chemical options for controlling woolly aphids. These chemicals work by targeting the pests’ nervous systems, leading to their death.

Apply synthetic insecticides according to the manufacturer’s recommendations. Here are some advantages and disadvantages:

Pros:

  • Fast-acting and powerful
  • Effective against various insects

Cons:

  • Potentially harmful to beneficial insects
  • Can pose environmental risks
MethodEco-friendlyApplication EaseEffectivenessReapplication Needed?
Insecticidal SoapYesEasyModerateYes
Neem OilYesModerateModerateYes
SyntheticNoModerateHighDepends

By considering the eco-friendliness, application ease, and effectiveness, you can decide on the best method to control woolly aphids in your garden.

Synthetics provide a powerful solution but come with risks, whereas insecticidal soaps and neem oil take a gentler, more environmentally conscious approach.

Preventive Measures and Maintenance

Proper Pruning

Proper and selective pruning is essential for maintaining garden plants and trees.

Remove dead branches to improve airflow and reduce hiding spots for pests. For example:

  • Cut off infested twigs and remove unhealthy bark
  • Prune dense foliage to promote light penetration
  • Dispose of pruned debris to eliminate sources of infestation

Keeping Plants Healthy

A healthy plant can better resist and recover from infestations. To maintain plant health:

  • Avoid over-fertilizing, as succulent growth attracts aphids
  • Use slow-release or organic fertilizers
  • Apply water with a garden hose to remove aphids from leaves and buds

Monitoring for Infestations

Regularly check your plants for signs of woolly aphid infestations. Key indicators include:

  • Presence of waxy coating, immature aphids, or other garden pests on leaves and branches
  • Deformed or distorted growth
  • Honeydew or sooty mold on foliage

Pros and Cons of Preventive Measures

MethodProsCons
Proper PruningReduces hiding spots and improves airflowMay cause stress to plants if done improperly
Keeping Plants HealthyEnhances resistance to infestationsMay attract other pests if over-fertilized
Monitoring InfestationsAllows for early detection and controlRequires regular inspection and time investment

Tips for garden maintenance:

  • Prune selectively to promote healthy plant growth
  • Monitor for signs of infestations
  • Maintain plant health through balanced fertilization and pest control

Conclusion

In conclusion, woolly aphids are pests that suck the sap of plants and secrete honeydew and wax. They can cause stunted growth, curled leaves, galls, and sooty mold on plants.

They can be controlled by spraying them with water, soap, oil, or vinegar, or by introducing beneficial insects like ladybugs, lacewings, or parasitic wasps.

Chemical pesticides can also be used, but they may harm the environment and beneficial insects. Woolly aphids can be prevented by keeping plants healthy, removing infested parts, and avoiding over-fertilizing.

Woolly aphids are annoying and harmful insects that can be managed with proper care and treatment.

Footnotes

  1. https://extension.umd.edu/resource/woolly-aphids-trees 
  2. https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/managing-woolly-apple-aphid 
  3. https://ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/PESTNOTES/pn74111.html 
  4. https://entomology.ca.uky.edu/ef219 
  5. https://agsci.oregonstate.edu/nurspest/aphids/wooly-ash-aphid 

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about wooly aphids. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – Wooly Aphids

“Angelflies”
Dear What’s That Bug,
Thanks a bunch! For the past three days, I’ve been obsessing– even losing sleep– over a mystery insect that seems to have flourished this year. I’ve known about them for the majority of my life, but always by the name angelflies.

Being a zoologically obsessed fifteen year-old, I realized though I knew their name, I knew nothing else. I quickly asked my lover, Google, more. Absolutely nothing useful popped up for the entry “Angelfly”. This puzzled me.

Why has Google failed me? So, then I asked my mistress, Jeeves (Jeeves can be a mistress if I want him to be). He also could come up with nothing. I then went to Wikipedia… again. Nothing. So, now angry at the world I viciously attacked the line of “X”s on the top, right hand corner of my screen and stomped off to bed.

I then sulked around the house all day, quite distraught on the lack of knowledge I had on such a seemingly basic creature. Today, we went on a walk. As we walked I saw one flit by, as if the wind was the choice medium of steering.

I gently cupped my hands around it and then tormented the simple minded creature for the sake of observation. I noticed that the white-furred little pixie had four wings… evidently not really a fly.

As I paid more attention to everything under the fur, I saw that it had dark, blue-gray skin. Sort of like ash. But what startled me the most was that it looked a lot like an aphid. Bingo! As soon as I got back home, I pounced on your site and searched under the only section I seemed to miss on my hunt amongst your site… the aphids.

The entry that caught my eye was that of the wooly aphids, sent by Ryan. I then went back to Google and did an image search and got a very spiffy photo of a “Wooly Apple Aphid”.

An exact match to what has plagued my dreams for so long! Well… three days… but let’s not split hairs. So, again, thanks for your help in clearing my thoughts!

These are truly beautiful little bugs… with maybe not quite as delicate of a name as I’m accustomed to (leave it to West Virginian’s to screw up a perfectly good Google search query!).
Thanks a bunch,
Justin Caruthers

Hi Justin,
What a fabulous letter. Sadly, as it is without an image, we have placed it on our Fanmail 2 page. We hope you are planning to go to college as a wit like yours would be wasted in a factory or Walmart. Let us know if you ever need a letter of recommendation.

Letter 2 – Wooly Aphids

Fuzzy White Bugs
Hello. I love your site! l found this amazing collection of insects on a tree branch in Massachussetts, and was hoping you could help me out!
It was August, if that helps! Thanks!
Ryan Bradley
Animator

Hi Ryan,
Nice photo of Wooly Aphids.

Letter 3 – Wooly Aphids


Could you please identify this bug? Is it harmful to the vegetation in my yard? I live in coastal North Carolina. Thank you
Don Scott
Jacksonville NC

Hi Don,
Looks like you have an infestation of Wooly Aphids. You did not provide us with information on the host plant, but it appears it might be an apple tree, in which case the Wooly Apple Aphid, Eriosoma lanigerum, is most likely your species. They are harmful. There is a webpage with additional information.

Letter 4 – Wooly Aphid and Two Lined Plant Hopper nymph

2 strange bugs
Hi Bugman,
I have been trying to identify these for quite some times. I took the pictures in Northern VA. This one is really tiny. You can see that it was sitting on the tip of my finger. This looks like some kind of treehopper but what’s up with the fuzzy feather on the back? Thanks a bunch and I love your website. Especially the Carnage page. I keep telling my friends to not kill wasps, robber fly and assassin bugs 🙂
Michael

Wooly AphidTwo lined Plant Hopper


Hi Michael,
Both of your insects are Homopterans. One is a Wooly Aphid and the other is the nymph of the Two Striped Plant Hopper, Acanalonia bivittata. We found a match on Bugguide.

Letter 5 – Woolly Aphid, probably

an insect I’ve seen no where else
Location:  roughly 47 degrees N & 116 W
October 6, 2010 6:46 pm
I live in north Idaho in the pan handle near spokane washington. There is a flying insect that comes around at the end of the summer & early autumn I’ve never seen anywhere else & can’t seem to find it in anything online.

So its a very small gnat sized insect, with very large wings compared to its body, which is a bluish/grayish almost striped in color. It also has a white fuzzy rear end that makes it appear as though its cotton from the trees flying around.

I didn’t have a camera good enough to take such close pictures of this insect the 1 I will send isn’t good enough to identify I’m sure.
Signature:  Please send me an email back

Woolly Aphid, presumably

Dear Please send me an email back
Seriously, there is no way we can identify anything from your photo, but from your description, we can guess that perhaps you are seeing Woolly Aphids. 

Here is a nice image on BugGuide for comparison.  BugGuide classifies them in the subfamily Eriosomatinae.  Your photo gave us a good laugh this morning, but at least your verbal description contained helpful information. 

Our readership might be surprised at the number of people who provide us with blurry photos of what appears to be dust, and then hysterically demand to know “What is this?”

Well the link you sent of the picture is exactly what the insect is. I thank you for your help & time & will return to you anytime I need to find info out about insects & other creatures. I’m glad you got a laugh from the photo I knew no one would be able to differ what it could be as I said camera isn’t very good.
Deamien

Authors

    by
  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

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