If you’ve ever brought milkweed into your gardens to help support the Monarch population, chances are, you’ve had to put up with aphids. These tiny, soft-bodies insects converge under the leaves of milkweed, line up the stems, and make your milkweed look like a super highway crammed with yellow taxi cabs. Aphids pierce the plant’s veins and suck out its life-giving juices. They’ll secret sticky honeydew that coats the leaves of your milkweed, robbing the leaves of their ability to absorb essential nutrient
See what we mean by “super highway”? Aphids clone themselves at an alarmingly rapid pace, which is why early detection is crucial to rid yourselves of these little suckers!
So what’s a Monarch butterfly lover to do when faced with these persistent pests that love to attack milkweed? It’s never advised to spray milkweed with any type of insecticide, even insecticidal soap can harm any stage of the butterflies life cycle. We think there are really two choices for pest control when it comes to treating milkweed for aphids: manual removal, and letting nature take its course.
A blast of water from the hose can knock the aphids loose and clean the honeydew layer off the leaves. Doing this once a week in the morning can do wonders for keeping aphids at bay and is most effective when aphid infestations are caught early (be sure to hit the underside of leaves). A blast of water is our #1 tip in the 4 Ways to Remove Pests Without Pesticides blog and we recommend this as a first attempt at pest control for other plants and pest issues too. However, although Monarch eggs are fairly securely attached, that hard blast of water could dislodge any Monarch eggs or larvae that are hidden on the bottoms of your leaves too! Thoroughly inspect your milkweed, rescue any eggs or caterpillars, and move them onto an uninfected plant, or to a protected location, like a netted butterfly pavilion.
A blast of water removes aphids from milkweed but watch out for teeny, tiny, Monarch eggs attached under the leaves.
If you can relax a bit and let nature take its course, just about the time the milkweed starts blooming, and your milkweed looks overrun with aphids, beneficial insects like ladybugs, lacewing and their larvae show up to go to work. These beneficial insects have voracious appetites and aphids are one of their favorite meals. Ladybugs, Lacewings, and their larvae can clean up a milkweed plant overnight. You can hope for them to arrive, or employ some of our tactics to attract beneficial insects to your garden to better arm yourself in the battle of Aphids VS. Milkweed. *A note about ladybugs and lacewing larvae. They are beneficial insects and great destroyers of aphids, but during their feeding frenzy, Monarch eggs can get eaten too. Observe and inspect your milkweed often so you can rescue the eggs and baby caterpillars from any possible harm.
(What Lies Beneath!) Those aphids don’t know what they have coming for them. Lacewing eggs hanging and ready to hatch and larvae lies in wait under the leaves. Buh-Bye Aphids!
So what’s the bottom line here? Catch your aphids early and you won’t have to stress out as much, and….don’t stress out so much! Nature has a way of fixing things if we move out of its way a little. Keep planting milkweed, so you don’t miss out on the Monarch butterflies coming to your gardens, and don’t freak out too much about the aphids. As a matter of fact, if you see aphids on the milkweed at the nurseries, rejoice! It’s a sign of a pesticide-free plant! We NEVER treat our milkweed at Rainbow Gardens so when you purchase from us, your Monarch butterflies have a safe host plant to lay their eggs, a safe food source for their larvae to munch on and grow, and a safe nectar source for adult Monarchs to load up on much-needed fuel.
~The Happy Gardener