Roses are beautiful, but that beauty comes at a price. Many insects are attracted to roses, although it’s unlikely the pests spend much time admiring the flowers. Rather, insect pests are looking for a meal, a place to spend the night, and a breeding ground for their next generation. Your prized rose bushes offer them a perfect spot to carry out all of these activities. One pest you are almost guaranteed to see each year is the aphid.
If you grow roses, you are familiar with these extremely common pests. Aphids are very small, usually less than 1/8 inch in size, and most often are light green, though black, tan, orange or red also occur in some varieties. Aphids generally show up at the same time as your rose’s new growth in the spring. You will usually find aphids in clusters on new leaves, buds or the upper portion of canes. The extremely tiny, black eggs of the aphid are hard to spot, but overwinter on the bush, giving the newly hatched insects quick access to new growth in the spring.
Aphids suck juices out of the tender new growth, and besides being unsightly, can cause curling, stunting or blackening of new foliage. As if this isn’t bad enough, aphids secret a sticky liquid called honeydew that attracts ants. In fact, ants will often tend aphids like little cows, “milking” them for the honeydew, protecting them, and even taking them back to the anthill to serve as a food source. Honeydew also can become moldy, smearing black fuzz across the rose leaves and buds.
The good news is an aphid infestation is generally self-limiting; dying down once hot weather arrives. While you wait, you can frequently remove aphids with a strong blast from the hose. Because aphids reproduce so quickly, you will need to hose them off at least every other day.
A soapy water spray also kills aphids, but requires reapplication each week. Use very gentle liquid dish soap, not one that boasts about its grease cutting abilities or antibacterial action. Mix two or three teaspoons of liquid dish soap with a quart of water in a spray bottle. Spray the rose foliage thoroughly, being sure to wet the leaves from above and underneath. Don’t go overboard with soap spray, as it is possible to burn the foliage. You can add a quarter cup of vegetable oil if you’d like to make the spray more effective.
Aphids have several natural predators, and encouraging these into your garden is one of the best ways to battle the pests. The best known is the ladybug. Ladybugs love eating aphids, in fact, one ladybug can devour 5,000 aphids during its lifetime. You can buy a container of ladybugs at the nursery, but they are likely to fly off if they don’t find your garden to their liking. Planting flowers that ladybugs are naturally drawn to is likelier to keep them in the yard, and once they discover the tasty aphids on your roses, they’ll be hooked.
Plant a few of the following near your roses:
- Sweet alyssum
Another predator that loves a good meal of aphids is the larvae of the green lacewing. These hungry babies look somewhat like tiny torpedoes with legs, and during their few weeks of infancy can eat as many as 200 aphids each. Once transformed into their adult stage, lacewings feed only on pollen and nectar, but can be encouraged to lay eggs for future generations of pest-fighters by planting their preferred flowers near your roses. Try some of the following:
If you grow roses, you will need to deal with aphids at some point. Luckily, they are easily managed without the need for toxic chemicals and rarely cause extreme damage to your garden. Though aphids are a nuisance and can stunt the growth of your rose’s new foliage, with quick action you can head off the problem before it becomes severe.