Millions of Aphids on my lettuce

michelelcJune 11, 2010

ARG!! I have an infestation of aphids on my lettuce. I'm not talking a few, but the lettuce looked speckled at first, b/c of all the aphids. There are both red and green ones. It's been a fairly wet week here in MA and I had row covers on. I picked 3 heads, which are covered in aphids. I will toss them, I don't think any amount of soaking will get rid of them. I'm not fond of eating them. I have about 12 heads left, with this level of infestation, should I just pull them all up and get rid of them. This is my first year experiementing with row covers and I feel like maybe the row covers exaserbated the infestation, any opinions on that? Thanks!

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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

Why not just spray the lettuce? You can blast them off with water easily or you can use soapy water spray (1T dish soap in 1 gallon of water) not to mention that insecticides are available if you use them.

As to whether the row cover just made it worse or not, that will all depend on the weight of row cover material you used. The lightweight insect barrier poses no problems but heavier fabric could by blocking air circulation. Also aphids are quickly drawn to excess nitrogen so go easy on the fertilizers.


    Bookmark   June 11, 2010 at 6:39PM
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Yes, the row covers were the lightest weight insect barrier. I will try spraying the lettuce I didn't remove tomorrow. There are so many, I don't think the hose will get all of them.
Is there something that will prevent them from coming back? Last year I bought ladybugs and they seem to help.

    Bookmark   June 11, 2010 at 8:46PM
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Yes, the row covers were the lightest weight insect barrier. I will try spraying the lettuce I didn't remove tomorrow. There are so many, I don't think the hose will get all of them.
Is there something that will prevent them from coming back? Last year I bought ladybugs and they seem to help.

    Bookmark   June 11, 2010 at 9:16PM
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loribee2(CA 9)

I had the same thing happen to mine. After washing the lettuce 3 times in the sink, I still couldn't enjoy it. I analyzed every speck in my salad--I'm not one who can take the "aphids are protein" attitude. The thought of a tiny green sappy bug in my salad gives me the willies.

You can spray with neem oil solution. I did what Dave said, sprayed the aphids off then killed the rest with neem. I intend to spray with neem right from the start next time I plant. I've also heard you can make a solution of garlic spray (boiling garlic cloves in water then letting it steep in the fridge for a few days). That's preventative, but I haven't tried it.

Honestly, I'm still trying to get over the jeebes from my last batch. Am considering growing cut and come lettuce indoors under lights for that very reason.

    Bookmark   June 11, 2010 at 10:07PM
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Yes, I agree, it's hard to enjoy with the thought of bugs in your salad! Thanks for all the advice everyone. It's always hard when the first "hit" to your crop arrives. Thankfully I've enjoyed lots of arugula and spinach salads, already. I'll be in the garden with the hose bright and early tomorrow morning. After that, it's off to the nursery to buy some nasturtium and marigolds (I've read they will attract aphids away from other plants) and neem oil.

    Bookmark   June 11, 2010 at 10:47PM
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wiringman(ZONE 4)

in the green house we use diluted lemon joy soap. it gets rid of them and keeps them off. the soap will come off with water.

i don't eat aphids and the people that tell me that weavel in the wheat products are clean and ok to eat do not impress me.


    Bookmark   June 12, 2010 at 6:12PM
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emmers_m(9a/Sunset 7 N Cal)

I had the same situation last year - I grew a few lettuce plants under cover with my brussels sprouts, and they were infested beyond imagination with aphids. I'm not sure if it was the cover, or just that last year was unusually rainy, but it was intolerable.

I don't know if there are types of aphids that can be easily blasted off with a hose, or if that works for smaller populations, but it most emphatically did not work for my infestation. I ended up submerging the lettuce in a 5 gallon bucket with a constantly running hose, floating off thousands and thousands of aphids each moment, repeatedly plunging and swishing, and even after all of that I still had to bring them inside and scrub the leaves individually between my hands under running water.

Don't tell my SO, but I'm pretty sure I still missed some.

So I don't think I'm being a wimp about this or anything - it was an enormous waste of time and water to get the lettuce even marginally clean, and it did completely spoil our appetites.

For the moment, I've abandoned the thought of growing lettuce outdoors and am instead using my seedstarting setup to grow it inside. It definitely needs some fine-tuning, but I'm hopeful about the prospects.

Good luck,


    Bookmark   June 13, 2010 at 2:13PM
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Hi, Michele. I'm just north of you in NH, and I hear you. I'm beginning to get flash backs to last year - cold & rainy day after day.

OTOH, I have spectacular lettuce. I don't seem to have a problem with aphids. I do grow flowers in the veggie garden - mostly marigolds & nasturtiums, but this year I'm adding some others. That may be it, or it could be the enormous amount of ladybugs that come overwinter in my house. That many ladybugs coming in in the fall does get a little gross, no matter how much I like them. But I just tell myself I don't have extra protein on my veggies. (Yech!)

I never bought ladybugs - they just showed up. My approach has always been to attract the beneficials rather than import them. I've heard they often don't stay if you buy them - the local flora/fauna might not be enough to support them. But if you can attract them, just enough of them will move in. (Given how many ladybugs come in in the fall, there must be a heck of a lot of stuff for them to eat, then.)

Good luck with your lettuce!

    Bookmark   June 14, 2010 at 2:59AM
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I have heard in several places that soaking the lettuce in salted water works well to dislodge aphids (and maybe slugs too, probably those tiny ones I find but not the huge ones).

    Bookmark   June 14, 2010 at 2:08PM
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I saw there were millions of aphids on my lettuce and my husband mention he heard once to soak your lettuce in water with a little bit of vinegar to kill any bugs. I gave it a try and sure enough it got all the bugs! It took a little more time to clean, but was worth not losing all my lettuce. I inspected almost all the pieces and couldn't find a bug at all. It was easy and next time I probably wouldn't inspect it as much.

    Bookmark   March 7, 2011 at 11:22PM
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I had the same problem with Fava Beans. Three rows just covered in aphids. I sprayed them and sprayed them and nothing worked. They were holding on tight and would not budge. I will be planting my garden this week. So last week I moved a 55 gallon steal drum near the raised bed. I had a bag of old bills to burn and a box of matches and lighter fluid. I started a fire and pulled the plants one by one and put them in the barrel. I had trained them well. The aphids held on tight. I did not see even one fly away.

Thisisme the aphid killer of

    Bookmark   March 8, 2011 at 12:56AM
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I used to spray aphids on my rose with a diluted dish soap liquid. It seemed to work really well. I wonder if you can use all natural dish soap with vegetables. Obviously you need to wash it before you eat.

    Bookmark   March 8, 2011 at 6:22PM
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taz6122(N.W. AR.6b)

Use Neem oil. You'd think I'm affiliated with the product as much as I suggest it but it works is the reason for the suggestion. Spray in the evening after the sun is down. It kills aphids almost immediately but neem just like other oils can damage plants with direct sun exposure. Spraying in the evening will allow it to do it's job and get washed off by the morning dew so minimal if any damage will happen by the sun.

    Bookmark   March 8, 2011 at 7:06PM
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There you have it Michele. Lady bugs or trap crops if you want to tackle the problem at the source. I am fortunate enough that my home is off-white and a true magnet for them. They don't have to fly out very far in the spring, and I spend some time in April scraping them off the windows for release outside. Aphids show up (in minimal numbers) only after they turn in for the winter sometimes in late October. There are companies that will sell you ladybugs, and flowers and aphids are the only two things they really need to thrive.

But planting fava also is worth a try, specially if you plant cattle fava (a cover crop, sold under the name of Banner), which is inexpensive and comes up very early in the spring. You can plant the favas where the tomatoes are going to go, fertilize the soil, and cut them down when you plant the toms (or when they are covered in bugs). If fava fails for you, you can always eat the fava greens, they are very good.

    Bookmark   March 8, 2011 at 7:59PM
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You did not say what lettuce you grew with aphids.

I would suggest you try a Batavia lettuce. also keep the row cover off to allow the predatory bugs to eat the aphids. Batavia form a type of head. The bugs should not be inside the head.

Batavia is the best lettuce for growing & eating anyway. They stay tender longer and do not go to seed easily. They stay clean and do not pick up dirt from the garden like leaf lettuce. leaf lettuce is the worst to grow.

You also should try Jericho lettuce.

    Bookmark   March 8, 2011 at 8:32PM
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nancyjane_gardener(Zone 8ish North of San Francisco in the "real" wine country)

Emmers, I know brussel sprouts attract aphids like crazy!

    Bookmark   March 8, 2011 at 9:06PM
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flora_uk(SW UK 8/9)

Is it still raining, michelelc? If so I would take the row cover off and let the rain get at the lettuce. Or give them a good spray from the hose. I think the cover may be part of the problem. Aphids are weak flyers and generally depend on breezes and air currents to get about. Once they are under your row covers they do not get blown around and can just sit happily sucking at your lettuces. They are also protected from rain which would wash some of them away and weaken them. Plus predators can't get at them. Furthermore, aphid are both viviparous and parthenogenetic which means the female can produce live babies, rather than eggs, without any sexual activity. So, basically, even if only a few get under the covers, you have given them a nice protected environment with an unlimited food supply in which to produce millions of cossetted babies. I would make life a bit toughter for them by letting the weather get at 'em for a while.

    Bookmark   March 9, 2011 at 8:40AM
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taz6122(N.W. AR.6b)

Neem will also break their life cycle.

    Bookmark   March 9, 2011 at 1:20PM
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Well, my post was from last year, and I see it has re-surfaced. It is raining, but I still have snow on my garden so I won't be planted any new lettuce for awhile. But, I appreciate all the new advice, for this season. I will skip the row covers on the lettuce this year, and I did purchase some Jericho seeds at the end of last year which I will be trying. Happy Gardening. I'm getting excited and have seedling started under lights, just waiting for the season to start.

    Bookmark   March 9, 2011 at 4:25PM
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I had this problem with our Kale. We got rid of the infected leaves and then sprayed the plants with dish soap veggie spray. (1 tsp dish soap, 1/2 tsp baking soda, in one large spray bottle.) I think it actually is for a gallon of water. No more aphids and the spray easily washes off.

anyone use floating row covers for brussel sprouts or cabbage?

    Bookmark   August 7, 2011 at 11:53PM
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