Aphids on Pepper Plants? Here’s What to Do

Noticing some tiny green bugs on your pepper plants? They are probably aphids. Aphids may be good for the ecosystem, but they can also cause a lot of destruction to your pepper plants, sending all your months of hard work down the drain. While you may not see them today, these small insects can be a major pepper gardening problem, appearing on your plants out of nowhere. Small aphid populations on pepper plants are not harmful, but when left unattended, they will rapidly spread, weaken your plants, and reduce their yields. Here’s how to identify and get rid of these pests to keep your pepper plants healthy.

Aphids on pepper plants
An aphid infestation on a pepper plant

What are aphids?

Aphids are tiny, soft-bodied insects that feed by sucking the liquid containing nutrients (sap) out of a plant. They reproduce rapidly and sometimes do so without mating. Large populations of aphids can greatly weaken plants, leaving harm to flowers and fruits. Aphids impact not only peppers, but also tomatoes, lettuce, corn, and other fruits and vegetables.

What do aphids look like?

Aphids are pear or oval in shape, often with a green body, though some are black. This accounts for their common nicknames “greenfly” and “blackfly”. Other species produce aphids that are red, pink, brown, gray, or yellow.

These tiny bugs are between 1/16- to 1/8 inches long (2-4 mm). Some adult aphids have wings, while others appear wingless. However, those with wings are a little darker in complexion. More than 1,500 aphid species have been recorded in North America (like the potato aphid and the green peach aphid), with new species still being discovered today.

Aphid damage on a pepper plant
Pepper leaves curling and browning due to aphids

What does aphid damage look like?

It is crucial to identify the damage caused by aphids on pepper plants as early as possible before their population increases exceedingly and creates further destruction.

Most aphid species attack the leaves, stems, flowers, roots, fruits, and shoots of young pepper plants, sucking out their sap with their needle-like mouthparts. Whereas their damage on pepper plants is not uniform, these different signs indicate that you may have aphids and need to intervene fast.

  • If the leaves are either curling up, drying, stunting, or turning yellow
  • If there is a sticky sap (honeydew) on younger stems, leaves, or branches. It is normally released as waste by the aphids.
  • If you see an increased ant population moving all over your pepper plants. These ants tend to take in the sweet sap released by aphids, as they also protect the bugs from predators.
  • If the pepper plants’ branches or leaves turn black. This usually results from a fungal growth called sooty mold that’s caused by the honeydew.
  • If there is a distortion of fruits or flowers
  • When you notice your pepper plant has stunted growth
  • When there are fallen white skin casings under the pepper plant

The worst damage typically occurs in young pepper plants, where large numbers of aphids easily overpower them and kill off any new beginnings, eventually killing the plants.

Ladybug eating an aphid
Ladybugs are a natural predator of aphids

How to get rid of aphids on pepper plants

An aphid infestation should never be ignored. It is possible to control aphids with the necessary procedures, but this is an active process that requires consistency. Below are 5 basic approaches to aphid control on your pepper plants.

Manual removal (for small amounts of aphids)

Unlike scale insects, aphids can be easily eliminated using a garden hose. For small infestations, spray cold water on the leaves to remove the aphids from the plant. Ideally, they won’t find their way back to the leaves.

Alternatively, since they have very soft bodies and do not move fast, you can easily kill aphids using your hands. Squish ’em right away whenever you notice them on your plant.

Homemade sprays

Soap Spray

A soap spray is a great, inexpensive DIY solution to eliminate aphids on pepper plants. Soaps are ideal for aphids’ elimination since they suffocate them. The fatty acids from the soap also dissolve the exoskeleton of aphids and other pests like mites and whiteflies.

All you need is water, dish soap, and a spray bottle. Place the water and soap in the spray bottle and shake well. Then gently spray the underside of the leaves (where aphids love to hide) and the stems of the plant with the soapy water. Reapply the solution every 2-3 days for two weeks.

Vinegar spray

You can get rid of aphids in your garden using a vinegar spray. Use these ingredients to make the spray.

  • Water (A gallon)
  • 1 tablespoon vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon baking soda
  • A bucket
  • Garden sprayer

Add all the ingredients to the bucket and stir well to dissolve the baking soda. Then pour the vinegar solution into the sprayer and spray evenly on both sides of your pepper plants’ leaves.

Hot pepper spray

Yes, pepper on pepper. Sounds funny, but it works! The capsaicin found in peppers is a natural deterrent for insects and damages aphids’ nervous system without harming your pepper plant in any way. You can create the spray by chopping hot peppers (like cayenne pepper) and soaking them in water before straining the liquid and adding it to a spray bottle. Now spray the hot pepper solution on the pepper plants on both sides of the leaves.

Neem oil

Neem oil is an effective organic insecticide that contains compounds that disrupt aphids’ (and other insects) hormones, causing them to lose appetite and negatively affecting their growth and production.

Pure neem oil will solidify at room temperature. Therefore, it is advisable to make a neem oil spray by mixing it with warm water and a mild soap, then vigorously shake it before spraying.

Insecticidal soap

Insecticidal soap is more readily available, thus making it convenient for most farmers. These soaps contain potassium salts and fatty acids, which collectively disrupt the structure and permeability of the aphids’ cell membrane, killing them by contact. Spray the insecticidal soap directly on the aphids for more effectiveness.

Ladybugs (and other natural predators)

Beneficial insects such as ladybugs, hoverflies, and wasps view aphids as excellent delicacies because of their soft bodies and bellies full of sap. Ladybugs, popular predators for aphids, can be easily bought from garden centers and nurseries. Simply release them in your garden and allow nature to eliminate the aphids for you.

Diatomaceous earth

Diatomaceous earth is an effective natural treatment for aphids because it works by physically damaging their exoskeletons. Aphids have a soft body and when they come in contact with diatomaceous earth, the sharp edges of the tiny silica particles scratch and kill them. This results in the dehydration and death of the aphids. Diatomaceous earth can also impact other insects in your garden (often helpful insects), so it’s best to use sparingly.

To use diatomaceous earth for treating aphids, you can sprinkle it on the affected plants or create a barrier around them to prevent the aphids from reaching the plants. Diatomaceous earth should be reapplied after rain or watering to ensure its effectiveness. Furthermore, it is recommended to wear protective gear such as gloves and a mask when handling it to avoid any respiratory issues.

Companion plants that aphids find unappealing

There are certain plants that aphids dislike – and they tend to be highly aromatic. One of the best plants to repel aphids is garlic. The strong odor of garlic is detested by aphids, and planting it near susceptible plants can help keep these insects at bay. Other plants that are known to repel aphids include chrysanthemums, catnip, dill, and marigolds. These plants contain natural compounds that aphids find unappealing, and planting them alongside other plants can help deter aphids from infesting your garden. 

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UPDATE NOTICE: This post was updated on May 14, 2023 to include new content.
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