Conifer aphids

Conifers can be affected by several species of aphid (greenfly, blackfly and related insects). Where they feed can result in honeydew and sooty mould and dieback of shoots.

Cypress aphid with sooty mould

Quick facts

Common name Conifer aphids (Various species)
Plants affected Various conifers
Main symptoms Honeydew and sooty mould, dieback
Caused by Aphids 
Timing All year
Jump to

What are conifer aphids?

Aphids are sap sucking true bugs often called blackfly, greenfly or plant lice. There are more than 500 species found in the UK.

Several species can infest conifers, these infestations can result in the presence of sticky honeydew and sooty mould and in some cases dieback. Closely related adelgids can also cause similar problems on some conifers

Symptoms

Each species of conifer aphid has a restricted host range and symptoms. Listed below are some of the conifer aphids commonly encountered in gardens. 

Note: When searching for aphids, do not confuse them with harmless insects known as psocids or barklice. These aphid-sized insects, which may be winged or wingless, are generally brownish-white in colour. They feed on algae and fungal spores and may be abundant on trees affected by sooty mould. They run rapidly over the foliage and stems, unlike the slow-moving aphids. Adelgids are usually either associated with galling or are covered in a white waxy substance.

Green spruce aphid (Elatobium abietinum): A small dark green aphid (1.5-1.8mm long) with red eyes that infests various Picea species, especially P. abies (Norway spruce or Christmas tree), P. sitchensis (Sitka spruce) and P. pungens (blue spruce). It is unusual amongst aphids in that it is active during the period autumn to spring, rather than the spring and summer. It can be found on spruce throughout the year but the summer months are spent as non-feeding nymphs. These start to mature during August and the infestation gradually builds up over the next six months. The green spruce aphid is favoured by mild winters which result in damaging population levels occurring by late winter-early spring. The old foliage develops a pale mottled discoloration and many of these needles fall from the tree during the spring. This species produces honeydew and the resulting sooty mould is often noticeable on the stem joints. The new growth in the spring is unaffected by this aphid and its bright green appearance contrasts strongly with the discoloured and sparsely foliated older stems.

Juniper aphid (Cinara fresai): This species is of North American origin but is now widespread on Juniperus species in gardens in southern England. It is a large aphid (2.2-4.2mm long) which varies in colour from pinkish-grey to brownish-grey. The dorsal surface of the body is marked by a darker inverted V towards the head end. It forms dense colonies on the younger shoots and can be found from May to October. This species produces honeydew and the resulting sooty mould is often noticeable on stems and foliage. Heavy infestations can result in the dieback of shoots or even the death of plants. The cultivar 'Skyrocket' seems to be particularly susceptible.

Cypress aphid (Cinara cupressivora):  This aphid attacks Cupressus species especially C. macrocarpa, Thuja occidentalis, Chamaecyparis lawsoniana and x Cuprocyparis leylandii. It is 1.8-1.9mm long and is yellowish-brown although it appears greyish due to a dense coating of fine hairs. There is a dark stripe running down either side of the upper body, particularly at the head end. The aphids are active from May to November but are most troublesome during the early summer. Small colonies of the aphids tend to develop at the bases of the green shoots, which often become blackened by sooty moulds growing on honeydew excreted by the aphids. Affected shoots usually become yellowish-brown and die back in midsummer, presumably as a reaction to the aphids' feeding activities. The lower parts of hedges are often more severely affected than the upper branches.

Cedar aphid (Cedrobium lapportei): A small aphid (1.5-2mm) long and greyish-brown with a paler mid-dorsal stripe running from the head end. It infests cedars including Cedrus atlantica, C. deodora and C. libani.  Dense infestations occur at the bases of the leaves during May and June, this can result in the affected leaves being shed.  Excretes large quantities of honeydew and sooty mould frequently develops, on the tree and on the ground underneath.

Large cedar aphid (Cinara confinis): The heaviest infestations occur in June-July but this aphid is active on Cedrus and Abies species from March to October. The aphids are greenish black or dark brown with a double row of dark spots on the upper surface of the abdomen; they are up to 7.8mm long. The foliage becomes sticky with honeydew and blackened by the growth of sooty moulds. Infestations can occur in late winter on Abies brought indoors for use as Christmas trees.

Black spruce bark aphid (Cinara piceae): The adult aphids are very large (5-6mm in length) and are sometimes mistaken for small spiders or beetles. The fully grown aphids are shiny black with reddish-brown legs, while the nymphs have duller greyish-black bodies. They suck sap from the bark of a wide range of mature spruce trees (Picea species) and may form dense colonies several feet across on the trunk. The aphid is active from April until the autumn with the heaviest infestations occurring in late May and June. The trunk and branches become heavily coated with honeydew and sooty mould. Outbreaks of this aphid are often very local and heavy infestations are spectacular but infrequent.

Grey pine needle aphid (Schizolachnus pineti): Dense colonies of this 1.2-2.5mm long aphid occur on the undersides of the mature leaves of Scots pine and other Pinus species. The aphids are coated with a greyish-white wax and they are present from May until the autumn. Heavy attacks may cause yellowing of the foliage.

Control

Non-chemical

Trees that have been damaged by aphids can be helped to recover by keeping them watered during dry spells and by feeding with a general fertilizer.

Aphids have many natural enemies, such as ladybirds, lacewings, hoverfly larvae and parasitic wasps, and these can help to limit infestations during the summer. 

Chemical

  • Little can be done to deal with aphids on tall trees as treatment is only likely to be successful if the entire plant is treated
  • It is also difficult to penetrate dense conifer hedges with sufficient thoroughness to prevent cypress aphid causing damage
  • To prevent damage it is necessary to spray the trees as soon as signs of aphids or damage are seen. With most species this will be in late spring or early summer. For the green spruce aphid, however, spraying is necessary in late August or September, with a further treatment on a mild dry day in early February if the foliage is becoming discoloured
  • Systemic products such as the neonicotinoid acetamiprid (e.g. Bug Clear Ultra) are most likely to give good control. Contact insecticides such as deltamethrin (e.g. Bayer Provado Ultimate Fruit & Vegetable Bug Killer), lambda-cyhalothrin (e.g. Westland Resolva Bug Killer) and cypermethrin (e.g. Py Bug Killer Concentrate) or organic sprays, such as pyrethrum (e.g. Defenders Bug Killer) may give some control
  • Spraying in the absence of aphids is not recommended
  • Do not spray near plants in flower due to the danger to pollinating insects
  • Inclusion of a pesticide product does not indicate a recommendation or endorsement by the RHS. It is a list of products currently available to the home gardener

Downloads

Pesticides for gardeners (Adobe Acrobat pdf document outlining pesticides available to gardeners)

Jump to

Advertise here

Gardeners' calendar

Advice from the RHS

Find out what to do this month with our gardeners' calendar

Advice from the RHS

Did you find the advice you needed?

RHS members can get exclusive individual advice from the RHS Gardening Advice team.

Join the RHS now

Discuss this

for the site or to share your experiences on this topic and seek advice from our community of gardeners.