Scientific name Dysaphis plantaginea
Plants affected Apple
Main cause Sap-sucking insects cause distorted foliage and fruits
What is rosy apple aphid?
Rosy apple aphid is a small sap-sucking insect that feeds on apple foliage and fruitlets during spring and early summer. Because it causes distortion of fruits even low numbers of aphids can cause significant damage.
Dense colonies of pinkish grey aphids develop on the underside of the foliage in spring and early summer. Affected leaves at the shoot tips become curled and yellowish. Where the aphids have been sucking sap from the fruitlets, they prevent the fruits' normal development. Affected fruits often remain small with a pinched appearance around the eye end. In late summer, some branches may have normal fruits while others have only damaged fruits, reflecting the distribution of aphids on the tree earlier in the growing season.
Heavily infested shoots show stunted growth with distorted leaves that start to turn brown during the summer. The main damage is to the developing fruits, which can be severely undersized and malformed.
Check apples frequently from early spring so action can be taken before a damaging population has developed. Little can be done to deal with aphids on tall trees as treatment is only likely to be successful if the entire plant can be reached. When choosing control options you can minimise harm to non-target animals by starting with the methods in the non-pesticide control section. If this is not sufficient to reduce damage to acceptable levels then you may choose to use pesticides. Within this group the shorter persistence pesticides (that are usually certified for organic growing) are likely to be less damaging to non-target wildlife than those with longer persistence and/or systemic action.
- Where possible tolerate populations of aphids
- Use finger and thumb to squash aphid colonies where practical
- Encourage aphid predators in the garden, such as ladybirds, ground beetles, hoverflies, parasitoid wasps and earwigs. Be aware that in spring aphid populations often build up before natural enemies are active in sufficient numbers and then give good control
- Some natural enemies can be purchased for use as biological control of aphids in greenhouses, including hoverfly larvae, lacewing larvae and several parasitoid wasps. More information about these can be found on the ‘aphid predators’ page.
Little can be done to deal with aphids on tall trees as treatment is only likely to be successful if the entire plant is sprayed. Once leaf curling has occurred pesticidal control methods are unlikely to be effective.
- On fruit trees and shrubs. Overwintering aphid eggs can be destroyed by using a plant oil winter wash (organic e.g. Vitax Winter Tree Wash). This can be used when the buds are fully dormant in November-early February on a dry frost-free day. Plant oil winter washes are less likely to be detrimental to natural enemies and can mean that spring sprays are unnecessary
- Organic sprays, such as natural pyrethrum (e.g. Bug Clear Gun for Fruit & Veg, Neudorff Bug Free Bug and Larvae Killer), fatty acids (e.g. Solabiol Bug Free, Doff Greenfly & Blackfly Killer) or plant oils (e.g. Vitax Plant Guard Pest & Disease Control, Bug Clear for Fruit and Veg) can give good control of aphids. These pesticides have a very short persistence and so may require reapplication to keep aphid numbers in check. Plant oil and fatty acid products are less likely to affect larger insects such as ladybird adults
- Plant invigorators combine nutrients to stimulate plant growth with surfactants or fatty acids that have a physical mode of action against aphids (e.g. Ecofective Bug Control, RHS Bug and Mildew Control, SB Plant Invigorator and Westland Resolva Natural Power Bug & Mildew). These products contain some synthetic ingredients and so are not considered organic.
- More persistent contact-action insecticides include the synthetic pyrethroids lambda-cyhalothrin (e.g. Westland Resolva Bug Killer), deltamethrin (e.g. Provanto Ultimate Fruit & Vegetable Bug Killer, Provanto Sprayday Greenfly Killer) and cypermethrin (e.g. Py Bug Killer)
Follow label instructions when using pesticides. On edible plants make sure the food plant is listed on the label and follow instructions on maximum number of applications, spray interval and harvest interval
Plants in flower should not be sprayed due to the danger to bees and other pollinating insects
Inclusion of a pesticide product does not indicate a recommendation or endorsement by RHS Gardening Advice. It is a list of products currently available to the home gardener
Pesticides for gardeners (pdf document)
Rosy apple aphid overwinters on apple trees as eggs that are laid in autumn in bark crevices and around the buds on the shoots. These eggs hatch in spring as the leaves begin to emerge from the buds. While sucking sap, the aphids secrete chemicals into the foliage and fruitlets, which cause the distorted growth.
Several generations of wingless aphids develop between bud burst and early summer. During June-July, winged forms of the aphid develop that migrate away to wild flowers known as plantains, Plantago species, where they spend the rest of the summer. Populations on apple die out during the summer but there is a return migration from plantains in autumn when overwintering eggs are produced.
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