Fruit aphids

Fruit trees and bushes can be hosts of sap sucking aphids (commonly known as greenfly, blackfly or plant lice) during spring and summer. These often cause distortion to foliage but may not affect the crop.

Aphid damage on fruit tree shoot

Quick facts

Common name Fruit aphids (various species)
Plants affected Most fruits
Main symptoms Distorted growth, honeydew and sooty mould
Caused by Sap sucking insects 
Timing Winter, spring and summer

What are fruit aphids?

Aphids are sap sucking true bugs often called blackfly, greenfly or plant lice. There are more than 500 species found in Britain. Most of the fruits grown in gardens can be affected by at least one species of aphid.

Many of the aphids attacking fruits have similar life cycles. They overwinter on the trees and bushes as eggs which are laid in crevices in the bark or near buds. Aphid eggs are usually shiny black, about 1mm long and ovoid in shape. They hatch in spring, as the buds begin to open, and the nymphs feed on the new growth. Aphids reproduce rapidly and their numbers reach a peak on the fruit host during late spring to early summer.

Winged aphids develop and migrate away from the fruit tree or bush in early summer, sometimes leading to the infestation on the fruit host dying out. The aphids spend the summer on herbaceous plants. In the autumn winged aphids are again produced which fly back to the fruit tree (winter host) to mate and lay eggs. The summer host is often a wild plant and since the aphids disperse widely when they migrate, it is not possible to control them by treating or removing the summer host.

Some aphids, for example woolly aphid, and brown peach aphid, do not have a summer host and instead remain on fruit trees throughout the year.

Summer hosts and migration periods of some common fruit aphids

Apple

  • Rosy apple aphid: Summer host = plantains (Plantago spp.). Leaves fruit in June-July
  • Apple-grass aphid: Summer host = annual meadow grass (Poa annua). Leaves fruit in May
  • Rosy leaf-curling aphid: No migration
  • Woolly aphid: No migration

Cherry

  • Cherry blackfly: Summer host = bedstraws (Galium spp.). Leaves fruit in June-July

Peach

  • Peach-leaf rolling aphid: Summer host = clematis. Leaves fruit in May-June
  • Brown peach aphid: No migration

Pear

Plum

  • Plum leaf-curling aphid: Summer host = many herbaceous plants. Leaves fruit in May-early June
  • Mealy plum aphid: Summer host = grasses and reeds. Leaves fruit in June-July. Can remain on plum throughout summer

Currants

Gooseberry

  • Lettuce aphid: Summer host = lettuce. Leaves fruit in May-June
  • Gooseberry aphid: Summer host = willow herbs (Epilobium spp.). Leaves fruit in May-June. Can remain on gooseberry throughout summer

Blackberry

  • Blackberry aphid: Summer host = grasses. Leaves fruit in May-June

Raspberry

Strawberry

  • Strawberry aphid: No migration

Symptoms

Fruit aphids sucking sap from leaves, stems and sometimes the fruits of trees. Although this can affect the plants appearance the plant's vigour and yield are not always greatly reduced.

Many aphids also have substances in their saliva that cause a variety of symptoms, such as stunted growth, leaf curling, distorted fruits and discolouration of the foliage.

Some virus diseases, especially of soft fruits (e.g. raspberry viruses and strawberry viruses), can be transmitted by aphids as they move from one plant to another. Infected plants may show stunted growth, leaf mottling or other symptoms.

Aphids excrete a sugary substance, known as honeydew that makes the foliage and fruits sticky and can attract ants.  A black sooty mould often grows on the honeydew, which reduces the amount of sunlight reaching the leaves and can spoil the appearance of the fruit.

Control

Fruit aphid infestations are often not noticed until the plants are showing obvious signs of damage in the spring and early summer. In some cases by this time the damage is done and the aphids may have already left for their summer hosts making control measures redundant.

Check fruit trees and shrubs frequently from early spring onwards so action can be taken before a damaging population has developed. 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.

Non-pesticide control

  • 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

Pesticide control

  • 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 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)
  • The systemic neonicotinoid insecticide acetamiprid (e.g. Bug Clear Ultra) is also available

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

Download

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


Gardeners' calendar

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

Get involved

The Royal Horticultural Society is the UK’s leading gardening charity. We aim to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.