Just like any method of gardening, aquaponics can also become a victim of insect and pest attacks. Aquaponics growers sometimes face those plants munching pests from time to time. Usually, this is not a big problem, but if left uncontrolled, pests can rise to an unacceptable level that can cause damage to plants, resulting in plant death and failure of the system.
For this reason, it is essential that every aquaponics gardener knows the common pests that usually attack plants in aquaponics systems and how to control them in order to have a successful system. This article discusses the common aquaponics plant pests and the effective way of controlling them.
Why is Pest Management Important for Aquaponics?
Caring for your plants includes monitoring and ensuring the well-being of your aquaponics plants to maximize their productive potential. It also ensures that your plants are healthy and free from damages and diseases brought by pests. For this reason, pest management and control are important to ensure a healthy yield and higher harvest.
What are the Common Pests In Aquaponics Plants?
Pests are living organisms that can affect humans, animals, and plants. However, this article will focus on plant pests that can immensely damage your aquaponics plants. When uncontrolled, plant pests can be troublesome to aquaponics growers because they can often cause plant diseases and affect the growth of plants in the system. The most common pest that aquaponics growers often have to deal with are:
Aphids are tiny insects that suck the sap from plant leaves, twigs, and stems. Aphids are also called plant lice, and they can spread quickly, causing significant damage to plants and spreading diseases.
Aphids are so small that they are often unnoticed. They usually come in either brown, white, yellow, black, or green color, and because they reproduced so quickly, they are difficult to expect and control. So it is essential to control them immediately as soon as you notice them in your aquaponics garden.
How to Control Aphids:
There are few ways of controlling the spread of aphids in your aquaponics garden, and these are:
Removing Aphids Physically
This method is applicable for minor aphid infestations, where it is possible to remove the aphids from the plants physically. Wear a pair of gardening gloves and brush or pinch the pests from the stems and leaves. You can also prune the affected stalks or branches if the infestation is only contained to a few stalks or branches. Then drop the pruned stalks or stems into soapy water to kill the aphids.
Beneficial Insects and Plants
Sometimes, using beneficial insects can prevent or control aphids' growth. Ladybug beetles, hover fly larvae, and green lacewings are well-known beneficial insects.
Also, planting companion plants and herbs such as garlic, clover, mint, dill, catnip, and oregano can help attract these beneficial insects into your garden naturally.
Organic pesticides made from plant extracts that act as insects and pests irritants can also be used to control pests in your aquaponics system.
One known organic pesticide is Neem Oil Extract, derived from the seed of the neem tree. Neem oil can be used to kill small soft-bodied insects like aphids, mealybugs, mites, thrips, and whiteflies. To use neem oil, just mix two tablespoons per gallon of water.
Whiteflies or snow flies are tiny, sap-sucking insects often found on the underside of a plant's leaves. They are related to aphids, mealybugs, and scale insects and fly away when the plants are disturbed. Adult whiteflies resemble tiny moths, and their body and wings are covered with powdery white wax.
When whiteflies feed on your aquaponics plants, they will become fragile and unable to initiate photosynthesis. They will cause yellowing or pale color of the leaves, wilting, and delay of plant growth.
How to Control Whiteflies:
If whiteflies are present in your aquaponics plants, try these methods to control or get rid of them.
- The first line of defense against whiteflies is to gently spray your plants with water to dislodge whitefly eggs and nymphs. Nymphs will starve and die when removed from their food source. Just ensure that the water used for the spray is clean and free from chlorine and other chemicals.
- Control honeydew and mold by wiping down the affected leaves with a damp cloth.
- Use beneficial insects such as ladybugs, green lacewings, dragonflies, and whitefly wasp to prey on whiteflies. Create a habitat to attract these beneficial insects by planting plants that attract these beneficial insects.
- Use oil such as neem oil to kill whiteflies.
- Use yellow sticky traps to control whiteflies from your aquaponics plants.
Caterpillars are the larvae of moths and butterflies. If left unchecked, caterpillars can damage crops, including vegetables and ornamental plants, by eating plant leaves and sometimes flowers.
How to Control Caterpillar:
Regular inspections of your aquaponics garden can keep caterpillar invasion at bay. Always check the underside of your plant leaves, look for the tiny yellow eggs, and wipe them before they hatch.
You can group all your caterpillar-prone plants in a pod together and cover it with a fine net. The net will also protect your plants from possums. This method works well for leafy greens.
You can use an organic spray to control caterpillars in your garden. Ask your local nursery or farming supplier for safety to use organic spray that won't affect the other beneficial insects in your aquaponics garden.
Trips are pests that are destructive to the plants and should be taken seriously. These pests can infest plants at a fast rate and can cause severe damage in a short time.
White trips are the most common trip you'll find in most plants. They come in large numbers and infest younger plants. When they invade your plants, you see tiny white patches with silvery blotches on your plants. It is a sign that thrips suck the cells of the plants. Thrips also transmit viruses that cause slow plant growth. So they must be controlled as soon as you notice them in your plants.
How to Control Thrips:
- Gently shake plant stems to stir up thrips and remove unhatched eggs. Unhatched eggs look like tiny pimples or dab of white glue on the leaves. Lightly scrape them off with your fingernails and crush them.
- Use beneficial insects to eliminate thrips from your aquaponics plants. Plant herbs and flowers that attract beneficial insects.
- Use sticky traps to capture thrips and dispose of them.
5. Mealy Bugs
Usually found in warmer climates, mealybugs are soft-bodied, wingless insects that often appear as white cottony masses on plants' leaves, stems, and fruits. They feed by inserting their long-sucking mouthparts into plants and drawing sap out of the tissue. When uncontrolled, mealybugs can cause leaf yellowing and curling.
How to Control Mealybugs:
- Light mealybug infestations can be controlled by dabbing the insects with a Q-Tip dipped in rubbing alcohol.
- You can dislodge ladybugs with a steady stream of water for light infestation. Just ensure the water is clean and free of chlorine and other chemicals.
- Use neem oil to control mealy bugs naturally. Neem oil is safe to use on your aquaponics plants.
6. Tomato Hornworm
The tomato hornworm is one of the most destructive pests of tomato, pepper, potato, and eggplants in any garden. They can consume the entire leaves and small stems and chew pieces from fruits, and despite their large size, hornworms are often tricky to spot because of their protective coloring. Gardeners often find large areas where the feeding happened before seeing these pests.
How to Control Tomato Hornworm:
Because hornworms are large, most gardeners control them by handpicking. Hornworms are more easily seen near dusk and dawn when they feed on the plants' exterior parts. Once picked from the plants, they can be destroyed by dropping them in a bucket of soapy water.
Lady beetles and green lacewings prey on tomato hornworms' eggs, and Japanese paper wasps attack and feed on all sizes of hornworm larvae. Encourage wasps colonies near your aquaponic garden to protect your tomatoes from hornworms.
Tips for Effective Pest Management and Control in Aquaponics Systems
Below are the simple tips on how you can effectively manage and control pests in your aquaponics garden.
One way to control any pests in your plants is to place sticky traps just above your plants. This method is excellent for indoor aquaponics systems.
2. Removing Pests Manually
Regular maintenance and manually removing pests is a great way to control pests in smaller aquaponics systems. Insects can be removed hand or use water to wash the insects. Again, before using water, ensure that it is safe and clean.
3. Environment Management
Another way to reduce or control pests is to create an unattractive environment for insects. This can be done by keeping the optimal parameters of your system, ensuring that your plants are safe from predators and pests.
4. Using Organic Insect Repellents
Using pesticides to control pests is not suitable for aquaponics because it is dangerous to the fish in the system. However, there are natural insecticides that you can use to manage and control pests in your system. Here are some of them.
- Neem Oil - Mix two tablespoons of neem oil per gallon of water and then spray on plants.
- Citronella - Citronella can repel many types of insects. You can dissolve it in water and spray it on your plants carefully.
- Garlic Oil - Mixed 85 grams of crushed garlic in 15 ml of vegetable oil. Soak for at least 24 hours and combine the mixture with 500 ml water after soaking, and then spray on your aquaponics plants.
In aquaponics, you can prevent and control pests from destroying your aquaponics plants without harming your fish. You can do this without using harmful pesticides and using natural and organic methods. The organic method is the safest way to control pest infestation in your aquaponics plants. However, even if you are using organic pest control, it is still important to practice caution to ensure the fish are safe.
Thank you for reading our blog. If you're an aquaponics beginner looking for more resources, read our “Ultimate Aquaponics Beginner's Guide.”