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Want To Save The Monarch Butterfly? Kill These Pests

By Patty Wetli | September 13, 2016 5:29am | Updated on September 13, 2016 10:37am
 Yellow aphids are preying on milkweed, which is crucial to the monarch's survival.
Yellow aphids are preying on milkweed, which is crucial to the monarch's survival.
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DNAinfo/Patty Wetli

LINCOLN SQUARE — Gardeners across Chicago have answered the call to save the monarch butterfly, shoring up the pollinator's primary habitat by planting milkweed in droves.

This past spring, requests for milkweed — the only food source for monarch caterpillars — were so high some gardening centers had waiting lists for seedlings.

Yet these well-intentioned efforts could be for naught if an aphid infestation goes unchecked.

There are numerous varieties of aphids, including some the size and color of grains of sand, but their modus operandi is typically the same: suck vital liquid from a plant and stress it to the point of death.

Patty talks about her battles with the aphids.

Jeez, and humans are constantly given a bad rap as nature's worst enemy?

The aphids that attack milkweed — oleander aphids — are relatively easy to spot, provided you know what you're looking for.

I didn't.

As a milkweed newbie, when I saw tiny yellow globules pop up on my lone plant — bought in June at a farmers market in St. Louis — I thought maybe they were part of the process of the flower "going to seed."

The fact that the "seeds" appeared to move? I chalked that up to wind.

It was my mom, visiting last weekend, who suggested something more nefarious might be in the offing.

"That doesn't look good," she said, pointing to a sticky residue on the milkweed leaves.

RELATED: How To See Monarch Butterflies In Chicago

A quick Googling of "tiny yellow bugs on milkweed" not only confirmed I did indeed have a problem but also offered solutions.

Simply hosing off the bugs with water should do the trick, just be sure to check the undersides of leaves because aphids love to hide there.

If there's a high concentration of aphids, spray the plant with a mixture of water and 10 percent dish soap. Leave on for a few minutes, then rinse with fresh water, otherwise the soap will burn the leaves (I learned this the hard way with a rhododendron).

In the absence of a handy hose or spray bottle, I opted for hand-to-hand combat, smushing the aphids into liquid oblivion with gloved fingers.

RELATED: This Family Turns Egg-to-Caterpillar-to-Monarch Butterfly Process Into Fun

Any or all of these methods may need to be repeated if a new crop of aphids appears.

One trick I'm dying to try: dusting my plant with flour, which apparently causes constipation in aphids.

See, I can be a pest, too.

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