How to control pests in aquaponics?

Aquaponics pests control involves appropriately taking care of your growing beds. It is advisable to perform certain steps to protect your plant products from the presence of unwanted insects. This post will facilitate you in practicing effective pests control for your aquaponics setups.

Is aquaponics susceptible to plant pests?

The possibility of infestation to your aquaponics growth is a sobering reality. Most aquaponics gardeners regularly encounter plant-eating bugs in their aquaponics crops, which is usually not a significant concern. However, pest populations can occasionally reach unacceptably high levels, resulting in stunted plant growth or even damage.

Pests are living organisms that significantly negatively impact plants, humans, and animals. In our context, we are talking about plant pests that can harm your homegrown aquaponic produce. Plant pests are a source of concern for producers because they can cause diseases and death.

An aquaponics system can be infected with a variety of illnesses and pests. Because there are so many more vectors for infection, plants are far more vulnerable to diseases and pests than fish. Spores are easily spread by the wind or insects, whereas fish are typically affected by bird or animal excrement or contaminated water sources.

Even if your aquaponics is placed inside a greenhouse, it is not guaranteed that your crops would be pests-free. In most cases, these destructive insects are introduced by new plant material into the greenhouse. When the ventilators are open in the summer, pests may take this opportunity to enter your enclosed aquaponics garden.

Therefore, it is clear that aquaponics plants can still be infected by pests, which is why pest management is an integral part of your maintenance protocol.

What are the common plant pests in aquaponics?

Several pests may disrupt the suitable growing conditions of your aquaponics crops. In this section, I will outline the typical insects that can compromise the well-being of your plants.

  1. Aphids
  2. Caterpillars
  3. Whiteflies
  4. Thrips
  5. Leafhoppers
  6. Mealybugs
  7. Spider mites


These insects are a common enemy of most vegetable gardeners and plants, and their presence in your garden leads to unhealthy and unproductive produce. Their ability to reproduce makes them a difficult bug to control. Aphids have two tail-like protrusions at the bottom of their abdomen and are pear-shaped. The life cycle is relatively brief, spanning from 10 to three weeks.

Aphid colony clusters are abundant on new growth, the base of buds, and the underside of leaves. Rasping mouth parts suck critical nutrients and glucose from the phloem, allowing the plant to feed. As a result, aphid-infested plants' leaves frequently seem withered, discolored, or stunted.


Caterpillars, the larval stage of butterflies and moths, can completely destroy green crops in a short time. Because of their insatiable appetites, they are one of the most serious agricultural pests. Leaf damage is caused by a caterpillar, which appears as holes or massive missing sections.


This next class of pests is sap-sucking insects that can cause severe damage to several vegetable crops. Squash, beans, broccoli, tomato, cabbage, cauliflower, cucumber, eggplant, melon, watermelon, and peppers are among the aquaponics plants that are most commonly affected. The adults and nymphs eat on the undersides of leaves, where most of their life stages occur.

When these pests eat your crop, the plant becomes vulnerable and unable to commence photosynthesis. The result is your leaves may turn yellow or pale in color, wilt, and slow plant growth. Whiteflies abound during the summer months.


These pests, like the other insects listed, are sucking insects. They drain water and nutrients from leaves. Their feeding leads to discolored foliage with silvery feeding scars and plant components wilting.

Thrips' eggs are typically placed inside plant tissue, producing a scar. The pests' entire life stages may be harmful.

When these pests eat your crops, white patches with silvery blotches on your plants are observable. Thrips sucking the crop's plant cells cause this appearance. The worst case is that as these pests feed on your plants, they transfer a virus that causes stunted growth among your plants.


Aphids and leafhoppers are sometimes confused. However, compared to aphids, these bugs travel faster.

Leafhopper feeding creates stippled, pale, or brown leaves, as well as curling and dying branches. From the leaf tip, certain species generate a diamond-shaped yellowing.

A few species secrete honeydew, used by sooty mold to blacken the foliage. There may be black feces marks and cast skins on the leaves and fruit. Some leafhopper species transmit plant diseases, but this is primarily an issue for herbaceous agricultural plants.


These pests drain sap from plant phloem. The effect is reduced plant vigor. Mealybugs even excrete sticky honeydew and wax, lowering plant and fruit quality, especially when black sooty mold forms on the honeydew.

Plants grown indoors or in greenhouses are particularly vulnerable to mealybugs, as year-round moderate temperatures encourage their numbers to grow. Indoor plants also are rarely exposed to the natural enemies that keep mealybug populations in check.

Spider mites

If left unchecked, these pests' populations can expand quickly in the right temperature, such as when it is warm and there is a slight breeze. They can be detected in your garden by the unmistakable webbing they make on plant leaves. Unfortunately, by the time you notice webbing, population control may be difficult to control.

Spider mites wreak havoc on leaves by sucking the fluids out of them. Stippling appears on the leaves, and more severe damage can cause leaf bronzing, leading to leaf drop. When mite populations become large enough, their webbings appear on leaves, twigs, and fruit/buds.

How can you naturally manage plant pests in aquaponics?

One popular rule of thumb in aquaponics is to never use synthetic pesticides in addressing pests problems. This type of pesticide is frequently made up of compounds harmful to human health.

You may succeed in eradicating insects and pests using pesticides, but they can inflict harm or kill the fish in the tanks. Because fish health is so crucial in aquaponics, it is not recommended to use synthetic pesticides. Aquaponics also strives to provide food that is both sustainable and organic. As a result, managing pests should be done naturally. Below are enumerated steps to achieve this goal:

Identify the presence of pests.

This step is conducted to know what you are up against. Proper identification leads to effective pest and insect removal and eradication, saving time and money. Purchasing organic insecticide makes no sense when an insect does not cause the problem.

On plants, each bug leaves its distinct imprint. The spider mites are a perfect example of this. It's easier to choose an efficient and cost-effective management approach when looking at a plant and telling what type of insect is causing the problem.

Manually remove the pests.

This practice involves removing the pests by hand. Manual removal applies to specific insects such as grasshoppers, caterpillars, and leaf-eating beetles. In some cases, you can do this step using an object such as a toothbrush, piece of stick, or small paintbrush.

There will also be instances wherein you will identify which plant is heavily infested and then drop it into your fish tanks. If your aquatic animals are carnivores or omnivores, they will feast on these pests.

Place some anti-pests devices.

Here you position specific anti-pests devices within the premises of your aquaponics garden. The goal is to trap them, eventually preventing them from reaching your growth.

To prevent flies from coming into contact with your veggies, you can use flycatchers. For ants and other crawling pests, you can place some pieces of cotton around the posts of your growing bed. Cotton can trap the insects, reducing their mobility.

Put up barriers to your growing beds.

In this step, you are using bug nets around your plants since these effectively shield them from unwanted insects. You can also buy some weed mats to improve your pests management. Although this product is primarily used to suppress weeds, it gives insects difficulty moving so they cannot reach your plants.

Introduce beneficial insects to your garden.

One of the finest organic pest prevention and management options is to use beneficial insects that serve as natural enemies of plant-damaging pests. These insects are carnivorous, so they will not eat your aquaponics fruits and vegetables. In aquaponics, a variety of helpful insect types are available:

  1. Ladybugs: These insects are one of the most popular ones. They prey on plant pests like aphids, caterpillars, and even on pests' eggs. They are attracted naturally by specific flowers such as dill, dandelion, and basket of gold.
  2. Spiders: These arachnids are natural predators of unfriendly insects that can destroy your crops. They feed on mosquitoes, fruit flies, aphids, and grasshoppers.
  3. Green lacewings: This type of beneficial insect eat aphids, whitefly, leafhopper, mealybugs, and caterpillars. Green lacewings also consume moth eggs. Dandelions, dills, and corianders are known flowers that can attract them.
  4. Praying mantis: This insect has a great appetite for leafhoppers, aphids, moths, and mosquitoes. Introducing the praying mantis into your garden can be achieved by adding roses or any plant from the raspberry family into your garden.
  5. Tachinid flies: Caterpillars, cutworms, squash bugs, beetles, earwigs, and grasshoppers are all eaten by tachinid fly larvae. Because they love nectar and pollen, these insects are also renowned as excellent pollinators.

Conduct general house cleaning.

The cleanliness of your aquaponics garden also helps protect it from harmful pests. This also produces a beautiful and inviting work environment. You would discover that working around the system without navigating through any clutter is much easier.

Can you use pesticides in pests control for aquaponics?

The issue of pesticides application in an aquaponics system has generated many opinions from practitioners. Although the general rule of thumb is to avoid using harmful chemicals, some pesticides are classified as organic, and you can use them for your garden.

The neem oil extract comes from the neem tree, which has been used to control plant pests in the past. Neem oil works best against aphids, spider mites, thrips, mealybugs, caterpillars, and whiteflies. To apply neem oil, observe these steps:

  1. Mix water with a detergent. This step is done because neem oil does not quickly combine with water. An emulsifying agent is needed, which is the detergent's function. You can add one to two teaspoons of dish detergent to a gallon of warm water.
  2. Add neem oil to the detergent mixture. The recommended amount of neem oil would be one to two tablespoons.
  3. Apply the solution of neem oil to your plants. Cover the entire plant with neem oil while applying it. Spray the undersides of leaves, where bugs can hide and lay eggs. Unlike many pesticides that continue to operate after being applied, neem oil has no effect once it has dried. This is because neem oil is biodegradable and quickly breaks down into harmless components.

Some aquaponics farms use chemical pesticides, but these are all certified organic by the OMRI (Organic Materials Review Institute) and are permitted by the USDA Organic Standards.

Are there any fish pests or parasites in aquaponics?

Fish health is another critical factor that you should also look out for in your aquaponics setups. Like plants, they can acquire diseases brought by pests or parasites. These diseases may be caused by fungus or parasites.

To protect your fish from these harmful organisms, ensure a proper stocking ratio in your tanks. A routine maintenance check of your fish is also a practical course of action.


Having pests in any aquaponics system is a challenging reality, growers should accept. If left on their own, these damaging insects could lay waste to your produce, eventually affecting your harvest and income. The good news is that a surefire procedure enables you to have a successful pests management system. This post has adequately provided you with the information you need to control pests' presence in your garden.

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