Salicylic acid (SA), a phytohormone, has been considered to be a key regulator mediating plant defence against pathogens. It is still vague how SA activates plant defence against herbivores such as chewing and sucking pests. Here, we used an aphid-susceptible wheat variety to investigate Sitobion avenae response to SA-induced wheat plants, and the effects of exogenous SA on some defence enzymes and phenolics in the plant immune system. In SA-treated wheat seedlings, intrinsic rate of natural increase (rm), fecundity and apterous rate of S. avenae were 0.25, 31.4 nymphs/female and 64.4%, respectively, and significantly lower than that in the controls (P < 0.05). Moreover, the increased activities of phenylalanine-ammonia-lyase, polyphenol oxidase (PPO) and peroxidase in the SA-induced seedlings obviously depended on the sampling time, whereas activities of catalase and 4-coumarate:CoA ligase were suppressed significantly at 24, 48 and 72 h in comparison with the control. Dynamic levels of p-coumaric acid at 96 h, caffeic acid at 24 and 72 h and chlorogenic acid at 24, 48 and 96 h in wheat plants were significantly upregulated by exogenous SA application. Nevertheless, only caffeic acid content was positively correlated with PPO activity in SA-treated wheat seedlings (P = 0.031). These findings indicate that exogenous SA significantly enhanced the defence of aphid-susceptible wheat variety against aphids by regulating the plant immune system, and may prove a potential application of SA in aphid control.