Plants & Pests

If you have plants, you will surely encounter pests partying on your plants sooner or later. Some will suck the juices from your leaves and plant, some will just make a home in your plant. The key to minimizing bug infestations is frequent inspection. In the shop, plants get a thorough inspection on arrival, then spot checks almost every day thereafter. In your home, depending on the size of your collection, weekly assessment is adequate. It’s important to pick up the plant to eye level and visualize where the joint and the leaf meets the stem, as well as the underside of leaves. If you do find bugs, immediately separate/banish to another adequate light location to avoid contamination to your whole collection. Here’s some common houseplant pests you may find as well as organic treatment solutions:

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Mealy bugs

Eggs and larvae can be found at leaf and stem joints. Adults have antenna and crawl. They especially enjoy sucking sap from new growth. Depending on the size of infestation, it may be better to discard the entire plant.

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Spider mites

Spiders will just make a home in your plant, but will not eat it. But spider mites will suck the leaf sap, reproduce and spread rapidly! Notice the webbing at the far right of this leaf and the grainy patches, a tell-tale sign of leaf suckers. Spray with neem oil mixture until dripping, then wipe down with paper towels and gloves. It may take several treatments weekly as the eggs are tiny and hard to eradicate. Heavy infestations may have to be pruned, soil removed, roots washed and replaced with fresh soil.

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Thrips

Larvae are pale and adults are black, both can crawl. Control with insect soap or horticultural oil until dripping, then wipe with paper towels and gloves. It may take several rounds about a week apart until gone.

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Fungus Gnats

A tiny, flying insect makes a home in the moisture of soil and produces larvae that burrows and eats fungus and other decaying matter. Adult gnats are more of a nuisance than harmful to humans or plants. But enough hungry larvae can eat your plant! Use sticky stakes above the soil (as shown) and insecticidal granules below the soil for the larvae.

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Aphids

Aphids cluster and suck sap from new growth on plants. Small infestations can be gently squeezed and wiped away or use a strong stream of water to spray away. Heavier infestations require neem oil mixture or insecticidal soap treatment and wipe away.

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Scale

Immobile brown or black spots are clustered on leaves. Larvae are whitish and can crawl. Adults develop a hard crust and remain immobile while they suck the sap from the leaf. If caught early, spot treatment with a cotton swab dipped in alcohol. Treat with neem oil spray.

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Insect killing soap

Active ingredient: potassium

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Oil formulation

Mix horticultural oil, neem or castile soap in a spray bottle.

1 tablespoon per quart of water

Neem oil mixture can be used as a preventive leaf polish too.

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Insecticidal granules

Active ingredient: Imidacloprid

Protects plants from several damaging insects for up to 2 months. Sprinkle and work granules into top 1-2 inches of soil and water in. Best applied at time of planting before pest problems occur.

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Sticky stakes

Effective organic traps

Jeanne Serrano