Pest Control

Pest Control
Pests love plants. Plants don’t love pests. How do we manage and control plant pest problems? There are several products you can utilize to rid your plant friend of bugs and some great methods to follow that can help with preventative care. If you’re a plant parent, you’re going to find some hitchhikers on your favorite plant at some point. It’s unavoidable but it doesn’t have to be scary. Pests can get inside when you open and close the door. They can come home on a new plant. They can live in the new soil you just used to repot your plant. No matter where they came from, you need to take action because those little guys aren’t just there to say hello. They will feed on your plant’s roots and foliage and can lead to the demise of your dear friend. Let’s take a look at some tried and true practices.

Preventative measures. Although these actions will not guarantee that you never see a plant pest, they surely help keep things at bay and make it more manageable when an outbreak does happen. I’m going to talk about some of my favorite preventative pest control practices.

Diatomaceous Earth. This product is deadly to any insect, but harmless to animals if ingested. If you have pets that like to investigate your plants, this may be a good option for you (although you shouldn’t let you or your pet breath in the dust.) Diatomaceous Earth is made from crushed fossils of freshwater organisms and marine life. It acts like microscopic shards of glass that will get into the insect’s joints and grind away….pretty gnarly right? If this doesn’t bother you and you want to those pesky bugs to bug off, then apply some Diatomaceous Earth to the top of your plant’s soil. Often this product will come with a scoop or a duster that helps apply a light layer to the top of your soil.

One of my favorite products to use for preventative care is Bonide Systemic Granules. I apply this to the top of the soil on all my houseplants in late spring when all the bugs are starting to come out. This product kills insects through ingestion, so it won’t kill the good bugs that are leaving your plants alone. The granules look similar to sand. You can sprinkle them on the top of your soil or mix them into the top few inches of soil if you’d like. After watering, the insecticide is absorbed through the roots and moves through the plant. The nice thing about using Bonide Systemic Granules is it controls pests for up to 8 weeks. I do want to mention that this is not safe for edible plants so don’t use it on those delicious tomatoes you’re growing. This is safe to use around people and pets if used according to the directions. If you have a pet that likes to eat your plants and soil, I would look at other methods.

Neem Oil is another great thing to have on hand. This comes in a spray bottle that you can use to saturate your soil. You can even use it on the leaves of your plants. Spray this on as a preventative or use it directly on bugs. Neem Oil is also safe to use around your pets. Let’s talk about some of the most common houseplant pests and how to identify them.

Fungus Gnats. These guys like to lay their eggs in moist soil and then feed on the roots of your plant. If not properly taken care of, they will eventually destroy your plant. They’re very small and annoying and can seem like a nightmare if they’re flying around all over your house. I’m here to give you some helpful tips on kicking your fungus gnats to the curb. If you have a fungus gnat infestation, you can try bottom watering your plants for the next few times. This allows the top of your plant’s soil to dry out, creating an environment that is no longer suitable for the gnats. If you have a bad infestation that needs emergency control, you can purchase yellow sticky traps or indoor insect traps. The fungus gnats are attracted to the yellow color of the sticky traps and will get stuck when they come up from the soil, killing them before they can reproduce. Indoor traps usually have a light that attracts the insects and then they go inside the trap to die.

Mealy bugs. These insects look soft and fuzzy but don’t let this fool you. They will feed on the sugary sap of your plant’s leaves and stems, weakening and even killing your plant. These guys can be especially difficult to get rid of if you have a plant with curly leaves and crevices to hide in. Any visible mealy bugs should be cleaned off from your plant with an alcohol soaked cotton swab or qtip. This will kill them on contact. You can then use some of the preventative measures we talked about earlier to keep them from coming back.

Aphids. There are several types of aphids. Some look like fairytale puffs of dust and some appear as tiny black dots on your plant. Neem oil and alcohol swabs work great on these insects too. If you have a severe pest problem, you can always repot your plant into some fresh soil after removing any visible insects. Then you can wash off your roots and see anything that may have been hiding in the soil.

Spider Mites. They’re incredible hard to spot because of their microscopic size, but once you start seeing their webs, you can’t mistake them for anything else. They will cover the leaves of your plants in a super fine web-like blanket. This web is noticeably different than the usual house spider. A spray bottle with a rubbing alcohol and water mixture is great for controlling spider mites because it allows you to mist every part of your plant. Remember, these insects are very hard to see. The rubbing alcohol will dehydrate the spider mites so that you can effectively get rid of them.

Thrips. Also incredibly hard to notice, thrips have the shape of a teeny tiny grain of rice - long and slender. Insecticidal soap spray is best to eliminate thrips from your plant. Apply this especially to the underside of leaves where they like to gather.

Although it would be wonderful to never have to deal with a infestation on your plants, it’s a part of plant-parenting that we just can’t get around. I hope I have armed you with some knowledge that can help turn your next panic into peace of mind!
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