DEBUGGING YOUR HOUSEPLANTS IN FALL
Compared to the chilly winter temperatures outside, our climate-controlled homes are a luxury getaway for most common pests. With such a comfortable habitat, it makes it easy for them to move in, spelling bad news not just for your tropicals being moved indoors, but any other houseplants in your home, as well, so it’s our job to protect them all. Here are some of the most common offenders and how to give them an encouraging boot out the door:
These pests aren’t technically insects, but as tiny arachnids, they’re certainly just as undesirable. They’re easy to spot thanks to the trail of damage they leave behind - spotty or dull foliage, with yellow or rusty patches, and tiny webs on your plant.
The first step to control a mite infestation is to boost the humidity around your plant. Your houseplant will usually enjoy the boost to help it recover, but the mites don’t fare well in damp environments. If the pests survive a week of higher humidity, you might need to step up your defenses to using an insecticidal soap for a few weeks. Your last resort should be using a pyrethrum-based insecticidal spray. Take caution, though - this might get rid of your mites the first time, but they are quick to develop a resistance, so use it wisely.
Most gardeners are all too familiar with aphids from their outdoor plants, but these little pests aren’t only an outdoor problem. These tiny annoyances can make quick work of a plant with limited defenses, especially as they reproduce so quickly that keeping them under control can become a chore. You’ll notice their damage when a plant begins wilting or curling its leaves and can often found them in clusters under leaves and by their tell-tale nasty, sticky residue left behind.
Many aphid infestations are easy to control with something as simple as a spray of water under the leaves to dislodge them, or light applications of insecticidal soap or horticultural oil. The problem with aphids usually isn’t how to kill them, but how to get rid of them permanently. These pests are quick to rebound, so affected plants should be treated daily to keep the surviving aphids from restarting the cycle.
You might have heard mealybugs described as fluffy, but that only sounds cute if you’ve never seen one of had them in your home. They stick around by reproducing on the underside of your plant’s leaves and secrete a waxy coating that acts as a barrier to protect them from your spray bottle when you try to get them off your plants and out of your home.
Mealybugs are more sensitive to cold temperatures than most house pests, so the easiest way to try to get rid of them is to leave your plant near a draftier area. Be careful not to shock your plant with too much of a temperature change, but shift the plant to a cooler area to make the bugs cluster together in the warmth. This will make them easier to spot and eliminate. If you do see any on a plant, it’s wise to start treating right away to prevent them from jumping to the rest of your houseplants. Use insecticidal soaps weekly to cut through their waxy barrier, being sure to saturate the underside of leaves where they like to lurk.
Scale insects are a plant problem that many people simply mistake for a disease rather than a pest. While they have a phase of crawling around where they certainly look and act more like insects, they quickly choose a spot on your plants to settle in to become like plant-sucking ticks. These little vampires will grow a hard shell-like coating once they’ve attached themselves to your plant, which solidly adheres them, making them easy to mistake as a strange growth, rather than a pest.
The most important way to prevent scale insects from getting out of control is to isolate infected plants to prevent them from spreading. Once your plants are safely quarantined, you can move to using chemicals to treat the pests. Insecticidal soaps are great to defend against the insects while they are still moving around, but they aren’t very effective on the adults once they’ve settled in. The best way handle adults to keep your plant safe is to scrape them off.
Knowing how to treat pests is important once they show up, but it’s even better if you can prevent them from making themselves welcome in your home in the first place.
Start off right with sanitary pots and soil. When you repot your plants to bring them in, use fresh soil from the bag, rather than soil that has been exposed to the outdoors. Using a clean pot also helps to keep your plants clean when they move inside.
Clean your plants off with a hose before you bring them inside. It can be tough to remember this step if you’re rushing to save plants from an unexpected drop in temperatures, but removing pests with a strong stream of water is a great way to keep them from taking over. Pay special attention to the undersides of plant leaves, where most pests are hiding.
Isolate your plants for a few weeks to keep the rest of your home safe. This step is crucial if you are lucky to have many plants at home. Quarantine your plants for 1-2 weeks when you bring them inside to make sure that any pests that do surface don’t take over all your houseplants. Wait at least a week to monitor for any pest problems surfacing, and wait longer if you notice anything that needs to be treated.
Start gentle with your treatments. Strong pesticides can not only be damaging to your plants, but your pests can also develop a resistance to them - leaving you with no solutions in the event of a big infestation. Always start with a gentle treatment and only move up to more heavy-duty solutions if you need to. The most important part is consistency in your treatment, not strength.
While household pests can be an annoyance when they surface, they are usually uncomplicated and easy to manage with just a little bit of care. Take some time to be careful when moving your plants indoors this year and you can make sure that you all have a cozy and pest-free winter away from the cold.