|Narcissus romieuxii ‘Julia Jane’|
At last we have had some nice spring weather. It was 70 degrees and sunny yesterday. Rain is moving in tonight, but it isn’t going to get too cold so that’s ok. It’s not snow anyway!
I made my first trip to the local greenhouse and bought some pansies. Pansies are the first plants you can plant here in the porch pots. And I love pansies. The plants at the greenhouse looked a little small, a bit behind this season but they were still tempting. I resisted buying anything tender though.
I did buy two perennials, a creeping phlox in a color I didn’t have and a new sedum. The sedum has the interesting name of ‘Sunsparkler Lime Twister’. Sometimes I swear it’s the name that makes me choose one plant over the other. If I decide I have a place for them I may go back and get some of the other nice varieties of sedum I saw there.
The daffodils are starting to bloom. Corydalis and early tulips will soon be in bloom. I bought some new daffodils last year, called hoop daffodils, (Narcissus romieuxii ‘Julia Jane’). I knew the bulbs were small, but I expected something a bit larger flowered than what popped up. These while cute, are barely taller than crocus and get lost in the place where I planted them. I didn’t heed my own advice and check out the catalog description carefully and the picture is quite deceptive.
I fixed up the small greenhouse I have on the south side of my barn. It used to be a chicken pen, but I had a clear corrugated plastic roof on that pen. So, after the bantams I used to raise there were sold I repurposed the pen. The first year I used it I covered the mesh sides of the pen with clear vinyl shower curtain liners. They were cheap and sturdy. Those lasted 3 years but were getting some large torn areas.
This year I recycled clear plastic chickenfeed bags. I slit the bottoms and one side, peeled off the label and it gave me a 2 x3 feet piece of clear plastic reinforced with some nylon netting. I stapled them to the supports and taped the seams with clear gorilla tape.
I moved a few things off the porch into the greenhouse yesterday, my rosemary, a few geraniums, some potted bulbs. This week I will work on potting up the dahlias, so they can get a head start in there. The seedlings started inside will go out there soon.
This unheated space gives me a place I can put plants I impulse buy until the danger of frost is over too and relieves the crowding in the house while hardening off things that have been kept inside all winter.
All too soon the wisteria vine growing on the corner of the greenhouse will be shading it but by that time it should be warm enough to empty the greenhouse out.
A tip to protect seedlings from damage
Do you have trouble with cats digging around your new plants or chickens eating them? Do the kids and dogs trample over your plants? Here’s an easy way to protect your young plants, whether vegetable or flowers.
Buy some wire fencing with at least two inch spacing or better yet re-cycle some old fencing. Fencing painted green or black may look a bit better, but don’t worry the fencing won’t show for long.
Instead of putting the fencing around the plants you need to put it over them. Cut the fencing in strips about 18 inches longer than your beds are wide. Now bend the fence in a V or C shape. Cut as many pieces as you need to cover your planting area.
Plant your seedling plants and then place the fence pieces over them. This looks a bit “ugly” at first but don’t worry, the plants will grow up and through the fence and soon you won’t see it at all. Your plants are protected as they grow and even get some support from the fence. When they are very small, and a frost threatens, you can throw an old sheet over the fence pieces to protect them without smashing the plants. Win Win.
When plants are still small its easy to move fence pieces to weed them. As plants get larger and grow through the wire I find that weed problems are less and can be pulled while they grow through the wire.
This method works best with annual flowers and vegetable plants that are planted when small. You could use it on perennial plants, but it might make them harder to care for.
|June 29, wire covers are already hidden|
Do you waste food?
Unless you’ve been in hiding you’ve probably heard about the problem of food waste in developed countries. About a third of the food produced here is wasted. Some is thrown away before it reaches the consumer, by producers who judge it unsuitable for sale, but a lot of it is thrown away by consumers. About 75% of food waste is from fresh fruits and vegetables.
Wasting food also wastes the energy and water used to grow it and impacts the environment. In a world where many people are starving it just feels wrong to waste food. Everyone should try to waste less.
As a gardener what can you do to lower your own food waste? For a start don’t grow more food crops than you can use. If you don’t can or freeze excess garden produce take it to a soup kitchen, senior citizen center, or food pantry. Don’t let apples rot on the ground, tomatoes rot on the vine and beans turn yellow and dry. If they aren’t suitable for human use maybe someone can use them for feeding chickens or pigs.
All those parts trimmed off vegetables and fruits, the tops and peels and so on can go to the compost pile but it’s a waste if a lot of what you grow in the garden ends up there- grow less! You never need more than one zucchini plant.
If you don’t produce your own vegetables and fruit and frequently find yourself tossing produce think about buying frozen or canned fruits and vegetables. Not all vegetables and fruits can be frozen or canned, but a great many can. These preservation methods give you a much longer period to use them up before they need to be disposed of.
Frozen produce retains almost all of the nutrients fresh produce has and is usually frozen at the peak of ripeness and flavor. Processing of frozen and canned or pickled products is usually done close to where it’s grown and saves the costs associated with long distance transportation, storage and cooling, both to the producer/consumer and the environment.
This year instead of buying fresh strawberries from Mexico or South America or across the country from you, buy them when local crops are on the market and freeze them. They’ll be ready to be used when you need them and they’ll keep a long time. Buy canned tomatoes for good tomato flavor in winter, canned at the peak of ripeness and ready to use instead of those gas ripened, hard, tasteless tomatoes offered in stores in the off season. I use them in salads and they are great, with so much flavor. Almost all fruit, and a great many vegetables can be frozen or canned.
Think carefully about the fresh produce you use that isn’t easily preserved and what you commonly throw away because it spoils before you get around to using it. Maybe it’s time to buy less lettuce, especially head lettuce. Buy cabbage and kale instead, which last much longer. Lettuce isn’t very nutritious anyway. You don’t have to eat salad everyday – and you probably aren’t if you are throwing the greens away. And greens sold in stores are one of the biggest causes of food poisoning.
For other produce use the buy local, buy seasonal philosophy whenever possible. Freeze or can to use when it’s not available locally. If you aren’t interested in preserving your own produce, buy frozen or canned produce. You’ll waste less of it and it’s probably more nutritious and tasty and caused less environmental impact than fresh produce shipped in from far away.
Growing Fruit Trees
Fruit is tasty and healthy. It’s the goal of many home gardeners to produce some of their own fruit. While growing fruit trees is a bit harder than growing vegetables, the average gardener should be able to do it. In this article fruit tree basics will be discussed.
Gardeners should remember though, that tree fruit production requires a little patience. Trees rarely flower and fruit the first year you plant them. Some trees like peaches bear faster and if you started with an older tree you may get fruit the second year. But most fruit trees will take several years to bear fruit.
You don’t have to have a lot of space to grow fruit trees. Many types of fruit trees come in dwarf and semi-dwarf size. There are some fruit trees small enough to grow in large containers. About twenty square feet is enough room for two semi-dwarf fruit trees. Some types of fruit, particularly apples, need two trees to produce fruit.
Space is not the only limiting factor when growing fruit trees. Some types of trees will not grow well in all planting zones. Some fruit trees require a winter chill period to set fruit. Above zone 8 fruits like apples, pears, plums and cherries may not get enough cold weather to produce fruit. There are a few varieties of apples that have been selectively bred for warm growing areas.
Below zone 8 gardeners will not be able to grow citrus fruits unless they can bring them inside to a heated green house in the winter. The arid southwest does not make for good fruit tree growth unless the trees can be irrigated. Some fruit trees like peaches and apricots may bloom too early in northern areas and the blooms will be killed by frost.
What fruit trees need
All fruit trees prefer to be in full sun. A sunny sheltered spot is ideal. Shelter from wind can come from a building, hedge or tree windbreak. Smaller dwarf trees can be grown against a wall or fence. If protection from the wind isn’t available, most fruit trees will still grow but may be slower growing and require more water.
Sandy loam is the ideal soil, with a pH near neutral. Citrus prefers a slightly acidic soil. Have your soil tested before planting fruit trees and correct any nutrient deficiencies. Fruit trees are heavy feeders and need good, fertile soil or supplemental fertilization.
Fruit trees prefer well drained soil. The most important part of choosing a site is to make sure that the soil drains well. Fruit trees will not survive in wet soil. If water stands in an area for more than an hour after a rain or you dig a hole and hit water, it is not a good place for fruit trees.
Do not plant fruit trees down in a hollow or other low spot. Low spots collect cold air in early spring and flowers may be killed by a frost that won’t occur on nearby higher ground.
Plant your fruit trees close enough to the house so that you can water and care for them easily. If you have lots of land, planting your trees closer to the house rather than far away may keep animal pests like deer from doing as much damage. But too close to the house is not ideal either. Fruit trees do not make good landscape trees. They require regular spraying and pruning that makes them look less appealing than most other trees but will result in better fruit.
Fruit trees also attract insect and animal pests with fallen fruit and ripe fruit. A cherry tree near the home will result in a lot of bird “stained” items. Rotting fruit under a tree attracts yellowjackets, a nasty member of the hornet family, and may bring other undesirables too close for comfort.
Fruit trees may also attract the human element, especially children, who may destroy or pick unripe fruit. Surely you remember having fights with little green apples. And the limbs of fruit trees should not become a climbing gym. Fruit trees do not belong in lawns or near gardens where weed killers and other things may be taken up into the trees root system.
Choosing fruit trees
Home gardeners are strongly advised to choose semi-dwarf varieties of fruit trees whenever possible. Semi-dwarf trees take up less space and are easier to care for and harvest. They usually produce fruit sooner than standard sized trees. Semi-dwarf trees will get to about 15 feet high.
If space is really limited choose dwarf trees. Dwarf trees may need a little more care to prevent them from breaking from the wind and may need to be propped when loaded with fruit. Some may need permanent staking.
Almost all fruit trees sold today are grafted trees. This means that the root part of the tree is generally from a disease resistant, hardy variety and the top part or fruiting part of the tree is from another tree. Most fruit trees do not come true from seed, particularly apples. That’s the reason most gardeners will want to purchase fruit trees rather than growing them from seed.
Apples, pears, some plums and sweet cherries will need another tree nearby to produce fruit. Tart cherries, peaches, apricots, some plums, and citrus are self-fruitful, but may produce better and tastier crops if another tree is nearby.
Apples are very fussy as to what can pollinate them. Two McIntosh apples will not pollinate each other, nor will two Red Delicious. With apples it is particularly important to pick two different types of trees, but two that can pollinate each other. Some trees bloom at different times and won’t pollinate each other and others have genetic incompatibilities. Catalogs and reference books can help you pick apples that will pollinate each other.
Also check plum and sweet cherry varieties to see if they are compatible. There are some sweet cherries sold now that will produce fruit without a second tree. Some plums will also set fruit as a single tree, but some won’t. Pears of the same types may set some fruit but cross pollination with another type of pear is better.
Other things to consider when choosing varieties of fruit trees include whether the variety is suitable for your planting zone. Some varieties may not be as cold hardy, may bloom too early or ripen fruit too late for your area. Homeowners may also want to pick varieties that are disease resistant, especially if they intend to follow organic pest control methods.
Planting your tree
While different types of fruit trees may have different cultural requirements and thrive in different plant zones the actual planting of fruit trees of all types is quite similar. Most fruit trees have similar soil, site, and planting needs.
Heavy clay soil should be amended not with sand, which creates cement, but with lots of compost and other organic matter. Soil that is sandy and drains too quickly can also be amended with organic matter. Do not amend individual holes; work the amendments into the soil before digging holes. Do not add fertilizer at planting.
Current research has shown that holes for trees should be re-filled with soil that was taken out of them and amendments like peat and compost should not be added to individual holes. If holes are amended and the surrounding soil is not as welcoming to plant roots they tend to circle around in the hole rather than venturing bravely out to find food and water. This can stunt tree growth or even kill trees.
Lighter soil in a hole made in heavy clay soil will attract water and act like a bathtub, rotting tree roots. No matter what the salesman says you don’t need topsoil or peat for the planting hole. A yearly layer of good compost on the soil around the trees will be worked into the soil by earthworms and other friendly creatures and will eventually improve the soil in the area.
Fruit trees are often purchased bare root. Make your hole just deep enough to accommodate the length of the root from tip to where you notice a dark ring on the trunk. This ring should signify the soil level where the tree was growing n the nursery. Do not plant them deeper than that. Trees should be planted with the first lateral – branching root- just beneath the soil surface.
Potted trees and balled and burlapped trees should have pots and all burlap and any strings and wires removed. Gently wash most of the soil off so you can examine the root system. Potted and balled trees are susceptible to circling roots, where the roots go around and around inside the pot or ball. If planted like that the growth pattern will likely continue and it will eventually kill the tree.
If the roots are circling you’ll need to try and straighten them out, sometimes they will need to be pruned so that the cut end faces either down or to the side. If there are a lot of bunched roots at the bottom, try to gently pry them apart and flare them out. Plant the tree so that the top branching root is just below the soil surface, 2-3 inches deep.
Holes should be deep and wide enough so that no roots are crowded together. You can make your holes as wide as you want, it helps to loosen the soil around the new tree. Never wind long roots around in a hole. This encourages circling roots and sometimes they will strangle the tree, cutting off water and nutrients to the trunk.
Look for the graft union on your fruit tree. Most fruit trees are grafted on to different root stock. It is important that the graft union is well above soil level. If soil covers the graft union, the tree may send up shoots from the roots, and the less desirable root stock may overtake the desirable top stock. Graft unions are a slight bulge, or scar like area on the trunk about 18 inches from the top of the roots. If you planted the tree correctly you should not have to worry about this.
Refill the hole with the soil you took out and water the plant to settle the soil. Do not tamp the soil down. You want your tree in a loose, gentle environment. Some people like to make a dam around the tree with soil so the ring it creates can be filled with water that will seep into the soil.
You may have heard that it’s good to remove some of the branches or to cut the trunk back after planting by a third and so on. Modern research has shown you should not do this. Don’t remove any branches unless they are broken or dead and don’t cut the top of the tree back.
Fruit trees can be mulched after planting. Mulch has advantages and disadvantages. It keeps down weeds that compete with young trees and preserves soil moisture. However, mulch can hide fruit tree pests such as insects and voles, which nibble at the trunk. Mulch should never be more than a couple inches deep and should not actually touch the trunk of the tree. If you do not mulch keep the area beneath the tree mowed short but be careful not to damage the tree trunk when mowing or weed wacking.
Standard and semi-dwarf trees should not need staking. Staking encourages weak trunks. Dwarf trees however, may need a stake to support them or they may need to be tied to a trellis or fence.
The trunks of newly planted fruit trees do need protection from animals who are very fond of tender bark. If animals eat the bark off completely around the tree, called girdling, it will die. You can use circles of fencing with small openings, called hardware cloth or wrap one of the spiral plastic tree wraps around the trunk. The cages should be as tall as the bottom limbs of the tree. Areas that get heavy snows will need taller cages as animals will feed from the top of the snow banks.
Water the newly planted trees once a week if it is dry, more often if the soil is sandy and the weather hot and windy. Once trees are established fruit trees can stand some drought. However, you will get larger and better tasting fruit if they can be watered.
Fruit tree care after planting
Fruit trees take a little more care than other garden crops. You will need to prune, spray and eventually harvest your trees. Most fruit trees need shaping and training in their early years to produce a good fruit crop. They will need pruning every winter to help them maintain their size and shape.
Proper pruning is a hard subject to explain in text. There are different methods of pruning that experts recommend. Different types of fruit also need slightly different pruning methods. I highly recommend gardeners try to attend a pruning demonstration, many county Extension offices and garden clubs sponsor these demonstrations in late winter.
Here are some sites that can show you how to prune fruit trees.
Alabama-southern areas- http://www.aces.edu/pubs/docs/A/ANR-0053-K/index2.tmpl
Slide show from MSU on pruning bearing apples
Penn state apple and pear pruning https://extension.psu.edu/pruning-apples-and-pears-in-home-fruit-plantings
University of Maine pruning slide show, diagrams
In general, anything growing beneath the graft bulge or coming up from the roots should be removed. Remove a branch crossing or rubbing on another. Cut long side branches back by a third. Remove little branches coming off a main branch that are growing straight up.
For most fruit trees you want branches that join the trunk at a good right angle and not like a V. These support loads of fruit better. Young branches can be weighed down so they develop a better angle or the improper angled branches can be removed. They can also be spread downward by using a board between the trunk and branch, called a spreader.
To get your fruit you may need to protect it from birds and other animals. You can cover the smaller trees with netting or you can use a variety of “scare” devices that are on the market.
Fruit trees should be fertilized once a year. Do not fertilize at planting. In the early spring of the following year apply a general-purpose fertilizer such as 10-6-4 or you can use a fertilizer labeled for fruit trees. A fertilizer higher in nitrogen is recommended, you may not need phosphorus and potassium. Have a soil test done at planting and then every 5 years to determine if there are any soil nutrient deficiencies. Some trees like citrus may require some nutrients in greater quantities.
Remember not to use fertilizers with weed killers in them on fruit trees. Also if the fruit tree is in a lawn area keep lawn weed killers away from them, at least as far as the drip line.
Apply fertilizers in early spring. Read the label directions for the amount to use as formulas vary. Here is a basic guideline- you are trying to get about a ¼ pound of actual nitrogen to the tree the first year after planting and increase it by a ¼ pound each year for five years. Then stop increasing the fertilizer amount, but keep fertilizing each year.
The actual amount of nitrogen does not mean the actual weight of the fertilizer. The first number on the fertilizer bag is the nitrogen by percentage based on 100 lbs. of fertilizer. For a 10-6-4 fertilizer a fifty-pound bag of fertilizer would have 5 pounds of actual nitrogen, a 25 pound bag would have 2 ½ pounds. You’ll need about 2 ½ pounds of the complete fertilizer to get ¼ pound of nitrogen.
Spread the dry fertilizer over the soil evenly around the tree. Make about a 2 feet wide circle around the tree the first year and in the following years spread the fertilizer out to the drip line of the tree. Don’t let the fertilizer get up against the tree trunk. Water the fertilizer in well.
To get a nice crop of fruit a preventative disease and insect spray program will need to be followed. There are now some products considered organic and of low toxicity for those who do not like chemical pesticides. While these products help, they are not as effective in preventing disease and insects as other chemical controls and the fruit produced may not be as perfect. If you use no preventative pesticides you may end up with small, wormy or diseased fruit.
To make it simple for home gardeners I recommend a dormant horticultural oil spray in early spring, before the buds swell for all types of fruit. Plums and cherries should have a second dormant oil spray when flower buds show a ½ inch of green. Dormant oil is considered to be an organic treatment and is one treatment all homeowners should use.
Next choose a good home orchard spray, which you’ll find at garden stores. These sprays contain both insecticides and fungicides for disease prevention. Follow the label directions. Generally, you will spray the trees just before the buds open, after the petals fall and at about ten-day intervals after that. This would not be an organic method, but modern fruit tree sprays are pretty safe.
There are products considered to be organic such as Surround®, a clay coating for fruit and sprays made with sulfur and other compounds that you can purchase. Organic controls are not as effective as some other pesticides and fruit may still show signs of disease or insects. Some people are fine with that and some use no treatment other than dormant oil on fruit trees.
Don’t apply any sprays while fruit trees are in bloom, organic or otherwise, as this will affect pollination and can kill pollinators.
Since diseases of fruit trees vary from region to region and treatment timing may also vary contact your local county Extension office for advice on fruit tree spraying. I’m not going to describe diseases and pests because this article would become very, very long. Once again, the county Extension office should know what diseases are present in your area and tell you what to look for and when and how to treat problems.
If conditions are very dry fruit trees will need to be watered for proper fruit development. Weeds should be kept away from under fruit trees. They can hide pests and compete for soil resources.
Every year clean up the leaves beneath the trees and any fallen fruit as these can harbor insect pests and diseases from year to year.
While fruit trees are more labor intensive than other garden plants the labor should be rewarded by a good crop of tasty and nutritious fruit. Home fruit growers can also grow varieties of fruit not often found on the market. If you have the space fruit trees are a good addition to the garden.
MG lesson part two - Houseplant pests and disease
Houseplants don’t suffer as many diseases as outside plants, but they do suffer from several types of insect pests. The most common insect pests are whitefly, aphids, mealy bugs, spider mites, and scale. There are several species of each type of these pests, but control is usually the same. Another pest often found with houseplants is the fungus gnat. This is more of a soil pest and a nuisance although they can damage plant roots in some cases. I have a good article about fungus gnats on the pages to the right of the blog so they won’t be covered here.
Before you bring a plant home inspect it carefully for insect pests. It’s always a good idea to have a spot where new plants can be quarantined for a week or two. And if you notice insects or suspect them on plants you already have it’s good to quarantine them too. The quarantine area should be a room separate from other plants. You may have to use a grow light there.
Houseplants get insects from the greenhouse they were grown in and from summering outside. However, putting insect infested plants outside will often cure the problem since outdoor conditions and natural predators will help control insects. Of course, tropical plants can’t go out in winter and some people don’t have an area to put plants outside.
Some species of plants are more likely to insect pests than others. Plants that aren’t being cared for properly are also more susceptible. Signs of insect infestations like yellowing or curled leaves can also be signs of poor cultural conditions. Other things like fumes, things dumped in the pot, pet or child damage are sometimes mistaken for insect damage too.
Signs of insect pests are seeing the insects and also seeing honeydew, a sticky substance that insects poop out after sucking sweet plant juices. Aphids, scale, mealy bugs and whitefly can all cause honeydew. You’ll see it on plant surfaces and also on windows, pots and things the plants are sitting on. It sometimes gets a black mold, called sooty mold. Sooty mold doesn’t harm plants, but it’s a sign you have insect pests.
The most common diseases of houseplants are botrytis or gray mold and crown and stem rot. Root rot is also common. All of these are fungal diseases and while they are contracted from other diseased plants they must have the right conditions to develop and that’s usually overwatering in cool environments with poor air circulation. Botrytis looks like a gray fuzzy mold on leaves, usually on begonias, African violets and some other soft leaved plants. The rots look just as you would suspect, brown mushy rotted areas on plants.
To control these diseases trim off any infected parts if you can. Repot in a clean potting medium and scrub pots in hot water and soap if you reuse them. Improve growing conditions and don’t over water. If too much of the plant has rotted, you’ll probably just have to discard it as there is no cure.
Some species of houseplants are susceptible to viruses. They probably had them when you bought them, or they were given the virus by pests like aphids. Viruses usually cause distorted growth, white streaking on flowers, and oddly blotched yellow areas on leaves. Plants appear stunted and grow poorly. There is no cure for viruses and plants should be discarded.
Other diseases of houseplants include some leaf spot diseases, both fungal and bacterial and a few other rare disease problems. If you suspect them have the plant diagnosed by your county Extension office and follow the recommendations given for treatment.
Aphids are big enough to see with the naked eye and they can be a variety of colors. Usually they are pale green. Aphids have a plump body and tiny wings. They can fly but usually don’t, they crawl to new feeding places. They may cluster on stems and the back of leaves. They like new growth, the tips of stems and flower buds. Aphids suck plant juices and leave leaves looking yellow and often curled. The plants are weakened and stunted. Aphids also carry diseases from plant to plant. Honeydew is a good sign that aphids may be present.
Aphids give birth to live young that are tiny versions of themselves but without wings. The populations can rise rapidly. Outside aphids are the favorite food of many other insects and often moving a houseplant outside can drop the aphid population down or eliminate it.
Whiteflies are teeny, tiny white moth -like insects. They produce tiny green larvae that suck plant juices, leaving behind that lovely honeydew. They cluster under leaves and in leaf joints, with the larvae usually on the backs of leaves. When you lightly shake a plant, the adult whiteflies may fly up in a cloud. Like aphids they cause yellowed leaves and weak, stunted plants.
Mealybugs look like tiny bits of cotton fluff in the leaf joints and underside and along the veins of leaves. The adults have white waxy hairs that cause them to look fluffy. They too suck plant juices and cause leaves to yellow and fall. Eggs are laid in a bit of fluff on the backs of leaves. This fluff covering protects eggs from some forms of pesticides.
Spider mites are very tiny red, yellow or olive colored insects barely visible to the naked eye. With a hand lens they do look like tiny spiders. What is visible is fine webbing, like spider webs, that may appear at branch tips, on the back of leaves and along plant trunks. They cause yellow stippling of leaves and leaves that dry up and fall. Heavy infestations can kill plants.
They are most often found when the environment is hot and dry, with low humidity. To see if they are your problem place a white sheet of paper under some leaves and tap them. If you see tiny dots that fall on the paper and move around you probably have spider mites, especially if you also see webbing.
Scale insects look like tiny brown oval scabs along plant stems and on the back of leaves. Some people may mistake them for bark or natural parts of the plant. They attach to the plant and their hardened shell protects them from insecticides and other insects. They have a larval stage that is mobile and moves from plant to plant. They cause lots of honeydew and once again yellowed, falling leaves and weak stunted plants.
When you scrape off a scale insect with your fingernail the backside is usually pale colored. They are pretty easy to scrape off and it’s a good control, but they are often missed. Because adult scale insects are protected from sprays systemic pesticides should be used on them. These are pesticides that are poured on the soil and taken up internally by the plant. The crawling stage can be killed by insecticidal soap or pesticides.
People often get very upset when a houseplant insect pest pops up. It isn’t the end of the world and most can be saved. Some people simply throw out the plant and that’s an option, but if the problem is noticed early and the proper treatment started most plants can be saved. Houseplant pests don’t harm the house, other than the honeydew, (which can be cleaned off windows and other things with soap and water), and they don’t infect people or pets.
With houseplants one should take a IPM approach to control. That means identifying the pest and starting with the safest solutions for control and working “up” from there if more radical steps are needed and desired.
The very first thing one should do when insect pests are identified is give the plant a shower. Yes, a shower. Move the plant outside or to the shower or basement laundry tub and spray them with a strong stream of warm water. You don’t need soap, just water. This will dislodge most pests except scale insects, and it will even help with scale. Hit the underside of leaves and along stems and branch joints with the stream of water. If you are worried about soil washing out of the pot or it getting too wet, cover the pot with a plastic bag. Repeat the shower every few days until the problem seems to have disappeared.
The second thing to try if showers aren’t correcting the problem is an insecticidal soap spray. Use a commercial product, not homemade concoctions which may harm plants. This is most effective on aphids, mealy bugs, spider mites and white fly.
For whitefly and aphids, you can try yellow sticky traps, which are hung close to plants and which attract insects, which stick to them. You can buy these or make your own by coating bright yellow plastic or cardboard with petroleum jelly. Replace them whenever they have a lot of insects on them or get dusty.
For scale insects you can try removing them by scraping them off. Give them a warm shower first if you can to wash off the larval stage and soften the scales. You can use your fingernail or a pocket knife blade to scrape them off. Or you can use cotton swabs dipped in a little alcohol to remove them. Try not to get alcohol on the plant tissue. This is a tedious chore and you will miss some of the scales, I guarantee it. Removing most of the population will increase the plants health. You will need to repeat the treatment at least a few times.
If the more natural remedies don’t work and you are not averse to chemical treatments I will offer some suggestions here. Remember to follow label directions exactly. It’s a good idea to take the plants being treated to an unused room or outside until sprays have dried. Systemic treatments can sometimes be used. If you have pets that eat plants or for some reason, kids that eat plants, you may not want to use pesticides, although some are pretty safe even with consumption of a small amount on the plant.
Don’t worry about pesticides harming good insects if the plants are inside, or even if they go outside but are not blooming plants.
Remember that pesticides regulations change so this pesticide list could be outdated when you read it. Look for products that mention they can be used inside and that control the pest you have identified. Always follow label directions and keep pesticides out of the reach of kids in pets. These are not brand names, look for the ingredient listed below on labels.
Pyrethrins, resmethrin, and permethrin will work on most insect pests except spider mites. Bifenthrin will work on most pests including spider mites. Imidacloprid will work on mealybugs, scale, and aphids but is used in special potting mixes that can be hard to find. Neem oil will work on whiteflies and aphids.
And while we are talking treatments you know I have to caution about some of the oddball home remedies that float around. Dish soap solutions are one of the most popular home concoctions. Dish soap should not be used on plants. They have chemicals that strip natural oils and waxes off plant leaves. An insecticidal soap, one you purchase, has a different formula and doesn’t remove the protective waxes and oils. Dish soap may cause leaf yellowing, drying up and curling also. Many of the dish soap “recipes” I see are so diluted they won’t harm the plants, but they won’t harm the insects either.
Other remedies that don’t work on houseplants are Epsom salts, diatomaceous earth, alcohol sprays (very bad for plants), coffee or coffee grounds, cinnamon, baking soda, onion or garlic oil, and other grocery items. Also, not recommended for inside are predators, like lady bugs or frogs. (Don’t laugh, people suggest this, but house conditions are not good for them and its rarely effective control in a home.) But if you leave regular spiders alone near your plants they may control some pests.
Houseplant pests don’t need to destroy your plants or keep you from having houseplants. Keeping a watchful eye on your plants and moving quickly to control pests will keep your plants healthy and growing.
Sorry no recipe this week, I just wrote too much.
Get outside and soak up the sun if you can- it’s spring at last.
Thanks for reading
And So On….
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