As discussed on Page 1, houseplants may help us lead healthier lives. But only if we, in turn, keep them healthy through proper care. No advice about the care for houseplants is complete without mention of houseplant pests. Indoor gardening can be plagued with pests just as voracious as their outdoor gardening counterparts. Let's take a look at houseplant pest identification, and strategies to combat houseplant pests.
Know Your Enemy: Houseplant Pest Identification
The following list will help you identify the pests most likely to plague your indoor gardening aspirations. The time to make use of your identification skills is not after your houseplants are already infested with pests. In fact, the best time to put this knowledge to work is before the houseplants even become your houseplants. When shopping at a greenhouse or garden center for the houseplants that will fulfill your indoor gardening dreams, inspect the plants closely for nightmares -- i.e., pest infestations. No matter how inexpensive a houseplant on the sale rack may be, it is no bargain if it harbors pests. Not only will the pests that you bring home make life difficult for that particular houseplant (and for you!), but they'll also spread to any other houseplants currently gracing your home.
- Whiteflies are white with waxy bodies. When you disturb them by shaking a leaf, you'll actually see them fly around.
- Mealybug doesn't even look like a bug. It looks like little pieces of cotton that adhere to the plant where a leaf stem joins a branch.
- Likewise, scale doesn't fit the usual model of a bug pest. Leaves infested with scale look like they have scabs on their "skin."
- Spider mites are tiny, but if you examine them closely they do resemble little spiders with tiny webs.
- Aphids suck the juice out of tender new plant growth, as evidenced by their plump bodies. While their movement isn't as noticeable as that of whiteflies, if you examine them closely you will be able to detect some motion (unlike with mealybug and scale, which just sit there, motionless to the eye).
How to Combat Houseplant Pests
In addition to pesticides, you have a number of options for combatting houseplant pests:
- Sticky traps. Effective in greenhouses, you might not want to have to look at these in your home. Another strategy effective in greenhouses but unlikely to be implemented in the home is the introduction of predator insects into the growing environment. Most folks just aren't that crazy about living with bugs, even when those bugs help rid them of houseplant pests!
- Dish soap. If you've read any of Jerry Baker's gardening books, you know he'd like this one....
- Alcohol. No, the idea is not to get the houseplant pests so drunk that they'll fall off the plants! We're talking about rubbing alcohol here.
- Silicon or horticultural oils.
- Chili pepper. Give houseplant pests a hotfoot!
But combatting houseplant pests is far from being the only challenge of houseplant care. Page 3 gives you the rest of the bad news -- and how to fix it....