Preventing Pesky Plant Pests

Have you recovered from all of the horrifying pest pictures I shared in my last blog? (I hope so!)

Many of you may be wondering how you can avoid these gross critters altogether.

AdobeStock_108964085.jpeg

Keep in mind that many times, all it takes to begin an outbreak is one tiny insect, sneaking in unaware on a new plant to cause massive damage to your entire houseplant family.

Always do a visual inspection of a plant before you buy it.Take your time when plant shopping to look carefully at the plant. Examine the stem, flip over the leaves, even poke the soil a little. If you do find some sort of pest, be sure to take the plant to the shop owner/greenhouse owner and let them know about the presence of pests. And definitely do NOT buy the plant.

AdobeStock_108964057.jpeg

Use fresh soil and a clean pot.In one of my recent blog posts <link> I discussed how different types of plants prefer different types of soil. This is definitely true, and you will want to consider this when you are repotting a new plant. However, one of the main things to keep in mind – regardless of the type of soil you’re using – is to use fresh, sterile soil. You don’t want to use soil that unknowingly has pests in it, only to infect a perfect fine plant.  The same goes with pots – be sure to wash any old soil from a pot before reusing it with a new plant.

Check out the root ball when repotting plants.Sometimes, pests will lurk within the soil of a plant and may not be immediately evident. However, when you repot your plant into new soil, be sure to check out the root ball. If you see anything that even remotely resembles a pest (specifically look out for eggs and/or larvae), be sure to wash all of the old soil off of the roots before repotting the plant in a new pot. You will also want to monitor the plant closely for a while to be sure that you didn’t miss any eggs/larvae that could have matured into adults.

AdobeStock_108964126.jpeg

Isolate new plants.By keeping a new plant separate from all the rest of your plant babies for a few weeks, you can ensure that if some pest DID sneak in, it is not going to hurt the rest of your plant family. During the isolation period, check on your plant frequently. Examine the stem, flip over the leaves, and poke at the soil again. If everything looks good after a couple of weeks, you can introduce your plant to the rest of your plant family (i.e. move it to it’s intended spot in your home).

Ideally, your plants should not touch each other. (This is something that I honestly don’t do in my own home.) However, pests that crawl can use leaves that touch as a mechanism for moving from plant to plant.

AdobeStock_108964233.jpeg

A good way to help in preventing outbreaks of infestations is to wipe down your plants leaves every few weeks, or once a month. This also gives you the opportunity to notice anything unusual.

And here’s the thing: sometimes, pests happen. You can think that everything is good, you’ve followed all of your precautions, and suddenly – there’s a pest problem! Keeping a careful eye on your plants and periodically examining them for pests is an important part of continuing to keep plants pest-free! That way, if you discover a pest infestation, you can deal with it ASAP!

Preventing.png

I hope you have found this series helpful! Here’s wishing you all a fantastic, pest-free summer!

– the {house}plant momma

 

Pesky Plant Pests

Warning: This post is full of gross creepy things. But it’s also full of cute (old!) pictures of my hubby and I on our honeymoon, so…balance, right?

June 20, 2010. Andres and I walked down the aisle, said “I do,” kissed, and the next day, headed to Tulum, Mexico to celebrate the beginning of our life together. While there, we stayed at a gorgeous bed and breakfast out in the jungle. As we were given a tour of the facilities upon our arrival, we thought we must have arrived in paradise.

Our room was decorated in quaint, authentic Mexican décor, and was surrounded by several small, private swimming pools. A hammock swung lazily on our private porch. A masseuse could be scheduled to give you a private massage in a beautiful jungle villa.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_3800.jpg
Private pool at our B&B! A dream!
UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_38ab.jpg
Fresh fruit every morning for breakfast
UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_37fb.jpg
Beautiful artwork in our room

It was great…’til nighttime. Turns out our room had no air-conditioning. June in Tulum can be described in two words: hot and humid. Andres and I laid in our bed, covers kicked off, ceiling fan going full blast, just trying to feel one tiny gust of cool air. Sleep felt impossible.

As soon as I dozed off, Andres woke me, speaking in a quiet, overly-calm voice. “Allison. Wake up and get out of bed.” I sleepily sat up, wondering what was going on. After only a moment, Andres told me to go back to sleep, that everything was fine. It wasn’t until the next morning that he told me a cockroach had been on my pillow, approaching my face.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_3850.jpg
A cockroach caught in our room

During our honeymoon our days were full of fantastic memories – beach walking, snorkeling with tropical fish, Andres losing his wedding ring in the deeps of the ocean (that’s another story for another day), delicious food, treats from street vendors, shopping at the little local shops. Yes, the days were wonderful.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_3817.jpg
Beach days!
UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_38a3.jpg
Tacos at a road-side stand for dinner – YUM!

But the nights… Oh yes, the nights brought many shudder-worthy pests. Our room was actually equipped with a “pik-stick” (like elderly people might use to pick up something our of reach on the floor) to collect pests and keep them at arm’s length.

While there, we saw more than our share of cockroaches, giant spiders with glinty eyes, a scorpion in the eves over our bed, and a GIANT whip scorpion (which looks like a humongous spider) in our shower.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_38a7.jpg
Oh hey, scorpion in the eves above my bed…
UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_383b.jpg
This is a terrible picture, but this is a whip scorpion…in my shower…and then it charged at me and all of Mexico heard me scream.

Let me tell you: pests like that have a way of stealing the romance RIGHT out of your honeymoon. (But they also give you HILARIOUS stories to tell later!)

Unfortunately, pests are just a part of life. And, when you have houseplants, pests just come along with the territory. The important thing is that you understand plant pests before you get them. If you have this understanding, you can more effectively treat them before they do some serious damage to your plant family.
Aphids.png

Aphids are one of the most commonly found houseplant pests. These insects pierce plants with their mouthparts and drink out the sap inside the plant. After eating, the excrete a sticky, sweet “honeydew.” This leaves a residue on plants, which then attracts other pests, especially ants, or can even create a black, sooty mold.

What pest looks like:

  • small (1/8 inch), soft-bodied, and pear-shaped; can be green, yellow, brown, red or black in color
  • adults are typically wingless, but if populations are high, they can grow wings
  • two whip-like antennae on the tip of the head and a pair of tube-like structures projecting backwards on their hindquarters

 Signs of pest:

  • sticky residue (honeydew) on plants
  • black, sooty mold caused by honeydew
  • presence of insects

 Treating pest:

  • prune off any infected areas on the plant
  • spray plant with a strong stream of water, knocking off most of the population
  • crush remaining bugs between fingers

Common Whitefly.png

The common whitefly is a nasty little pest that don’t discriminate when it comes to what type of houseplants they infest. They lay their eggs on the undersides of leaves while they eat; the eggs hatch in less than a week. Once hatched, the nymphs act similar to scale: they crawl a short distance, plant themselves, and suck the plant until they go into a dormant phase. They remain dormant for approximately two weeks, before emerging as adults and beginning the process over again.

What the pest looks like:

  • moderately small (1/16 inch); moth-like insects with white wings and short antenna

Signs of pest:

  • stunted plant growth, leaf yellowing
  • sticky residue (honeydew) on plants
  • black, sooty mold caused by honeydew
  • presence of insects

Treating pest:

  • yellow sticky traps (as they are attracted to the color yellow)
  • spray plant with a strong stream of water, knocking off most of the population

Fungus Gnats.png

Fungus gnats are common in homes with houseplants – especially where humidity/moisture is high. They look similar to fruit flies, and many times are mistaken as such. While the adults are mostly just a pain in the butt, the larvae (which are laid in the soil) can damage tender plant roots.

What pest looks like:

  • adults: grayish-black; somewhat resemble mosquitos with long legs and one pair of clear wings; 1/8 inch long.
  • larvae: shiny black head; long whitish (or transparent) body; about 1/4 inch long.

Signs of pest:

  • sudden wilting, poor growth, or yellowing of a plant
  • presence of insects

Treating pest:

  • sticky traps
  • add sand to the top of the soil
  • top soil with cinnamon (which I have tried, and found successful)
  • spraying soil with a 3 parts water: 1 part hydrogen peroxide mixture to kill larvae


Mealy Bugs.png

While mealybugs are an unarmored insect, they are difficult to control because they move. This means that if another plant is touching an infected plant, there’s the possibility that the mealybugs will transfer from one plant to another. Mealybugs are another species that feed on the sap of a plant; they insert their long sucking mouthparts into the plant and draw out the sap.

What pest looks like:

  • small (1/10-1/14 inch), oval-shaped, white or gray in color
  • covered in a mealy wax
  • active early on but move little once they begin feeding

Signs of pest:

  • in small numbers, damage might not be apparent
  • leaf yellowing and curling
  • sticky residue (honeydew) on plants
  • black, sooty mold caused by honeydew
  • presence of insects

Treating pest:

  • prune out light infestations
  • dab insects with a Q-tip dipped in rubbing alcohol
  • do not overwater or over-fertilize, as mealybugs are attracted to plants with high nitrogen levels and soft growth areas

Scale.png

Scale is a sap-sucking insect that attaches itself to plants – specifically twigs, leaves, and branches. They are immobile and many times can be mistaken for simply a bump on a branch. Because of this, an infestation can occur unnoticed. They also secrete honeydew, which can attract other pests.

What pest looks like:

  • oddly-shaped, immobile pest that resemble bumps on a plant
  • armored scale: small (1/8 inch), secrete a hard protective covering over themselves; immobile; do not secrete honeydew
  • soft scale: larger (up to1/2 inch), secrete a waxy film that is part of their body able to move (but rarely do); secrete large amounts of honeydew

Signs of pest:

  • small bumps on twigs, leaves, branches, etc. where scale insects are attached, drinking sap out of the plant
  • sticky residue (honeydew) on plants (soft scale only)
  • black, sooty mold caused by honeydew (soft scale only)
  • presence of insects

Treating pest:

  • prune off any infected areas on the plant
  • pick off the scale by hand, or rub off using a solution of water and alcohol – if infected area is small
  • apply neem oil with cotton ball – if infected area is small

Spider Mites.png

I had a small spider mite outbreak recently. I had a calathea that had struggling, but was on the mend; one day when I was checking her out, examining her leaves, I noticed some webbing. At first, I thought perhaps it had been a while since I looked at her, but then I saw tiny little spiders moving on the webbing.

I freaked. I checked every plant near her and then I did what every good plant parent does: I took pictures. Looking at those tiny spiders up close through the camera lens was totally gross and unnerving. I didn’t know what to do…so I tossed the whole plant.

Spider mites are a concern to plants because they are yet another sap-sucking pest. They live on the underside of leaves; they feed by piercing the leaves and drinking the sap. Feeding marks appear as light dots on the leaves.

What pest looks like:

  • spider mites are not true insects, but are classified as arachnids, a relative of “real” spiders
  • adults are reddish brown or a pale color, oval-shaped, and tiny (about 1/50 inch long)
  • immature spider mites look similar, just smaller

Signs of pest:

  • may appear to be “dust” on the bottom of leaves
  • appear most in hot, dry conditions
  • large populations of spider mites are accompanied by a fine webbing
  • feeding marks (light dots) on leaves
  • presence of spider mites

Treating pest:

  • spray off leaves either outdoors or in a shower; leave plant in a humid environment to help rid of spider mites (they hate humidity!)
  • prune off any infected areas and any webbing, and discard of it in the trash.
  • entire plant may need to be disposed of infection is too severe

Keep in mind that chemical pesticides can actually encourage the spread of spider mites by killing of beneficial insects that prey on the mites. Spider mites are also known to quickly develop a resistance to various pesticides. Use these products with caution!
Thrips.png

Thrips are a pest that damages plants by drinking their juices and scraping at fruits, flowers, and leaves. They are a commonly found pest in greenhouses and indoor/outdoor gardens.

What pest looks like:

  • very small (less than 1/25 inch); straw-colored or black and slender; two pairs of feathery wings
  • thrips are extremely active and feed in large groups

Signs of pest:

  • leaves turn pale, splotchy, and slivery, then die
  • injured plants are discolored, scarred, and deformed
  • presence of insects, typically in groups

Treating pest:

  • discard any infested plants by securely bagging and putting in the trash
  • blue sticky traps
  • wash plant with a smothering insecticidal soaps made of naturally-occurring plant oils and fats
  • apply neem oil with cotton ball

Thrips tend to congregate on the underside of leaves and where leaves attach to the stem; when treating a plant for thrips, focus especially on these areas. Also, thrips especially seem to like philodendrons. In these plants, a sign of their presence is a yellowing of the leaves.

A few items to note:

  • There are many products available on the market for treating each of these pests. Many of them have mixed reviews. Since I, myself, have never tried any of them and prefer to use more organic methods, I have not discussed these products in this blog.
  • When using neem oil, be sure to read the package and dilute, dilute, dilute! If you don’t, you can actually suffocate your plant and cause more damage than the pest itself.
  • With any infestation, it is vital that you quarantine your plant as soon as you notice a pest. This will allow you to treat the plant without running the risk of the pest spreading to other plants. In my home, I actually move the plant to a room all by itself. (Since my house is always in the process of renovations, I move the infected plant into our “construction room.”)

If you want to learn more about controlling these, as well as other, pests that frequently attack houseplants, check out these helpful resources:

How to Identify Common Houseplant Pests – By Homestead Brooklyn

Houseplant Pests – By Planet Natural

**Special thanks to my friend Devoney Mills, manager at Stump in German Village, for her willingness to share her personal experience (and experiences of Stump customers) as I developed this blog. Her expertise and knowledge has truly been priceless!

Pesky Plant Pests-2.png

All of these creepy pests give me the willies! Gross! So, one might ask, what can you do to prevent these pests from ever entering your home in the first place? Be sure to check in next time for these answers and more!

– the {house}plant momma

 

Products I {Heart}: Tiny Planters

Growing up, I was obsessed with tiny things. I loved toys with teeny tiny parts – literally, the smaller the better. Polly Pocket clamshells, Playmobile sets (but only the girly ones), Littlest Petshop animals (the old-school ones!), Mapletown fuzzy animals, and so on…they were all my jam.

Amongst the tiny toys, I always picked the smallest pieces with which to form an attachment. I still have some of the itty bitty pieces of random sets from my childhood – a baby bottle that could sit on top of a dime, Polly Pocket sets that I bought on Etsy in the hopes that my daughter will one day play with them, a baby that was part of a Playmobile set – complete with a removable bib and bonnet.

Vy7ive2KSWu6EinWMMCPuA_thumb_7fa6.jpg
My littlest one playing with Mapletown fuzzy animals from her momma’s childhood….

Even as I have gotten older, I still love tiny things. I’m not sure what it is about them – beyond the “aw” factor – that I love, but I have an unexplained draw to all things minute.

I guess its no surprise then, that I love tiny little planters. Not only are the planters themselves adorable, but the itty bitty plants that fit inside are precious, too. Eek! I seriously cannot handle the cuteness.

IMG_7317
one of my own itty bitty planters

And so, without further ado, here are some of my favorite tiny planters found ‘round the interwebs!

Tiny Geometric Planters

Tiny Geometric.jpg
Image via Etsy

Tiny Monochromatic Shot Glass Planters

Tiny Monochromatic Shot Glass.jpg
Image via Etsy

Tiny Concrete Planter with Metallic Paint

Tiny Concrete.jpg
Image via Etsy

Tiny Heart Planter

Tiny Heart.jpg
Image via Etsy

Tiny Cylindrical Concrete Planter

Tiny Cylindrical .jpg
Image via Etsy

Tiny Cobalt Blue Planter

Tiny Blue.jpg
Image via Etsy

Teensy-tiny Mushroom Planter

Tiny Mushroom.jpg
Image via Etsy

Tiny Cat Planter

Tiny Kitty
Image via Etsy

Tiny Succulent and Ceramic Planter

Tiny Succulent.jpg
Image via Etsy

Tiny, Bright Airplant Holder

Tiny Airplant
Image via Etsy

Are you dying of the cuteness?! Because I sure am! Goodness! I feel like I need to go and buy every single one of these and find perfect little nooks and crannies around my home to stick them!

Products I {Heart}-2.png

Which one of these tiny planters is your favorite? Tell me about it in the comments below.

– the {house}plant momma

To Mist or Not to Mist: That Is the Question

My friend Eliza with Stamen and Stem recently posted a meme about misting plants, essentially saying the practice has no benefit. This is a controversial topic within the plant community…and as soon as I saw her meme, I knew it was going to create some drama! And needless to say, I was NOT disappointed. Whew – talk about a hot topic!

Misting Cartoon.jpg
Image via Stamen and Stem

The topic of misting comes down to on important element of plant care:  humidity. Most houseplants are considered tropical plants, meaning that they require a tropical-like environment to thrive. What do you know about weather in the tropics? It’s typically hot and humid, right? Because of that, many tropical houseplants do well with a relative humidity of around 70-80% (source). If you live in a space where the humidity is lower than that, your tropical plants may not do grow as well.

There are two schools of thought when it comes to misting: those who feel it is beneficial to a plant, and those who feel it is not.

As I prepared to write this blog, I decided to do a little poll on Instagram to see how many of my followers were misters and how many were non-misters. I was absolutely shocked to see how close the numbers were – with even more misters than non-misters responding! What a fun little tidbit of research to do as I dove into this subject!

IMG_5792
Background image via Williams-Sonoma
Misters

I know that misting is a very common practice in the plant community. Many of my plant friends swear by misting, saying that it helps their plants thrive. My Instagram friend @allidoesyoga told me, “I mist because it seems like a gentle rain for the plant babies.” Another Instagram friend, @foliage_therapy, swears that misting helps leaves grow bigger, while @naomiplanter says that misting helps leaves on her velvet philos unfurl without getting stuck and tearing.

IMG_9530
My little mister – a Christmas gift from my BFF!

The rationale behind most misting is that it boosts the humidity of the plant’s environment. The increased humidity helps meet the plants biological needs and thereby helps the plant thrive.

I searched all over the Internet to find research supporting misting, but unfortunately, I could not find anything concrete. I found many, many articles encouraging/advising the practice of misting, but none of them really explained benefits beyond increased humidity.

Non-Misters

Those who feel that misting isn’t beneficial argue that misting only raises the humidity around the plant for a few minutes – until the tiny water droplets have evaporated. The University of Illinois Extension explains it this way, “The humidity level is affected for only a short time and repeated misting is necessary” (source). This leaves your plant living in a low-humidity environment the rest of the time.

nickel-plant-mister-lifestyle-2_720x@2x.jpg
Image via Frida Florentina

One of my IG plant friends – @that_one_plant_guy – explains another concern with misting. He says, “Water that sits on the leaf surface is the perfect for bacteria and fungi to start their life cycle. All that’s needed is the pathogen, the correct environment (water on the leaf), and a host (your plant).”

Research backs him up: according to the University of Vermont Extension, “A film of water on the foliage is often all that various fungus spores need to germinate” (source).Yikes! Like I don’t have enough to worry about when it comes to my plant babies…

Me? Oh, I’m a….

I’m sure some of you are wondering: “Is the {house}plant momma a mister or a non-mister?” Well, here’s the truth: I have a little mister that my BFF got me, and I absolute love it. It sits on one of my shelves, styled nicely with some plants.

Late_june-5_1024x1024.jpg
Image via Appetite Shop 

But…that’s all it does: sits on a shelf looking pretty. I am a non-mister. Initially, I didn’t mist my plants because I didn’t like the “mess” that my mister made. There’s no way to control where the water spray goes, and I didn’t like having to wipe down a bunch of surfaces every time I used the mister. However, the more I have learned about misting, the more I have realized that I don’t feel it is a best practice.

Methods of Increasing Moisture

There’s no denying that plants need moisture and humidity. One way to increase humidity around plants is to use a humidifier. Many humidifiers even have a gauge on them that tells you the relative humidity of the space. (This is the humidifier I have.) Keen in mind that as you raise your humidity, it is important that you don’t raise the temperature too much. “With a given amount of water in the air, the higher the air temperature, the lower the relative humidity” (source). 

Another way to increase humidity for your plants is to group them together. Plants naturally release moisture through their leaves in a process called transpiration. This release of moisture can help create a humid microclimate.

dwEhfJusQWSVhZPLsnH0qA_thumb_7b3a.jpg
Plants grouped together in my home – my husband refers to this as my “jungle.”

Some people feel that putting plants on a water tray with pebbles. This method, however, is about as controversial is misting – raising the question if this truly raises the overall humidity of the environment. However, a word of caution: This method can cause the plant to run the risk of root rot if not implemented properly. Additionally, standing water can become a breeding ground for insects. (Gross!)

To Mist or Not to Mist.png

So tell me: are you a mister or a non-mister? Please tell me in the comments below….and don’t forget to tell me WHY!

– the {house}plant momma

Com’mon! Gimme the Dirt!

I love a good pun! Growing up, my dad was always cracking corny jokes, causing my brother and I to roll our eyes.

Ugh.
So dumb.
So embarrassing.
“DAD…STAHHHHHHHHP!”

But now that I’m a parent, I think puns are comedy gold! Any time I can make a play on words, I feel like a champion. It’s my oldest son (who just happens to be 13) who now rolls his eyes. He’ll give me the look, say “Mom…stop,” and then I’ll burst into giggles. His rejection of my humor only makes me love it more.

Omg. I’m such a mom.

Ahem. Anyway. Today I want to “give you the dirt” on soil. Did you know that different species of plants do best in different kinds of soil? If your soil holds too much moisture, plants that prefer dryer conditions – such as succulents and cacti – can easily experience root rot or the plant itself can even rot. If you use a fast draining soil for plants that like lots of moisture – such as a calathea, they can quickly dry out. Selecting the correct type of soil for your plant is part of good plant care.

IMG_5698.jpeg

When I first started keeping houseplants, I didn’t know this. I had a large planter and was preparing to put a giant snake plant in it. I went outside, dug up some dirt from my flowerbeds, dumped in the planter, and put the snake plant inside. (Seriously, I’m cringing as I tell this story.) The soil from outside was a) not sterile, b) didn’t have the correct nutrients for houseplants, and c) was way too dense. Needless to say, my snake plant suffered until I realized my error and gave it the correct type of soil!

You can purchase pre-mixed soil at your local garden store or nursery. Or, you can mix it yourself, which happens to be a cheaper option most of the time. (Plus, who doesn’t like getting their hands a little dirty?)

There are four main elements present in different types of soil.

Elements Present in Soil.png

When mixing soil, you will notice that each recipe calls for a certain number of “parts” of different elements. A “part” is simply anything you use to measure your ingredients. Therefore, if you are using a scoop to measure elements in a recipe that calls for “1 part all-purpose soil and 1 part sand,” you would use one scoop of soil and one scoop of sand.

Soil-based Planting Media

  • 1 part all-purpose soil
  • 1 part peat moss
  • 1 part perlite

Soil-based Planting Media.png

Soil-less Planting Media

  • 1 part peat moss
  • 1 part perlite

(Please note that because there is no soil in this planting media, plants will not receive the nutrients they need. If you choose to use a soil-less planting media, be sure to fertilize/feed your plants frequently!)

Soil-less Planting Media.png

Planting Media for Succulents

  • 3 parts all-purpose soil
  • 2 parts coarse sand
  • 1 part perlite

Succulent Soil.png

Planting Media for Cacti

  • 3 parts all-purpose
  • 3 parts coarse sand
  • 2 parts perlite

Cacti Soil.png
My favorite way to mix soil is to do so in a giant bucket.  I dump of my ingredients into the bucket and mix with a small hand shovel. (You can also mix with your hands if that works better for you.)

It should be noted: you can use plain ole’ all-purpose soil in your planters if you want! There is nothing wrong with this plant medium. However, if you discover that your plants are not thriving, you can add in elements to help your plants grow bigger and better. If you think your plants need some extra drainage, add in some coarse sand or perlite to the soil. If you feel your plants need to hold in moisture better, mix some peat moss into the soil. Through time and experience, you will begin to learn what your plants need!

Com'mon! Gimme the Dirt!.png

Now that I’ve “given the dirt” on soil…get out there and get dirty!

– the {house}plant momma