Probably the number one cause of death in houseplants is drowning! Too much water or too little can cause the same symptoms.  Plants droop so we think they need water. It may be they have had too much and the roots have rotted! In that case they cannot send any water up to the leaves.  First, you need to know if your plant does best in damp soil or wet soil. I check my pots by sticking my finger down a little way.  The more scientific way is to pick up each pot and notice how much it weights.  Then when it feels light it is time to water.

          Also, you can turn your plant out of its pot and take a look at the roots.  If they are all brown and slimy, throw it out.  If some are still healthy white, you can wash all the soil off, then cut out the brown, mushy ones, and replant in new soil. The plant is ill and cannot take full sun so set it back until it looks better.  If you trimmed a lot of roots you will need to remove some of the top, also.  Do not fertilize at this time.  That will add to the stress.

          My next in order problem is pests, i.e. insects, mites, etc.  In spite of all I do to keep them out they show up! At one time I let all my tropical Hibiscus freeze because I had so many white flies.  They love any number of plants so will affect most of you plants if you don’t’ fight back at once.  They lay their eggs on the underside of leaves and the green larvae stays there and drinks the sap. Before I bring anything into the house or garage or greenhouse, I wash it down using insecticidal soap.  On some I use a systemic insecticide in the soil and then water it in.  This poisons the “drinkers”.  I prefer to do this outside as the systemic insecticides smell terrible to me.  Some of my friends use bright yellow paper coated with a sticky substance that attracts the enemy and holds them forever.  These can be hung from above or small ones come on sticks that can be placed in the pots. They are available at most full service Garden Centers.

           Then there are mealy bugs.  You will notice a white fuzzy spot or if you haven’t been checking for a while, a large cluster of fluff. They reproduce rapidly and drink the sap until the entire plant wilts.  For a few I use a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol.  I also have a spray bottle of alcohol as they hide down in small spaces.  After the alcohol has been on for a few minutes, I wash everything off in the shower.  New ones will hatch, so repeat the process again in 7 to 10 days until you have them conquered.

          Scale is a small, usually brown hump, attached to stems or under leaves. These act as umbrellas to protect the “creature” from spray.  However, you can remove them with the alcohol soaked cotton swab. When the young scale hatch their “umbrellas” are not there and the spray kills them, but you are dealing with something very small and easy to miss.  I don’t like insecticidal sprays in the house so if a warm day comes along, I set the plant outside and spray it there.  I then wash it off before bringing it in.  My orchids seem to be a favorite food for scale.

          Sometimes I manage to bring slugs in with the orchid pots but there is a new non-poisonous slug killer which uses iron phosphate (Sluggo) that won’t harm pets such as dogs and cats.  It can be sprinkled on the soil in pots or outside.  Hostas are a favorite food of slugs. 

          Fungus gnats are annoying creatures that fly in your face when you water.  They are not very harmful but their larvae will eat roots if they run out of compost.  They hatch from eggs laid in the soil.  Their numbers can be lowered if the soil is allowed to dry out so the larvae die.  Most of the insecticides will also work if poured on the soil.

          Spider mites are a horrible pest outside for me, especially during hot dry spells.  They can be washed off with a hose.  Inside they can be eliminated by a systemic insecticide (2% Systemic Insecticide). They are on the under surface of the leaves drinking away and causing speckles on the upper surface, which results in the leaves dropping.  Put them in the shower and spray up.  A bad infection will cause webbing on your leaves.




          Gardeners are always competing with each other.  They want to be the first to have a new plant, or the first on the block to have a ripe tomato, or to have the greenest lawn with no weeds.  At Halloween time the competition is for the largest pumpkin.

          In order to settle who has the largest pumpkin, the pumpkin growers have formed the Great Pumpkin Commonwealth (GPC).  There are 23 sites in North America where pumpkin growers meet the first weekend in October of every year for a weigh in. 

          At the Pumpkinfest in Port Elgin, Ontario, Canada, on October 2, 2004, a new world record was registered and weighed in.  Alan Eaton of Richmond, Ontario, Canada, took first prize of $5,000 for his new world record of 1,446 pounds. To see a picture of the giant pumpkin go to

          The Midwest weigh in site is Animosa, Iowa. Dan Carlson of Clinton, Iowa, who set an Iowa State Fair record with a 500.5 pound pumpkin in 2003, and has had the largest pumpkin a number of times at the Animosa Pumpkin Fest, said that only an Atlantic Giant pumpkin seed will create an enormous pumpkin. He also said that one needs a minimum of 500 square feet per plant. He has not used chemical fertilizer for a number of years but works leaves and compost into his garden every fall.  Fall soil preparation, and watering during the growing season on an as-needed basis, is very important.  When his pumpkins are about 30 pounds or the size of a volleyball he selects the two best and removes the rest. During the hot summer he even puts a tent over the pumpkins to keep them from getting sun scald.  He checks on them daily to make sure that no insects or borers get to them, and a friendly neighbor and competitor will watch them when he is on vacation.

          Some gardeners will do anything to be the first, or to grow the largest, while most of us are happy to be able to keep our plants and lawns alive and healthy with a minimum of work.  May you have a good week in your garden as you put it to bed for the winter so you can start again next spring.