In spite of my efforts to keep bugs out in the fall, I always end up with the same ones such as FUNGOUS GNATS. The larvae enjoy living in damp soil of the pots without being noticed.  Most of them are harmless, just an annoyance as the adults fly up when you water or work with the plants. The larvae like to eat on decaying material such as compost or decaying roots.  If you can let your pots get dry enough, the larvae will dry up and die. Otherwise you can use a systemic insecticide in the pot as it is almost impossible to hit the tiny adult “flies” with a spray.  You will need a nice warm day to set the plants outside, as systemics smell terrible. My dog Pepper seems to be allergic so I like to leave them out for several hours until the odor is gone. 

          My next most common enemy is the scales that I have complained about before.  They are not fussy about which plant to suck up the sap but seem to prefer the ones that have hiding places such as the CLIVIA as they creep down between the tight spaces at the base of the leaves. As they drink they use the protein in the fluid but excrete the carbohydrates which makes the leaf sticky.  This in turn causes sooty mold which is a black, soft, ugly area that keeps light from the leaf thus affecting its food making ability.  I keep a spray bottle of alcohol to soak the leaves and run down into the cracks for bad infections.  The spray will destroy the babies if you can find them before they settle down to “drink” and develop the waxy covering. If I see just a few, I use a swab dipped in rubbing alcohol to soak into that shell that a light spray cannot penetrate. I wait an hour or so and then put the entire plant in the shower to remove the alcohol. There are other colors but I usually have the brown ones. 

If you have a HIBISCUS you are almost positive to get white flies who belong to the same family as scale.  They like warm rooms and high humidity.  The many eggs are laid on the under surface of the leaf and the larvae attach themselves and drink.  Therefore, you need to check under the leaves for very tiny “lumps”. The adult flies like to hangout there too and fly up if disturbed.  They are attracted to yellow sticky traps but you will only thin the colony so again, systemics will do a better job. They don’t reproduce as well in cooler temperatures so the greenhouse at 60 degrees F. isn’t bothered as much as that big South window of mine.  A number of insecticide sprays will kill them but it is a little hard to hit a flying target. However, you can get the larvae. I sometimes soak them as good as possible with insecticidal soap and then shower them as hour or so later.  One time is never enough so I repeat every ten days to 2 weeks.

          MEALY BUGS (those white fuzzy ones) are like the scales in that they creep into areas hard to get to.  For me their favorite plant is the CLIVIA, but they are easier to dislodge than scale. A swab dipped in rubbing alcohol will kill, and then I drag them out with only a mild infection. But if there are many, I spray the entire plant so that it runs into the small spaces.  I read about root mealy bugs living in the pot and drinking the root sap, but fortunately I have not had them.  It involves working all the soil off the root, cutting out the damaged parts, dipping them in an insecticide, and then repotting.  I would probably find it easier to take a cutting and throw the rest of the plant out. 

          Ants like to come into the house by way of the window wells to get to my plants under lights in the basement. They don’t harm plants themselves but are great “farmers” of aphids who drink the sap and then excrete honeydew to feed the ants.  Anything like that crawling around can carry any diseases to other plants.  They do like to build their nests in pots.  The tunnels will dry out the roots. There are many ant sprays in various stores but if you have a new plant that may be harmed, do a leaf first and wait a day or so to see if it will do harm. 

          My large leafed plants such as ANGEL TRUMPETS (Brugsmania species) are a favorite target of spider mites.  Leaves are speckled (feces) looking and tiny webs are visible. In a bad infection the leaves drop.  Since my ANGELS stay in the garage during winter this is extra bad as the plants are surviving the cold as well as feeding the mites.  On a warm day, I can roll the big pots outside and use the hose as water seems to be the best cure.  During summer dry spells outside, spider mites can cause tons of damage to a number of plants.  The DWARF ALBERTA SPRUCES seem to get hit the most.

Copyright 2008



Someone asked me the other day how to make rocks look old. The way I do this is to put a quart of buttermilk in the blender along with a handful of real moss (not peat moss or sphagnum moss).  Blend this long enough to break up the moss and pour.  Then paint this mixture on the object and put in a shady place.  Moss grows naturally in a shady, acid area. In Nebraska, finding real moss is not always easy.