Saturday, February 3, 2007

Pesky Pests

They told me, "If you have brugmansias, you either have spider mites, have had spider mites, or will have spider mites." And now I read, "If you have African violets, you either have spider mites, have had spider mites, or will have spider mites." I've got them all. But not on my brugs or violets. Yet.

My first battle with bugs began last year, with the
fungus gnats. I don't know when they moved in, or where they came from. They just appeared one day. I saw one out of the corner of my eye and I wasn't sure if it was a fruit fly or a flea. I have this annoying habit of letting the last banana in the bunch sit until it turns black, so fruit flies were a possibility and we've got more than enough cats to field a small army of fleas. But it was neither.

Once I figured out what the enemy was, I gathered my ammunition. First of all, I knew I had to break myself of the bad habit of overwatering. I had so much soggy soil that I repotted a few things because it was going to take a month of Sundays for some of them to dry out. If you want to breed fungus gnats, just keep your plants in mud.

Next, I did some research and decided to purchase some yellow sticky traps and more 'sticky' to put on them. I also got some Knock Out Gnats™ to use when watering. It contains Bacillus thuringiensis, which is a naturally occurring bacterium in soil and it's fatal to many insects when they ingest it. It paralyzes their digestive system, they stop eating, and they starve to death. Gardens Alive! is a great place to find stuff like this.

I put the sticky traps up and started adding Knock Out Gnats™ to my watering, and while I didn't get rid of the fungus gnats completely, we managed to reach a cohabitation agreement. Keep the reproducing to a minimum and I'll look the other way.

I have quite a few more houseplants this winter than last, since I decided to bring in some of my annuals and tender perennials and overwinter them. That created a couple of problems. Our house doesn't have an abundance of natural light. This means I have to crowd a lot of plants around the few windows that provide enough light to keep the plants thriving. It also means that more than likely, after spending the summer outside, there will be some hitchhikers. This was hard for me to take. In fact, I believed this only happened to other gardeners, not to me.

The first thing I noticed was the green spotted cucumber beetles. I'd had them out in the gardens by the hundreds and while they never caused a problem out there that I noticed, inside they munched happily away on my coleus and pelargoniums. I spent several weeks picking them off until I finally only saw one here and there, now and then.

Then there were the
white flies. I first saw them on the 'Cherub' brugmansia I got from Park's last spring. There were just a few, so I thought I could just pick those off, too. When I noticed a white cloud one day as I picked up the brug, I knew that wasn't going to work. I used Orthonex spray several times, but they kept coming back. The brug hadn't grown well and now it had a bad case of flying dandruff, so I put it out in the garage. I was advised to just throw it out, but I have a hard time disposing of a plant that is still green. When it finally turns brown, then I'll kick it to the curb.

The next thing I encountered was scale. Now, I'd heard of scale and I assumed it was a fungus or growth of some sort. I didn't know it was an insect. My China Doll (Radermachera sinica) had started to drop leaves and small branches. It had always been an indoor plant and I didn't recognize the scale right away. But when larger branches started wilting and dropping off, I took a closer look and saw the stems were covered with scabs. That was the scale. I could scrape them off, but it was too heavily infested, so before I gave up on it totally, I cut it back to about four inches and repotted it. I put it in the basement under the grow lights and it has started to grow again. They're vigorous growers, so maybe it will once again be the beauty it was before scale tried to suck the life out of it.

My current nemesis is thrips. I'd heard of those too, and usually in association with roses. I don't think I had any on my roses - just a few Japanese beetles there - but I've got them on a few of my houseplants. It took me a little while to figure out what they were. They looked like little pieces of dirt. But then they moved. They're so tiny - just 1/16th of an inch long and no wider than a thread. It's easy to miss them, but there's no mistaking the damage they do. They suck the chlorophyll from the leaves, leaving white spots, and the leaves may become stippled. I'm using Safer's 3-in-1 Insecticidal Soap for this. It's a foliar spray, a good multi-use product, and safe to use around pets. Our cats don't chew on any of the plants except for the palm fronds, but I don't want to take any chances. By this time next week, I hope we're thripless.

That brings us to the spider mites. By now, I'm just tired of bugs and I'm tired of talking about bugs. You can read about spider mites here and I hope you don't get them.

This sounds like our house is pretty buggy, doesn't it? Don't worry. I've got them under control. For now.


Carol Michel said...

What? No mealybugs. That's my nemesis (and one of the reasons I am using for not having planted my terrarium for several years). Thanks for visiting my blog and leaving a comment.

greenlegs80 said...

All I have to say is thank goodness I'm not a gnat. Reading about how it paralyzes their digestive system and starves them to death is just plain morbid! Anyway...excellent informational piece you've got there!

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