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Garden Pests and Diseases: Fuzzy Mold-like substance on the soil of indoor window box

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AHealy8172
Devon, PA

September 6, 2012
4:01 PM

Post #9267333

Please bear with me, because there's quite a backstory that I need to get through...

Ok, so, in the past I've had issues with spider mites and thrips on my indoor window box. I threw all of that original plant and pot away, but when I started the new one - out of paranoia - I treated the new soil with Bayer Three-In-One. As a result, I utterly poisoned those new plants and they died. Then I let the soil sit for all of Spring and Summer, in hopes that the soil will detox itself, but when I planted new plants in it recently, it was clear the soil was still poisoned as the new plants began to die as well. Eventually I took those plants out of the pot and rinsed and rinsed and rinsed all the soil out of the roots. Then I rinsed out the pot and the rocks that lined the bottom, I threw all the poisoned soil away, and then put brand new soil in that I ordered from Terrain. Then I planted the plants back in the pot, but with the new soil, in hopes that the poison would get out of their system and the plants would pull through.

Well, it's been about 3 weeks since the "rescue mission" and the plants are still deteriorating; however, now I noticed today - for the first time - there appears to be a cottony fuzzy substance coating the soil surface! It's like I can't catch a break! I don't think it's spider mites or even (necessarily) actual spiders- I have experience with both and this looks different. It literally looks like cottonball fuzz has been wiped over all the soil and I swear it wasn't there yesterday- because I'm so concerned with signs that the plants are going to live, I check them very closely every day. So I don't know what that is, nor do I know whether or not the plants are dying from this "fuzz" or from the "poison" from before. The fuzz does not APPEAR to be moving or anything like that, but it's really hard to be sure...Does ANYONE have any clue what this could be? Is it something I should worry about? I can't really post a picture because the fuzz just won't show up, I'm sure.

Thanks for any help!!!!! I want this windowbox to get me through the winter!
ecrane3
Dublin, CA
(Zone 9a)

September 6, 2012
5:20 PM

Post #9267402

Some pictures would help, but the white fuzzy stuff could be some mold growing on the surface of the soil. In and of itself it likely wouldn't kill your plants, but it's an indicator that you're probably keeping things too wet and that definitely could kill your plants.

Which also leads me to question whether the Bayer 3-in-1 was really your problem with the other plants...if you used way more than you're supposed to then I suppose it could have killed your plants, but if you used it according to instructions then I'm surprised it caused problems and I wonder if your issue wasn't something completely unrelated such as overwatering.
AHealy8172
Devon, PA

September 6, 2012
5:54 PM

Post #9267436

ecrane3 wrote:Some pictures would help, but the white fuzzy stuff could be some mold growing on the surface of the soil. In and of itself it likely wouldn't kill your plants, but it's an indicator that you're probably keeping things too wet and that definitely could kill your plants.

Which also leads me to question whether the Bayer 3-in-1 was really your problem with the other plants...if you used way more than you're supposed to then I suppose it could have killed your plants, but if you used it according to instructions then I'm surprised it caused problems and I wonder if your issue wasn't something completely unrelated such as overwatering.


Right, I forgot to say that- I hardly ever water the plants; only when the soil feels dry, which is usually every couple of weeks. And I followed the instructions on the Bayer...However, I neglected to rework the quantities for a smaller vessel...Thus ended up poisoning the environment.
cathy166
Stamford, CT
(Zone 6b)

September 6, 2012
6:34 PM

Post #9267480

AHealy, a photo would really help, like 1,000 words. Also, what are the plants that you've got in the container? How large is the container, etc.

Before you put poison in an area where you live, I would think twice. You might be using a machine gun where all you need is a little TLC.
AHealy8172
Devon, PA

September 7, 2012
11:22 AM

Post #9268067

cathy166 wrote:AHealy, a photo would really help, like 1,000 words. Also, what are the plants that you've got in the container? How large is the container, etc.

Before you put poison in an area where you live, I would think twice. You might be using a machine gun where all you need is a little TLC.


Right. I know that now. That's not the current issue. I haven't used the poison on the new planter. Currently the issue is the fuzzy, dust-like substance that is suddenly covering the top of the soil.
florida254
Gainesville, FL

September 7, 2012
8:46 PM

Post #9268578

I am going to attach a couple of my pictures that has some kind of fuzzy white stuff on them. It almost looks like a beard on some of the leaves. Someone told me it sort of looks like scale but they had never seen it with a beard. Is this what you have? If we find out what it is then the next step would be "How do we get rid of it?" That is without calling in a professional.

Thumbnail by florida254   Thumbnail by florida254         
Click an image for an enlarged view.

AHealy8172
Devon, PA

September 8, 2012
9:49 AM

Post #9268916

florida254 wrote:I am going to attach a couple of my pictures that has some kind of fuzzy white stuff on them. It almost looks like a beard on some of the leaves. Someone told me it sort of looks like scale but they had never seen it with a beard. Is this what you have? If we find out what it is then the next step would be "How do we get rid of it?" That is without calling in a professional.


Unfortunately, my fuzzy stuff is ONLY on the soil- not on the plants at all. In fact, looking at it today it really looks like dust- that there's a layer of dust coating all the soil. However, it showed up overnight, so I think it's more than just a need for a good cleaning...The good news is that it hasn't progressed at all, so maybe it's not a disease or anything...?
OCCAROL
Santa Ana, CA
(Zone 10b)

September 8, 2012
11:22 AM

Post #9268987

florida254, your's is giant whitefly colonies.
cathy166
Stamford, CT
(Zone 6b)

September 8, 2012
5:43 PM

Post #9269332

AHealy, what plants are in the soil?
AHealy8172
Devon, PA

September 10, 2012
6:56 AM

Post #9270628

cathy166 wrote:AHealy, what plants are in the soil?


Shoot, you know I just threw away the plant cards because the plants are pretty much dead. However, I remember that one was called an Ice Plant or Ice Flower (?) and the other is like a mini bush, but with white flower clusters all over it. White flowers with orange centers and then after the blooms died they turned into little dark berries...

The container is very small. As I said, it fits on my bathroom windowsill.
ecrane3
Dublin, CA
(Zone 9a)

September 10, 2012
7:02 AM

Post #9270636

Ice plant is a succulent and doesn't like a lot of water, could be you were overwatering that one even if you thought you were being careful. I know you said you were only watering every couple weeks, but what that tells me is that your soil is probably too water retentive, which means that even if you let the soil dry out in between waterings, the soil was staying too wet for too long in between.

Here's a thread from the Beginner Houseplants forum that you may find helpful, I think Al talks about water retention in soil among other topics: http://davesgarden.com/community/forums/t/1226030/
cathy166
Stamford, CT
(Zone 6b)

September 10, 2012
9:32 AM

Post #9270829

AHealy, I use lots of window boxes, both indoors and out. And I don't spend a lot of money on them. However, I learned several years ago that they have a "drain pan" on the bottom. It does nto look like they are removable, but they are. Removing the drain pan sounds like it is breking to bits, but it is not. If you do not remove the bottom pan, plants will never drain properly, even if they box bottom is designed with a lip to drain. Once you take off the bottom, if you still need a drain pan, place some flat stones on the try before placing the window box on top. When the pot is round, it is easier to take off the bottom, turn it about a 1/8 turn and let the pot sit on on the little "prongs" of the saucer. Even most plants that like moist conditions will tend to rot when sitting in water.

A window box is a terrific little garden, but you must choose plants that are appropriate for the conditions. If your plants do not get of its conditions satisfied, it will not do well. If you choose a plant(s) needing a lot of light and does not get it, it will not thrive, and one of the important conditions will not be met. It is important to know the light requirement of your plant. If you have low light conditions, choose a plant that fits your conditions. If you fail on light alone, it does not usually kill a plant, it just won't flourish. However, if you also fail on soil condition, temperature and moisture requirements, you can guarantee failure, and you should not be surprised to see any kind of rotting, fungus, gnats or other miserable result.

Whenever I pot up plants for indoor containers, I always use packaged potting soil for the type of plants intended. Thus, if you have orchids, use a mix designed for orchids. Proper mixes are available at most garden centers and home improvement stores. You can amend it as recommended. Choose plants that are fairly small so that they can spread their roots in your container.

Please read the link that ecrane provided. There is a wealth of good, practical advice from very experienced gardeners who are willing to share both their knowledge and experience with boundless enthusiasm.
AHealy8172
Devon, PA

September 11, 2012
8:44 AM

Post #9271930

cathy166 wrote:AHealy, I use lots of window boxes, both indoors and out. And I don't spend a lot of money on them. However, I learned several years ago that they have a "drain pan" on the bottom. It does nto look like they are removable, but they are. Removing the drain pan sounds like it is breking to bits, but it is not. If you do not remove the bottom pan, plants will never drain properly, even if they box bottom is designed with a lip to drain. Once you take off the bottom, if you still need a drain pan, place some flat stones on the try before placing the window box on top. When the pot is round, it is easier to take off the bottom, turn it about a 1/8 turn and let the pot sit on on the little "prongs" of the saucer. Even most plants that like moist conditions will tend to rot when sitting in water.

A window box is a terrific little garden, but you must choose plants that are appropriate for the conditions. If your plants do not get of its conditions satisfied, it will not do well. If you choose a plant(s) needing a lot of light and does not get it, it will not thrive, and one of the important conditions will not be met. It is important to know the light requirement of your plant. If you have low light conditions, choose a plant that fits your conditions. If you fail on light alone, it does not usually kill a plant, it just won't flourish. However, if you also fail on soil condition, temperature and moisture requirements, you can guarantee failure, and you should not be surprised to see any kind of rotting, fungus, gnats or other miserable result.

Whenever I pot up plants for indoor containers, I always use packaged potting soil for the type of plants intended. Thus, if you have orchids, use a mix designed for orchids. Proper mixes are available at most garden centers and home improvement stores. You can amend it as recommended. Choose plants that are fairly small so that they can spread their roots in your container.

Please read the link that ecrane provided. There is a wealth of good, practical advice from very experienced gardeners who are willing to share both their knowledge and experience with boundless enthusiasm.


Thank you to both you and ecrane for writing such intricate and extensive responses. I am very appreciative for all the great advice! However, I do not think watering is the problem. The amount of water I do pour into the plant when I happen to water is negligible in itself (only about 2 shotglasses full), especially since (as you made note of) I do water only every couple of weeks.

The thing that IS a possibility, however, is that the soil itself retains water too much in between. I bought my plants from the same place I bought the pre-packaged generic soil, so I would hope they'd be selling the soil that's right for the plants they offer! However, now that the plants have died and I have to go back and get more (sigh), I will make sure to question them about their soil as well.

I really hope I can make this work!
florida254
Gainesville, FL

September 12, 2012
7:18 AM

Post #9272957

I have researched the giant whitefly and I find that is what I have. Now I am looking for ways to get rid of it. Thanks for the help.

I hope that AHealy gets some pictures next time as a picture is worth a thousand words. (I think somebody already said that.) I hate to hear when someone's plant has died. When I lose a lot of plants like during cold weather I go through a mourning period. I keep saying I am not going to get anymore of this or that. But then I do.
AHealy8172
Devon, PA

September 12, 2012
9:37 AM

Post #9273064

florida254 wrote:I have researched the giant whitefly and I find that is what I have. Now I am looking for ways to get rid of it. Thanks for the help.

I hope that AHealy gets some pictures next time as a picture is worth a thousand words. (I think somebody already said that.) I hate to hear when someone's plant has died. When I lose a lot of plants like during cold weather I go through a mourning period. I keep saying I am not going to get anymore of this or that. But then I do.


Hi Florida. When I first began this post, I did address the photo issue- it was fruitless to try and photograph the "soil dust" because of how fine it was in comparison to the dark soil. However, when I got home yesterday I did notice some new clusters have formed that were more photographable, and I plan to upload them here shortly. Regardless, I do know that it was over-fertilization/poisoning that killed the plants and not this "dust," as the plants started dying long before the dust showed up.

Please stay tuned for the photos.
AHealy8172
Devon, PA

September 12, 2012
10:04 AM

Post #9273096

Ok, so here are the pictures. I wish it would allow me to caption them or something, but the photo system seems rather rudimentary, so I tried to upload them in a particular order, but even that didn't work- the photos posted in a different order than I wanted. So. I'll try to explain them in one fell swoop:
I took a close-up photo of two particular clusters of "dust" and then a photo of the same spots, but from a distance, to help give a complete picture. Then, the last photo is of the entire window box. I'm pretty sure the clusters are on top of dead leaves that have fallen, which is why I'm equating the "dust" with some sort of mildew or mold...But I'm up for hearing all your thoughts. Thanks.

Thumbnail by AHealy8172   Thumbnail by AHealy8172   Thumbnail by AHealy8172   Thumbnail by AHealy8172   Thumbnail by AHealy8172
Click an image for an enlarged view.

ecrane3
Dublin, CA
(Zone 9a)

September 12, 2012
9:24 PM

Post #9273675

Looks like mold to me. It wouldn't grow unless there was enough moisture around to encourage it, so I think your soil is probably retaining water for too long. You'd be better off switching to a better draining soil that would allow you to water thoroughly rather than in sips like it sounds like you've been doing. If you've been giving it two shot glasses full of water every couple weeks and the soil is still damp enough to allow mold to grow, that tells me your soil is too heavy. Was the soil labeled as potting mix, or was it garden soil? Garden soil is too heavy to use in containers, it doesn't drain well enough at all. Commercial potting mixes often don't have that great drainage either, I think the thread I linked to earlier may have some recipes for potting mix you can make on your own which won't retain water too much.
cathy166
Stamford, CT
(Zone 6b)

September 13, 2012
5:43 AM

Post #9273828

AH, don't assume that the soil your garden center is selling is the right soil for your need just because they carry the plants. The garden center does not have a clue as to what you plan to do with the plants they sell. I use potting soil and amend it with perlite or vermiculite to lighten it up. Once again, you need to have some drainage. If there is no drain hole in the window box, create a dry well with glass stones.

Before putting anything else in this window box, I would empty it completely, toss the old soil, wash or at least rinse the box completely and give it a wipe with bleach.
AHealy8172
Devon, PA

September 13, 2012
6:44 AM

Post #9273878

cathy166 wrote:AH, don't assume that the soil your garden center is selling is the right soil for your need just because they carry the plants. The garden center does not have a clue as to what you plan to do with the plants they sell. I use potting soil and amend it with perlite or vermiculite to lighten it up. Once again, you need to have some drainage. If there is no drain hole in the window box, create a dry well with glass stones.

Before putting anything else in this window box, I would empty it completely, toss the old soil, wash or at least rinse the box completely and give it a wipe with bleach.


Thanks but I do have a glass stone dry well at the bottom. I think I mentioned that before...

This message was edited Sep 13, 2012 9:45 AM
AHealy8172
Devon, PA

September 13, 2012
6:47 AM

Post #9273881

ecrane3 wrote:Looks like mold to me. It wouldn't grow unless there was enough moisture around to encourage it, so I think your soil is probably retaining water for too long. You'd be better off switching to a better draining soil that would allow you to water thoroughly rather than in sips like it sounds like you've been doing. If you've been giving it two shot glasses full of water every couple weeks and the soil is still damp enough to allow mold to grow, that tells me your soil is too heavy. Was the soil labeled as potting mix, or was it garden soil? Garden soil is too heavy to use in containers, it doesn't drain well enough at all. Commercial potting mixes often don't have that great drainage either, I think the thread I linked to earlier may have some recipes for potting mix you can make on your own which won't retain water too much.


Yea, I definitely thought it was mold. Thanks for confirming. I think you're right about the soil retaining too much water. It was marked as "potting mix" but I think they just put whatever they wanted on the bag. Once I replace the plants I will definitely use an entirely different soil...Just think I'm probably out of luck now that Fall is upon us :-(

I am SO relieved that it really isn't some kind of buggy pest! Bleck! I have had enough of those!
ecrane3
Dublin, CA
(Zone 9a)

September 13, 2012
7:10 AM

Post #9273898

The glass stone dry well in the bottom of the container is actually not a good idea. At the bottom of the pot, there will always be a layer of soil that stays wetter for longer than the rest. When you put a "drainage layer" of any sort in the bottom of the pot, that moves that wet layer up higher in the pot and it's more likely to be where the plants' roots are, and since it already seems that your soil is too moisture retentive that could very easily cause problems. I believe that the thread I linked to earlier has information about how water moves through containers so if you haven't read through that yet I would highly recommend it.
DonnaMack
Elgin, IL
(Zone 5a)

September 13, 2012
9:56 AM

Post #9274035

I just saw this thread. I know it is too late to bring this up now, but Bayer 3 in 1 cannot be used in pots. I use it on my roses in the ground, but I do not use it in containers. It actually states on the label that it should not be used in containers. It should be printed in BIG BLACK letters.
AHealy8172
Devon, PA

September 13, 2012
10:09 AM

Post #9274045

DonnaMack wrote:I just saw this thread. I know it is too late to bring this up now, but Bayer 3 in 1 cannot be used in pots. I use it on my roses in the ground, but I do not use it in containers. It actually states on the label that it should not be used in containers. It should be printed in BIG BLACK letters.


Yep. Found that out the hard way.
Like I said, I used a LOT less product, but didn't account for the extended time in between applications.
DonnaMack
Elgin, IL
(Zone 5a)

September 13, 2012
10:15 AM

Post #9274051

They should stilll put it in BIG BLACK LETTERS on the front. It's not your fault!
AHealy8172
Devon, PA

September 13, 2012
1:41 PM

Post #9274200

DonnaMack wrote:They should stilll put it in BIG BLACK LETTERS on the front. It's not your fault!


Yea :-( I mean I did read the labels and stuff, but I thought if I used less it would be ok. Sad face.
DonnaMack
Elgin, IL
(Zone 5a)

September 13, 2012
4:05 PM

Post #9274338

What is it they say? Forgive yourself!

Donna

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