Winter months are long and my plants are far too many to have enough space to avoid spreading those ugly spider mites, mealybugs, aphids or whiteflies. These pests attack my hibiscus, oleanders, lemon and mandarin trees mostly and sometimes the impatiens, begonias, kalanchoes and poinsettias. I usually spray all these plants with an insecticide as soon as I see the sticky drops at the base of the leaves, on every tip of my plants. It wasn't too clear to me whether these were eggs from the spider mites, from the whiteflies or from any other bugs, or if they actually were eggs. A quick search showed me that the whiteflies secrete this sugar rich liquid, named honeydew, from their gut's opening, when they are feeding on the plant sap. The sticky honeydew drips on the plant's leaves and can cause sooty mold. I could see that on my oleander which was pretty badly damaged during one winter. Whiteflies lay eggs on the back of the leaves They often stay on the soil, so when I water the plant they fly up - not too high, it seems more like a jump. Actually they aren't true flies, but relatives of mealybugs, aphids and scale bugs.
Another sign of infestation which I oftenly see on my plants is a smooth spider web which covers the new growths of the hibiscus, impatiens, oleander or citrus. This is the spider mites' web and if you have a lens, you can spot the minuscule spiders on it. Spider mites are arachnids, not insects. They suck the fluids from individual plant cells, with their needle-like mouth parts, causing the leaves to have a stippled appearance, with brown dots, where the cells have been sucked out. Leaves yellow and fall, same as the buds. The two spotted spider mites have pearly white eggs, laid on the undersurface of the leaves. I saw one white egg on a begonia leaf by accident, while taking a picture. Or is it something else, maybe a mealybug?
A mealybug infestation is like a fluffy cover on the curled leaves. They have this appearance of white fluff which the females secrete to cover and protect their eggs. The females also secrete a honeydew when feeding with the plant's sap, while the males aren't feeding at all as adults - they only live to fertilize the females. Mealybugs frequently attack my citrus, amaryllis and other type of lilies, such as zephyrantes and rainlilies.
I used to have a scale infestation on my lemon trees, aloes, begonias and oleanders, but not anymore. It seems I have gotten rid of them for good. They are terrible parasites and I lost a lemon tree and several begonias to their attack, which happened before these new insecticides appeared on our market. Scales get their name from the scale (armour) they produce to protect themselves. Females stay inside the scales for their lifecycle, while males only have a covering until they mature and leave it for mating. I used to clean the oleander or citrus leaves with a tobacco insecticide I made myself, by boiling tobacco in water. It wasn't efficient or effective, and I was picking up every scale bug with my hands. I've also used soap on a wet sponge to clean every leaf of the yucky bugs. None of these were helpful, as the scale bugs always reappeared after a while. Everytime I saw the honeydew sticky drops on my oleander leaves, I knew I had to repeat the treatment. I discovered a new treatment with Mospilan, a chemical insecticide, which is helpful in repelling many kinds of pests. However, it's not that effective against spider mites and whiteflies. Lately I heard about another insecticide which seems to work, but I need to repeat the treatment for several weeks. I can hardly wait to see my citrus trees and oleanders looking fresh and bushy, with healthy leaves (not curled!). Hibiscus responds better to insecticides, getting rid of bugs fast, after only one treatment.
Aphids are also terrible pests to my plants. They attack the hibiscus' buds during winter and mums' buds in the fall. Beginning in the spring I have some special "helps" in the garden that feed on aphids and other small pests and their eggs; the ladybugs. They also feed on beetles' eggs (laid mostly on the cherry tree branches), thus decreasing the beetle population in my garden. I've found several ladybugs inside my home, especially after I moved the plants inside in the fall. Silly me, I took the ladybugs and threw them outside, without knowing that they were a beneficial insect, feeding on the pests from my plants. It's so interesting that now you can buy ladybugs for pest control in your home.
I know I should avoid using chemicals on my plants, but it isn't possible if I want to have healthy plants. Or, should I give away half of my plants so the others could have enough space and be pest free? I don't think so! Better to let the ladybugs overwinter in my home and save some money I would have to spend on pest control.