It happens to all of us at least once. No matter how careful we are or how many precautions we take the dreaded bugs appear on our house plants. I'm not talking cuties like lady Bugs folks, I'm speaking of the nasties. The Mealy Bug to the right is a good example. They can strike fear into the hearts of even the most seasoned house plant veteran. They suck the life out of leaves and spread like wildfire. There are two safe methods to eradicate these bugs from our plants. Rubbing alcohol is the first. I keep a pill bottle full of the alcohol and some q-tips. At the first sign of a mealy I take the alcohol soaked q-tip and dab the bug. They are wax coated, mealies are, so plain water just bounces off of them. They have no means of defence against the alcohol. They turn to mush instantly. If, after a few days of dabbing I turn to my other pet/children safe method. Neem oil. Mixed with dish soap and warm water I spray every surface, including the soil. Repeat every 5 to 7 days and after 3 or 4 applications the Mealies are nowhere to be seen.
Spider mites are another common pest in the house plant world. They are sometimes overlooked because of their small size. I notice them most often while I am misting my plants. The fine mist highlights the webs they make. Signs of spider mites are yellow blotches on leaves that further yellow and fall. Spider mites love hot, dry conditions. I find constant misting helps deter them. If they still persist after a few days of misting I turn once again to the neem oil.
White Flies. Have you ever moved a plant at a garden centre and noticed a flurry of tiny white insects? These would be White Flies. They can happen in the home too. Not occurring as often in the home as they do in a greenhouse, but often enough to warrant vigilance on our part. Flying insects are easily and safely dealt with using good old fly paper. Actually, any piece of yellow paper cut into a square and covered with Tanglefoot works extremely well. Be careful though if you have cats in the house, they aren't always aware of where they hold their tails!!
Aphids. Wooly Aphid pictured to the left. These are also tiny, sucking insects that drain the life out of our house plants. Mostly known as an outdoor garden pest they do occur indoors occasionally. I almost always get them on my Oleander in the late winter. Probably brought in from when the plants summered outside. Neem oil is also my favourite aphid eradicator.
There are other pests. Those of us that like African violets are well aware of the Thrip and the Fungus Gnat. The sticky yellow paper works on these guys too, although I have known people to lose entire collections, 100's of plants, to thrips. Sometimes it's easier to throw them away. Scale is another, though less common insect that can attack our plants. If you happen to find an unidentified pest on your plants be sure to visit the Bug and Insect Identification forum here on Dave's garden.
There are a few things we can do to help prevent the occurrence of nasty, plant killing insects inside our homes. The most important being quarantine. Whenever we bring a new plant into our home it needs to be quarantined. I am the worst for bringing home something new and wanting to immediately display it. This is a bad habit. Considering I buy most of my plants at big box stores I should be more aware than I am of bringing unwanted guests inside.
I have often been in a greenhouse, wandering the aisles looking at all of the beautiful tropical plants I'd like to come home with me. I smell their flowers, fondle their leaves, and then come home and play with my own plants. Am I bringing home insects on my person? Who knows, but the possibility is there.
We should be constantly inspecting our house plants for anything unusual. I can not stress enough the need to be closer to your plants. Don't just hang them up or put them in a windowsill and water once in a while. Touch them, get to know them, inspect them closely. Remove any dead leaves on a regular basis. This way, if a bad bug gets in the house, chances are you will discover it before it becomes a bigger problem.
Dave's Garden also has a wonderful resource, BugFiles where you can find almost any bug known to mankind.
Many thanks to Vaelor, VbSparky and DiOhio for their contribution of photos to Bug Files..