Let’s talk about one of the less glamorous sides of ‘houseplant care’ – pests. Unless you have been extremely lucky, you will probably have come across bugs in some form or another. The reality of keeping quite a lot of plants means this can be an issue sometimes.
Things had been running pretty smoothly in the HPH household until a few months ago, when I was admiring a new vine growing on my bathroom ivy I had painstakingly rooted myself… and saw a BIG mealy bug. This was the first time I had seen a mealy bug up close and personal. It was even more alarming because at the time, I was standing in a towel having just got out of the shower! It was one of those ‘fight or flight’ moments …and I promptly picked the plant up and flung it in the kitchen bin …bye bugs (and ivy)!
Fast forward to plant inspection two weeks ago where I picked up my cordyline fruticosa to find a whole load of mealies like little bits of cotton wool on the stem and underside of the leaves. I had that same sinking feeling in my stomach and again, took the plant out to the kitchen (now simultaneously referred to as the quarantine zone) …but this time, instead of heading straight for the bin I paused. I wasn’t in the mood for giving up so easily this time so got out my cleaning arsenal and put on the rubber gloves.
*FOR REFERENCE I USED DR BRONNER’S CASTILLE SOAP – DILUTED AT A RATIO OF 1TSB/1 CUP OF TEPID WATER*
BELOW: This is my cordyline getting it’s soak in the sink / carrying out a soil change before repotting / The two ficus elastica getting their soak / repotting together in fresh soil.
🌿 PORTRAIT OF MY PLANTS IN QUARANTINE:
After I posted about my pest problems on my Instagram feed (under photo above), I got lots of requests to dedicate a blog post to the matter, so here it is. Since the cordyline treatment, I have been extra vigilant checking my other plants and have had some more cleaning tasks to undertake. Next in line was the spider mitey ficus pair from Tesco. I carried out the same treatment here, and to my dismay, have nearly lost two of the beautiful leaves in the process. Unfortunately, this is inevitable and ficus can be a bit on the temperamental side anyway, so it’s a sacrifice worth making if the plant is able to be saved.
Next were my bambino FLF and aspidistra which had a few mealies so I decided to give them a castille solution spray treatment (as opposed to a bath) before a shower and a hearty dose of SB invigorator. Then most recently, and what was perhaps the most tricky, was my sansevieria black coral. I will admit I had been avoiding doing this for two weeks after placing it in quarantine (read: on the floor in the corner of my kitchen) as I knew it was going to be tricky. I suspected spider mites because as the photograph below shows, there was a suspicious web across the bottom of the pot, reaching up to some of the leaves. Despite not being able to see anything, I’d wiped the web away a few times and it kept coming back, so knew I needed to do something.
It was at this stage that I thought it would be helpful to photograph the process for you all to see, in a hope that it will help give you the confidence to tackle these unpleasant situations.
ABOVE: Fine web that set alarm bells off for me with this plant / After removing the pot inside a plastic bag, I loosened as much soil off as possible / First soaking in castille soap – 20 minutes in here, agitating often.
ABOVE: After the initial soak / Washed out the sink and filled up the sink for a second castille rinse as there was a lot of soil in between the leaves / After it’s second 20 minute soak the plant (and water) was much cleaner.
ABOVE: Time to clean the sink – it’s ready for a shower now / After it’s shower I left the plant to dry for 30mins / Getting ready to pot again (in fresh soil).
ABOVE: After it’s rinse, the plant has ‘opened up a bit’ and I can see the new growth coming through! / Repotted / Full length photo after potting and being given a good watering.
🌿 Some extra tips I would like to offer…
– Keep new plants in isolation for a few weeks if possible before introducing into your plant space. I always do this incase any plants are carrying pests after being in stores. Whilst plants in supermarkets can be really affordable – be wary! Since my Ficus elastica issues above, I spoke to a number of managers at Tesco who were tracing the issue back to the distribution centres. A lot of stores are not trained in plant care so my advice would be to proceed with caution.
– With the change of seasons, consider moving your plants around – most will need some re-adjustment to keep them happy!
– Consider the issue of humidity which can increase the risk of pests (particularly red spider mite)- I’ve recently got a digital humidity monitor to keep a closer eye on this.
– Get yourself a copy of Dr D.G. Hessayon’s The Houseplant Expert to equip yourself with the wealth of knowledge about pests and diseases. The illustrations can really help determine what is wrong with a struggling plant and the pictures aren’t too graphic (for you squeamish types!)
Thanks for reading!
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If someone in your household smokes tobacco, they should not; but if they do, cigarette filters can be simmered to make a tea that can be sprayed to kill aphid and scale. It will stain, so should be applied outside or at least on newspaper or a countertop.