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Keeping bugs out of indoor plant soil
Growing plants indoors isn’t like growing them in the open, where their roots can roam free. An indoor plant’s roots have to be confined, which can sometimes seem like a chore.
While there are many ways to keep pests out of plants’ roots, only a few are easy, fast and cheap. And because pests aren’t always the biggest problem when it comes to keeping plants healthy, the methods that work best also tend to be the simplest.
There are a number of pests that affect plants and not everyone will be affected by all of them. However, indoor plants are prone to pests because they live inside, and because they’re in confined conditions, plants are vulnerable to problems like blossom-end rot, damping off, and more.
Among the few pests that attack indoor plants are whitefly, aphids, mealybugs, thrips, whiteflies, leafhoppers and squash bugs, although not all are serious pests.
The following is a guide to pests that occur indoors and a basic guide to protecting plants against these pests. The guide is not a comprehensive overview of the various pests that affect indoor plants. It only provides simple, quick and cheap measures that can help.
Some of the methods discussed may be effective on a limited basis and, in some cases, a plant may need more than one approach to deal with a pest. However, if the measure does not work, it may be a good idea to give the plant some fresh potting soil and try again.
Household pests that attack indoor plants
What’s it? A small sap-sucking insect that looks similar to a house fly. They are usually yellow-orange or brown and can reach up to half a centimetre in length.
What do they do? Whiteflies suck the sweet juice from the leaves of your plants, causing them to wilt and die. When whiteflies are under stress, they also produce more of their feeding deterrent, pyrethrum, and these flies are more susceptible to pesticide spraying.
What’s the best way to prevent them? The easiest way to avoid the risk of whiteflies in your house is to grow your plants in a greenhouse.
Tip: Whiteflies spread to your indoor plants by resting on their eggs, so make sure to inspect your pots on a regular basis.
What to do: Start by inspecting the pots for spider eggs and remove any that you find. Whiteflies do lay their eggs on plant leaves, so carefully inspect each one for signs of new whitefly eggs.
What’s it? A small insect with mouthparts that are adapted to piercing the skin of plants. Aphids can range in size from a small, green ‘apple’ (for example, cornicles) to a large ‘beetle’ (for example, rose and conker aphids).
What do they do? Aphids suck plant sap to create honeydew, which coats their mouthparts and blocks their breathing tubes. These tiny aphids can multiply quickly, and have also been found to transmit viruses.
What’s the best way to prevent them? The best way to prevent aphids is to choose plants that are resistant to aphids.
Tip: Place an over-turning bucket over the pots and drain the water from the bottom of the bucket into a plant tray to catch the water. Place the pots into the bucket, then take them out, dry the bucket and drain off the water into the tray, then replace the bucket over the pots. Repeat this process every time you water the plants.
What to do: Inspect each plant for aphids regularly, as they don’t often appear until you notice them. The best way to do this is by holding a plant under a light.
Aphids are difficult to control unless you get them while they’re young. In this case, simply spray a solution of water and insecticidal soap around the roots of the plant.
What’s it? A small, soft-bodied, plant-sucking insect that forms a layer of wax on their body to protect them from predators. These insects get their name from the ‘mealy’ look of their body.
What do they do? Mealybugs suck the plant sap from the underside of leaves, causing leaves to wilt and die. It’s important to inspect your plants for mealybugs because they can produce large numbers of offspring, sometimes hundreds of thousands of them.
What’s the best way to prevent them? The best way to prevent mealybugs is to choose plants that are resistant to mealybugs.
Tip: Mealybugs are difficult to control, so try not to grow a lot of plants from seed in your garden.
What to do: Inspect each plant regularly for mealybugs. One way to spot them is by gently touching the leaf. If you feel a sticky substance on your finger, it’s probably a mealybug. If this is the case, pull it off the plant and dispose of it immediately.
What’s it? A small, brownish insect that feeds on plants by sucking the plant juices from the leaves and stems of plants. It gets its name from the triangular shape of its body.
What do they do? Squash bugs suck the plant juices from the underside of leaves, causing them to wilt and die. They can also make the leaves ‘ball up’.
What’s the best way to prevent them? The best way to prevent squash bugs is to choose plants that are resistant to squash bugs.
Tip: Squash bugs reproduce by laying eggs. Eggs are found on the undersides of leaves and stems.
What to do: Keep the plants you grow in pots that have lids, and inspect the pots regularly. Crush and flush any bugs you find with soapy water.