House Plant Horror Story

On Wednesday, I showed my “before” and “after” photos of the outside of my house after I brought in all my houseplants.  Over the years, I’ve made the annual trek outside with the plants in the spring, and back indoors with the plants in the fall.  Very longtime readers may remember my story, 2 years ago, of bringing in something–most likely a baby bird–in a hanging plant.  That’s the “worst” thing that’s ever happened to me.

Back when I was working in retail gardening, lots of folks wanted to know how to prepare the plants that had summered outdoors for the trek back in.  I always told them the same thing: there’s really nothing special you need to do and there’s really nothing special you can do proactively (more about that in a minute).  Just be sure to watch the plants carefully once they’re indoors.

Why do I say there’s nothing special you can do proactively? Because most folks want a spray or a systemic to put in the plant to “keep bugs away.”  These days, there’s no systemic that’s made for use indoors–not that I’m aware of, anyway.  And even if there were, would you want to be exposed to the off-gassing of that poison daily in your home?

And most plant insect sprays are designed to kill on contact but to have little or no residual effect–good for you and the plant, not so good for any eggs that might hatch–and really, that’s what folks are worried about–something that “might” happen.

So that’s why I always advocated vigilance–look at the plants, watch the plants, keep a close eye on the leaves and the stems to begin to notice what looks “off.”  You can’t tell if something’s wrong if you don’t know what’s normal.

And I always advocated rinsing the plants off outside with a strong stream of water from the hose (provided we didn’t have watering restrictions, of course).  That would likely knock off any adult pests–and probably any eggs–that were going to find their way indoors.

In my 7+ years of retail gardening, I didn’t have any complaints with my approach from customers who followed this advice. (And believe me, if someone got bugs, I was always the first to know, because I was the one who pretty much knew all the remedies to fix the problems!)

Last week, however, I encountered a situation that I’ve never heard of before–an aphid outbreak so severe that a pest control company had to be called.  Now that’s bad!

Aphids, as you may remember, are everyone’s worst nightmare because they can breed so quickly and thus get out of hand so quickly.  But as a general rule, aphids do stay put on one plant and don’t sprout wings and fly until their numbers are so great that  the infested plant cannot support them anymore.

Apparently that’s what happened in this case.  The situation was described to me as a “black cloud” and as a “swarm.”  And the homeowners here were vigilant too–they’d been treating the plant with insecticidal soap–but as we all know, sometimes aphids just get out of control too quickly because they can breed so fast.

Luckily it’s still warm enough here to take all the infested plants outdoors, shower them off, treat them with an herbal oil spray, and to leave them outdoors and continue to shower them off until the aphid situation is well back in hand.

After all, no one should have to call a pest control company to get rid of aphids!

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