House Plants on My Mind

It’s March and so my mind naturally turns to house plants.  Yours doesn’t? You must not live in this frozen wasteland that I do.  It’s a little too early to start any of my seeds, we’ve “sprung forward” so there’s more daylight, meaning that I am no longer getting up in the dark and getting home in the dark (although I am, for a brief time, getting up in the dark again–ugh!  But the longer days in the evening are lovely even if there’s still too much snow around to do anything with them!)

But the real reason my mind naturally turns to house plants is that it had better because if I don’t start paying attention, two things will happen:

  • first, with all the extra sun, and therefore heat, the plants will dry out and die on me, and
  • with all the extra sun and heat, the plants are going to start growing like weeds. And with all that lush tender new growth comes an infestation of insects like a biblical plague!

I always laugh when people ask me at lectures “where do X insects come from?” It could be anything–aphids, spider mites, scale, mealy bugs–the actual insects don’t really matter.

And I give a rather flip answer from an old mythology course, about the birth of Venus. I say that they just come “full formed from the head of Zeus.” It’s my way of saying that insects just “happen.” Lots of them can live, as eggs, in the soil for up to 2 years or more.  Others are so tiny that they can travel on the slightest breeze. In other words, before you even begin to notice, there’s an infestation.

And what do insects like? Tender new growth. So in these warm days with extra daylight the plants are really waking up and putting on lots of tender new growth–just perfect for an infestation.

What’s a house plant gardener to do? The simplest thing is to just pay attention. Look at your leaves. Look at your soil when you water. Are you noticing any sap that shouldn’t be there (some plants naturally make sap). But if a lot of sap starts showing up on the leaves–or on your windowsills–you’ve got trouble. Look hard to find it. Get a hand lens if you must but it’s there and the sooner you find it and isolate it, the better it will be for you, the plant (if you’re going to save it) and whatever other plants you have in your collection.

On Monday I’ll talk about how to deal with some pests.


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