Another Way to Deal with House Plant Insects

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You probably don’t recognize this photo from “Gardening Resolutions #1.” It’s the variegated plant–otherwise known as a kumquat–in the picture–the one that I talked about as having fooled me by dropping leaves. It was the one that had spread spider mites to the whole rest of the plants in the window.

Well, so far so good on the rest of the plants, but this one I am a bit nervous about so I decided to give it the “shower” treatment. That way, any hitch hikers and any new hatchers can just wash away down the drain–no fuss, no muss and no sprays (other than the water) required.

I had read this past fall that Brie Arthur (who wrote the wonderful outdoor vegetable book about incorporating vegetables into your landscaping in the most creative ways! The book is called The Foodscape Revolution for those of you who want to get a head start on some ideas for this coming year’s edible garden) suggested that it was “meditative” to wipe down the leaves of your house plants as a protective way to keep insects at bay.

God bless Brie, but that isn’t going to work for me and my 180+ plants! I prefer to take a single plant (or a windowful, if that’s what’s affected) to my shower, give them a quick, but thorough spray down with some water and let them dry.

It’s easy, it’s chemical free, and it dislodges spider mites (and aphids) quickly and painlessly. A nice side bonus is that the plants get thoroughly watered as well.

But, if you only have a couple of plants, you might want to try Brie Arthur’s method to see if that works for you. Different things do work for different folks–or as I always say, if we all liked the same thing, we’d have a pretty boring world!

What’s Eating My Sweet Potato Vine?

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Unless you are very fast or very lucky, you’re not going to see the beetle that’s making the holes in this plant and others like it (morning glory, moonflower and that pest, field bindweed. It’s a shame we can’t train it just to eat that!).

This is a very interesting beetle. I’ve actually only seen it a few times back in my retail gardening days when we had so many of these plants that the beetles came in droves.

They looked like small golden ladybugs. They were beautiful–but of course very destructive. And, of course, that’s only part of the story because this is a very interesting beetle.

This beetle changes color under stress–for example, when we touch it. And of course, when it dies. So what I saw in my retail gardening days as a beautiful golden beetle becomes a red beetle.

Here’s a little bit more information–with some photos–about this interesting beetle from HGTV.

If you do a search for “what’s eating my sweet potato vine,” you’re likely to come upon all sorts of things out there. Take a good look at the photo in the my post. This is damage from the golden tortoise beetle. If your damage doesn’t look like that, it’s possible something else is eating your plant. After all, there are all sorts of insects and critters in our gardens, and we don’t all garden in the same place.

I Need to Take My Own Advice

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Remember on Friday I talked about watching plants for signs of insect infestation? Apparently I wasn’t taking my own advice.

Of course these little evergreens are never happy indoors and I know that. But I was shocked to see this plant go from healthy to basically dead over the course of a week.

Only the bright green parts are still alive –& there are very few of those.  Everything else is dead and crumbles under my fingers when I touch it.

What can cause such rapid deterioration? Only one thing: spider mites.

Now here is more evidence that Stephen King isn’t a gardener.  Spider mites are tiny little spiders–almost invisible to the eye. Just like regular spiders , some make webs and some don’t . The ones that make webs are easier to find, but usually by the time you find your plants covered in the webs, it’s too late. They’re too far gone to save.

They breed quite quickly as well,  reproducing themselves every 3 days. So a small infestation can get out of control quickly.

And they are so light that they can easily travel between or among plants on any current of air–or your watering can spout,  for example .

Once you know that you have these in your house, you want to remove infested plants (this one is dead anyway) and watch everything else anywhere nearby very closely .

Do as I say, not as I do to avoid a lot of heartbreak.

Unwelcome Guests

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This photo–which appears to show just a jumble of plants–actually shows an invasive brown marmorated stink bug on the orchid spike in the photo.  Since the new year, I have been having a mini invasion of sorts. They have never been a problem before for me,  either in the house or the garden.

I know enough not to kill them. If they are somewhere where I can catch them and toss them outside,  that’s what I do. Otherwise,  they seem to die rather quickly on their own. Problem solved.

On the same day that I took this photo,  I heard the unmistakable calls of grackles. Sure enough,  the next morning,  I saw one strutting around on my neighbor’s lawn.

That may not seem strange where you live,  but they’re a full 3 weeks earlier than usual here. Is spring really on its way?

Time for a Shower

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What? I know some people who shower with pets to give them baths. But showering with plants?

Actually I have been known to take my air plants into the shower with me for a quick watering but that clearly is not what’s happening here.  And although it may be TMI, I didn’t shower with these plants.  They didn’t even shower together.  I brought them up and showered them off one at a time.  This photo just shows them drying.

So what’s going on? Well, this.

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I first saw this–spider mites, I suspect–about a month ago. This is a pair of leaves from the plant that is the much larger of the two.

At that time, I just wiped all the leaves off and vowed to take a look again in a few weeks. Sure enough, they’re back.  And while they don’t look much like–or behave like–traditional spider mites, meaning that there are no telltale webs, this is very clearly an insect infestation.

So, once I decided that, I grabbed the other plant that had been near this plant when it was outside.  Sure enough,  same sort of little critter. That’s when I decided they both needed a shower to wash all these pests away.

Clearly I will need to watch these 2 plants–and all those around them–for reinfestation. But so long as I don’t mind giving the plants a shower, I think everything’s under control.

Solve Issues With Indoor Herbs Organically

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Rut-roh. What’s the point of growing your own herbs indoors if they’re going to do this?

And lots of herbs grown indoors are prone to this, not just the sage in my photo. Rosemary is notorious for powdery mildew-_- and this is just about the time when all those cute little rosemary trees and wreaths start appearing everywhere.

Well, they’re no longer cute when they’re covered in this!  And rosemary is definitely finicky about being grown indoors.

So what do you do?  If you want some of this sage for stuffing,  you certainly don’t want to spray it with fungicide–or even dish soap, necessarily.

Never fear, I have just the solution ( literally,  and no pun intended). It does require milk, so if you are not a milk drinker, get yourself one of those small cartons like the kids drink at school.

Mix up a small amount–no more than you need for one treatment  because you can’t save it. You are mixing 50% milk and 50% water.

Spray the plant, then discard whatever solution is left. Don’t try to save it over in the fridge. I have tried.  Your sprayer will be clogged by the time you go to use it again–hence my instructions to try to mix only what you’re going to need.

It’s just that simple.  Milk and water. No poisons, no fungicides,  nothing toxic to you or your family–unless of course you can’t drink milk!

Ticks and Barberry

If you live in Connecticut, you live in the home of Lyme disease. There’s a town called Lyme where the disease was first identified. Lucky us.

But since that first happened some 30 or so years ago, much of the thinking has changed about the causes of the disease.

Don’t mistake the matter: ticks still cause the disease (and no, since so many of you out there have been afflicted, I won’t post photos of the nasty little arachnid that causes it!)

But for awhile it was thought that deer were the primary host of this tick (hence the name “deer tick.”) You might notice that isn’t the popular name for this tick any more. You will most likely hear it referred to as the black-legged tick (as if any of us examine it that closely!)

Now it is thought that white footed mice are the primary host of these nasty little critters. But it’s even more complicated than that. Now we also have to look at habitat as well.

For it seems that in habitat that has an abundance of barberry plants (berberis sp), the tick population is much higher than in places with few or no barberry plants. Here’s a story our local NBC affiliate did on the habitat issue about a month ago.

Why does this matter? Well, it matters for two reasons. First, barberry is an invasive shrub. It spreads by seed. It is not banned here in Connecticut but many places have banned it.

Many of you know barberry as that low mounding shrub, often with reddish leaves (occasionally yellow) and very thorny stems. It has small red fruits in late summer or early fall here in Connecticut that wildlife love–hence the spreading problem.

But when it spreads to our forests and woodlots, you won’t see it coming up as red or yellow. You’ll just see a low green undergrowth. So you won’t necessarily know that it’s the same barberry that came from the garden center.

I have the stuff coming up all over my yard–presumably spread by birds–even though I haven’t planted any and I have no idea where the nearest plant might be. I try to yank it whenever I see it for three reasons: it’s much easier; it’s relatively thornless; and I don’t want it getting out of control to the point where it might produce its own fruit and create this nightmare all over again. Besides, like so many of these invasive plants, once it’s bigger than about 8″, the roots seem to reach middle earth!

I almost hesitate to suggest that our barberry free environment is why I have so far been blessed with no Lyme disease (I was tested again this fall for yet another mystery ailment. They still haven’t figured out the problem–but at least it’s not Lyme disease).

But given the number of hours that I spend in the yard, I do think habitat makes a difference, particularly since we are wooded, on a deer trail and are over-run with mice (and voles).

If ticks are a problem in your yard, take a look at your plantings. Are any of them barberry?