Another Day, Another House Plant Insect

Calathea Maui Queen

You may remember this lovely calathea from back in August when I did a feature called “Foliage is forever.” Well. This foliage may not be forever because it is having some major issues.

What specifically am I referring to? One of the banes of a house plant’s existence, namely spider mites. These tiny little arachnids quickly get out of hand–as mine did, from the time I suspected them last Tuesday when I re-potted this plant, until Sunday, when I took another look and went “Yikes!”

Close up of leaf

The first dead give away is the “stippling” that you see on the right and left sides of this leaf. That’s caused by these insects sucking at it. Mind you, when it gets this bad, the plant is almost ready for compost. If this were a more ordinary variety, it wouldn’t even be an issue. The plant would be gone by now.

Back side of leaf

Here’s the bark of the leaf with lots of little red spider mites visible. I would be berating myself except that these things breed every 3 days–so again, you can see how quickly they get out of hand!

They love dry overheated homes (I can vouch for dry, but overheated? That’s not my house. Still compared to outdoors, it is still warm in here).

So I will do a quick spray with insecticidal soap, and of course isolate the plant. And I will hose it off every 3rd or 4th day to catch any new hatches. We’ll see if I can save this plant.

And They Wonder Why I Hate Mums

I don’t use the word “hate” much. I am pretty sure that I can count on one hand the things that I hate. Right now I can only think of 2, in fact: ice–the kind that is caused by winter storms, not the kind that is made my home freezer; and chrysanthemums.

I used to blame my hatred of mums on working in retail gardening, but even as I thought about it, that didn’t really explain it. I would say that it came from the gazillion of hours that I was forced to spend deadheading the things so that they would always look good for customers.

But there are 3 types of seasonal flowers that we would get in, pansies, geraniums (pelargoniums) and mums, all of which needed deadheading to look good. And besides, as a general rule, I don’t mind deadheading.

Aphids on mums

But there’s this. Every year we get these for the office. And every year we get infested with aphids. This is the nymph stage.

Aphids on wall behind the plants

As you may know, aphids don’t grow wings and leave the plants until there are so many that the plant is overwhelmed. So for them to actually be on the wall behind the plants, it’s pretty bad.

Needless to say, all the mums went into the dumpster and everything else in the office is under observation. We have a cyclamen in the same room that gets infested if you breathe on it the wrong way. It’s been there longer than I have and I have been there 12 years, so it is ancient, in plant years.

But just seeing the aphids on the mums–and remembering that this is exactly what happened last year–makes me realize where my true hatred of these plants comes from. It’s not the deadheading. It’s the constant insect issues.

What on Earth?

Mealy bugs on a jade plant

It’s a true mystery to me where these mealy bugs came from. I know that when I lecture on house plants I explain that mealy bug eggs can live for at least 2 years in the soil.

But this isn’t a new plant. It hasn’t been re-potted in over 2 years. And so far, thank goodness, nothing nearby has mealy bugs.

So the appearance of these (which are admittedly a little hard to see in my photo after I blasted them with a spray of insecticidal soap. There were some many in so many stages that I was not taking any chances!) is just a mystery.

I guess I will just keep carefully watching the plants around where this one was and hope there’s no other “mysteries ” lurking in my house!

Potting Soil, Fungus Gnats and Tiny Spiders

Whenever I lecture on house plants, one of the things that I am sure to talk about is the various moisture control soils on the market. It can be difficult to find container soil without the polymers for moisture control that are almost always added.

If you are gardening in containers that will be used strictly outdoors, it’s fine to use a moisture control soil (unless you want to adhere to strictly organic principles–in which case, as you might surmise, anything called “polymers ” would not be organic).

But there are several reasons not to use these soils indoors, no matter how good an idea it seems at the time.

The most important reason is fungus gnats, which seem to be getting more prevalent all the time. Outdoors, they’re not a problem because “good ” bugs like earwigs and ground beetles and those cute little roly-poly bugs (technically called woodlice or pillbugs) eat their eggs and larva and prevent them from getting out of hand.

But indoors? Well, there are no natural predators so they get out of control. And the types of remedies like repotting the infested plant quickly becomes impractical if your whole collection is infested.

There is an organic remedy that consists of a soil drench made from bt, but having had to do that once, I can tell you that it’s also impractical, takes months to kill the eggs and larva and will kill some of the plants too. So it’s not a perfect remedy.

Fungus gnats on windowsill, the victim of a helpful spider

So here’s where allowing tiny spiders to do their work is useful. Yes, it’s a little gross to clean up after them. But really, is it any worse than having fungus gnats flying all over your house? Because all of these would be flying in my house if the spiders weren’t killing them.

Worse yet, they could be infesting my plants, and I would have to do that nasty, stinky soil drench where I would have to let pails of water sit for 24 hours to dechlorinate, then I would have to mix up the bt drench and water with it. Yuck. The spiders are so much more helpful.

And yes, allowing the plants to dry as much as possible between watering helps too. But in some instances, when plants like to be kept evenly moist, that’s not possible.

So small spiders it is–and I am grateful.

2021 Money Pit Garden Awards

I had to reblog this because it is the funniest, most well done thing I have ever seen.

As garden writers, I propose we all adopt these categories…..

The Chatsworth Lady

If movies, plays, and television shows can have their annual awards, why not our own gardens? In that vein, I’m inaugurating them here at the Money Pit, starting with this gardening year of 2021. And of course, just like in the awards shows, there is a ‘Gone But Not Forgotten’ plant-obituary column for the year as well.

Surprising Success Award (a/k/a The Smiley)

Several plants vied for this one but the winner is Rose ‘Earth Song’, even though I should have expected it, having grown this in my previous garden where it was one of the stars. However, I truly did not expect the 10” own-root bare twig received in late May (sorry, no photo of that phase) to put out several new branches in June, open its first of several buds in mid-July, and then continue to more than double its size and bloom nonstop for the next…

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Mushroom Irony

Mushrooms on the wrong log!

You can probably tell by the black, wrought iron “arm” at the left side of the photo that this is a firewood rack. That top log that is growing such fabulous mushrooms is a piece of an old apple tree. I wish I knew more about mushrooms and could do more than simply admire them–but I know enough to know what I don’t know and I have no plans to poison myself accidentally because those mushrooms “look just like “–see that’s the problem. I don’t even know that. I will stick to growing mushrooms in my kitchen.

Which brings me to the “irony” part of this post. Remember last year’s Christmas gift to the Spoiler? The log that was supposed to grow mushrooms?

That’s it, right there next to that beautiful mushroom growing piece of apple tree. It’s about the ONLY log on the pile without a mushroom on it. Ridiculous. It’s the one with the broken metal plaque on it.

And please don’t tell me that it seeded the rest of the logs with mushroom spore, because if that were the case, it too should have something growing on it!

Anyway, it was a bust. Oh well. Live and learn.

Zygocacti and Seasonal Changes

Three Zygo or Holiday Cacti

It’s a little difficult to tell but there are 3 clay pots of zygo cacti on this plant stand. I segregated them from the other 10 pots that I have because they were beginning to form buds and I wanted them to get a little more light.

But all the zygocacti are definitely flowering later this year. For years, one would be in flower right around the holiday that we just celebrated on Monday. That cactus is called Holiday Delight and I always joke that it is a good thing that they never specified which holiday.

Perhaps one of these will be in bloom by Halloween, although that seems ambitious. But surely Thanksgiving is within reach. We’ll see.

What makes these plants bloom anyway? A combination of light and temperature. Clearly as my post on Monday indicated, it’s been much warmer this fall. So while the sunsets remain the same, the warmer temperatures have probably told these plants that it isn’t quite time to set buds yet.

That’s fine. They will simply bloom closer to the actual “holidays ” for which they are named and perhaps into next year as well. I love flowers in the dead of winter so that’s fine with me.

The Birds Know

Robins on a lawn

These few robins on a neighbor’s lawn do not begin to tell the story. Whenever I leave my house recently, there is a cacophony of bird calls.

There are flocks of sparrows on the grass (and blue jays watching, giving the alarm call whenever I try to take a photo). There are mixed flocks of starlings and grackles in the trees–almost any tree, but especially the native dogwoods. This time of year, they methodically work their way up the street, eating the fruit off every tree in sight. You can hear them coming.

What is my point? The forecast for this week is for unreasonable warmth with temperatures by Friday reaching near 80.

That’s all well and good but all this bird activity tells a different story. If the date on the calendar isn’t telling us that cold weather will soon be upon us, the birds are reminding us that it will be.