Spray away

One of the problems with overwintering plants indoors (besides finding space for them all, giving them enough light, etc.) is insects. Mealy bugs, whiteflies, fungus gnats, spider mites, aphids -- you'll most likely see all of these during the cold months. I know I do.

Right now I've got two plants that are infected, and I need to take care of the problem before it spreads everywhere.


The Elephant bush has mealy bugs:

A pepper plant that I'm trying to overwinter for the first time (just having learned this year that peppers are perennial) has a few aphids:

Okay, maybe more than a few:

My usual weapon against these pests is insecticidal soap:

This is a gentle organic control method in that it uses natural soaps (not detergents) to kill the pests. The potassium fatty acids in the soap break down the insect's cells or something like that -- it must be sprayed directly on the pests.

Unfortunately it will damage some types of plants -- succulents are potentially susceptible to this. So I'm going to use a non-organic chemical systemic insecticide on the Elephant bush:

A systemic is taken up by the plant's roots and distributed throughout the plant internally. Juice-sucking insects then ingest the poison, killing them.

You mix up a pretty small quantity of the stuff with water:

The water looks only slightly cloudy after adding the toxin. I'll use this jar a couple of times this winter I'm sure.

You can't use the systemic on edibles, so I'll use the insecticidal soap on the pepper. Or maybe not...

I found this other organic spray containing Neem oil in my gardening cupboard. I think I'll use that on the pepper instead and see how it does.

Neem oil can damage some plants too, so I also sprayed a couple of the low-hanging branches on the Elephant bush with it:

It will be good to know if it causes any problems on this plant.

I broke off a piece of the plant while I was spraying:

I'll pot that up and get a new plant out of it!

One thing that may lessen the effectiveness of the sprays (not the systemic) is that they are not fresh. I mixed them up several months ago or longer. If I don't get the results I expect I'll mix up a fresh batch and spray with that. I'll need to spray again in a week or so anyway -- the spray doesn't kill eggs (or at least not all types of eggs) and I want to eradicate all of the pests, not just a single generation.

On warm days I may find a ladybug (lady beetle) outside, which I then try to capture and release on my plants. It's not the most effective solution though, and relies too much on chance.

So I'll be spraying away for most of the winter.


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Gerhard Bock (Succulents and More)  – (January 4, 2012 at 10:03 AM)  

I had similar problems with mealybugs and spider mites on my winter house guests. Insecticidal soap seems to have done the trick. Outside I use neem oil all the time and it works well if it's relatively fresh. Isopropyl alcohol is very effective on mealy bugs.

I wonder how these buggers get INTO the house? If the plants you bring inside were infested, wouldn't that show right away? Mystery...

Steve Lau  – (January 4, 2012 at 10:14 AM)  

I think even if 1 egg is dormant on the plant, it can multiply exponentially once it hatches, and will keep coming back unless every single mealy bug is killed.

Alan  – (January 4, 2012 at 10:33 AM)  

I think that outdoors a large number of them are eaten, or the conditions are not as nice as indoors. Or maybe it's that there are so many plants to look at, you just don't notice the bugs as much as you do when there are just a few plants that you're looking at each day or several times a day indoors.

danger garden  – (January 4, 2012 at 10:36 AM)  

Thanks for the reminder. I've put off going through all of my basement captives and looking for signs of infestation. I glance over them almost daily but I try at least once a month to get really up close and personal with each one (this involves moving a lot of plants!) to see what they might be hiding. This usually results in an unpleasant discovery or two. Often there are new agave pups to discover though too, to it's not all bad.

Christine @ The Gardening Blog  – (January 4, 2012 at 4:24 PM)  

I'm really trying hard not to spray this season ... but my plants are outdoors so I am able to leave it to nature to take care of the nasties (for the most part). I hope I last all season - it gets very tempting to spray when I see aphids especially.

Alan  – (January 4, 2012 at 4:33 PM)  

Christine: outdoors, blast away aphids with a strong water spray. Just make sure you don't spray them onto other susceptible plants.

I almost never spray outdoor plants.

Andrea  – (January 4, 2012 at 11:29 PM)  

When i only have few plants with insects, i brush them off to the soap solution, using old toothbrush. They definitely die swimming there.

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