How to Get Rid of Pests Naturally
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Even indoor plants get pest infestations. While far less critters attack indoor plants than outdoor plants, there are a crafty few that tend to pop up on indoor plants. They make their way into your home in a variety of ways. Here I’ll outline ways of prevention, and eradication to keep your plants healthy.
The first step in pest control is making sure you don’t buy an already infested plant.
First make sure the plant doesn’t have any odd color spotting or deformed leaves.
Secondly, you will need to know pest’s favorite hiding spots to make sure there are no bugs trying to hitch a ride into your home. Bugs love the undersides of leaves, especially right up against the main vein of the leaf. Look closer all around the underside to also check for eggs. Eggs for many of these bugs will be very small white dots, or a white fuzzy patch. Other popular hangouts include: the pocket of the base of a leaf, on the stems, or on top of any new growth of the plant.
Third, if you frequently buy cut flowers, be careful about putting the vase next to your houseplants. Also fruits and veggies bought at the grocery store can carry pests.
Lastly, if you want to be super cautious, quarantine new plants before putting them up against any existing plants.
There are only a handful of bugs that are common on indoor plants. The methods/materials for getting rid of them are similar, but not equal. Some are more difficult than others, and bad infestations might require you to do these on a weekly basis, until all signs of the pest are gone.
How to get Rid of Mealy Bugs and Scales
Mealy bugs thrive from an overly damp environment (like many pests). They can affect a wide variety of plants, from common houseplants, to fruits and ornamental flowers.
Mealybugs are puffy white bugs with very thin antennas. They have a harder shell than other bugs making them particularly difficult to deal with. They lay fluffy white eggs on leaves, which looks like powdery mildew (a common plant fungal disease). They are slow-moving and once they find a spot they like they tend to just sit and leech your plant.
They have specific spots on the leaf they like. The base of the leaf, the side of the main vein on the back of a leaf, the base of the leaf stem, and lastly the tip of the leaf. These are all highways for nutrients and water for your plant. The mealy bug is essentially plopping down and stealing from your plant. A single bug can sit at the base of the leaf, and make a healthy looking leaf fall off entirely. Since they burrow in unfurled leaves and the base of stems they can be quite difficult to get rid of.
Depending on the severity of the infestation you can use different measures. However I usually go for a more thorough/extreme method when these are spotted, since they can be very resilient.
First prune off any heavily infested leaves/stems, especially ones that are already misshapen or dying. If you have a infested immature leaf at the top, chances are the the leaves lower on the stem are also infested, less and less as you go down. I usually chop off any unfurled immature leaves, as they will probably be infested inside. Use your judgement further down the stem, if you can bare to see it go, a safer bet can is to just chop it off.
Method 1: This is the less extreme method for removing mealy bugs. Just take them off one by one. Dip a Q-tip in 70% isopropyl alcohol and just touch the bug and it will die. Wipe off the area where the bug was off with alcohol as well. If there’s just a couple and you think you got them all, this method is fine.
Method 2: A more heavy duty method, is to fill a spray bottle with 50/50 alcohol/water and spray the entire plant basically. I usually try to just target the common areas stated above, but if your infestation is bad, you might just end up spraying the whole plant.
Let the plant sit for about 15 minutes. Then I would aggressively wash it with regular water. Try to knock off any bugs you can with the water.
Lastly make a mixture of 1 teaspoon of orange oil, and 2 teaspoons neem oil in a 32oz spray bottle. Give your plant a good once over with this mixture. It will deter any surviving bugs from wanting to lay eggs. This can be more of a challenge than getting rid of existing ones!
How to get Rid of Spider Mites and Aphids
These two are the least difficult to take care of, but probably the most common. I tend to get them every few months. They both like to attack new growth, and and will kill your plant slowly if left unchecked.
Spider mites may be red or white. The red ones are harder to spot than the white ones. The white ones tend to spin small webs at the base of new growth. Like mealybugs they like to lay eggs on the underside of leaves.
Aphids are usually green or brown. They are easier to spot since they are bigger than spider mites. They like to try to blend in with stems, or are on the underside of leaves.
To get rid of them make a solution of:
Spray the whole plant, and get the underside of the leaves. Let it sit and dry, (maybe wait 45min-1hr) then rinse it off thoroughly with plain water.
How to get rid of Fungus Gnats
By EBKauai [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Fungus gnats can be quite persistent and especially annoying (They fly in your face because they are attracted to carbon dioxide). If you have a humid home (above 50%) they can be very difficult to get rid of. Fungus gnats in their adult (flying) state, are not harmful to your plants, however their larvae is. Here are some solutions that have worked for me. At times I’ve had to use all of them at once to really get rid of them.
(1) Let the soil dry out. Dry soil means the larvae cannot live, nor will they want to lay more eggs. This works very well however, your plants need water! What you can do is water them instead from the bottom, by letting them briefly sit in a pot/tray of water. The soil will wick up the water through the drainage hole like a sponge. The trick is to time it correctly so the top soil doesn’t get wet, which can be difficult. Maybe your plants are too big to do this, so here are some more options:
(2) Water with hydrogen peroxide. 1 part hydrogen peroxide, 3 parts warm water. This worked well for me before but didn’t get rid of them entirely. The water should fizz, killing the eggs.
(3) Spray the soil with a mixture of 1.5 teaspoons Dr. Bronners castile soap (sal-suds is the best), 1.5 teaspoons of neem oil and 1 teaspoon of orange oil. The soap and neem work together to kill the bugs in the soil. The orange oil deters them from wanting to lay eggs.
(4) Yellow sticky traps also help to kill the adults – which complements the above 3 which aim to kill the larvae.