How to prevent and treat pests in your houseplants – Press-Enterprise

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For houseplant enthusiasts, now is the time to take care of those yearly maintenance tasks like pruning and repotting. Unfortunately, it can also be the time to deal with some common houseplant pest problems.
Stressed plants are more susceptible to infestation, and houseplants can be quite picky about growing conditions. Inadequate light exposure, irregular watering, dry air and drafts can make for an unhappy houseplant. Check for and correct these conditions to lower the risk of pest problems.
Before bringing any new plants home, inspect them thoroughly, paying close attention to the undersides of leaves. Most pests are tiny and difficult to spot, so a magnifying glass comes in handy when trying to figure out if that spot is a speck of dust or a bug.
Use only commercial, bagged potting soil when transplanting indoor plants. Compost is wonderful in the garden, but it tends to harbor all sorts of critters and their eggs. You don’t want to find an earthworm crawling across the kitchen floor!
Periodically wash your plants’ leaves. For sturdy plants, cover the top of the pot with plastic wrap (to prevent a big mess) and spray with a hose or rinse in the shower under tepid water. For smaller, more delicate plants, use a spray bottle and wet the leaves until they are dripping. Shake off the excess water and, if feasible, wipe leaves gently with a clean cloth. Dust can attract mites and other pests, and clean leaves are healthier for the plant.
What if you already have some pests? First, isolate the affected plants so the problem doesn’t spread. If the infestation is isolated to only part of the plant, prune away the affected branches. For aphids, mealybugs and other soft-bodied insects, spot treat with a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol. Pay close attention to the base of leaf petioles, where they like to hang out. Spider mites can sometimes be removed with a strong jet of water.
If you decide to use any pesticide (organic or not), make sure you’ve identified which pest you’re dealing with. Not all pesticides work on all pests!
Insecticidal soap is effective against many soft-bodied insects and mites, but usually multiple treatments are necessary. Always check labels and select a product that is designated for indoor use. Sometimes treatments can stain or damage indoor surfaces such as wood or upholstery, so treat the plant outside and allow it to dry before bringing it back inside.
Fungus gnats are not just a nuisance — their larvae can cause significant damage to a young plant’s roots. If possible, allow the soil to dry out completely to kill any larvae. This process may have to be repeated as any residual eggs will hatch and new larvae emerge. If this is not possible, a soil drench of B. thuringiensis (ssp.israelensis) can eliminate fungus gnats. This product is labelled specifically for fungus gnats and is not the same as B. thuringiensis caterpillar killer.
Have questions? Email gardening@scng.com.
Looking for more gardening tips? Here’s how to contact the Master Gardener program in your area.
Los Angeles County
mglosangeleshelpline@ucdavis.edu; 626-586-1988; http://celosangeles.ucanr.edu/UC_Master_Gardener_Program/
Orange County
ucceocmghotline@ucanr.edu; 949-809-9760; http://mgorange.ucanr.edu/
Riverside County
anrmgriverside@ucanr.edu; 951-683-6491 ext. 231; https://ucanr.edu/sites/RiversideMG/
San Bernardino County
mgsanbern@ucanr.edu; 909-387-2182; http://mgsb.ucanr.edu/
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