By Bev Johnson
Otter Tail County Master Gardener
Do you have a house plant big enough to have its own gravitational field? Or a spaghetti look-alike, long and thin? A plant that looks like it must have a landing field because of all the flies zipping around it? Maybe you have one that looks like the Easter bunny, all white and fuzzy. Or how about that plant that looks like it should be in a haunted house, full of spiderwebs.
There are times the plant is just so infested that the best solution is to give it a vacation on the deck in the middle of a snowstorm, but let’s attempt to save your babies.
Spider mites can come in with the Christmas tree or other holiday greens, or even a plant from a friend. You will see webbing on leaves, or discolored leaves. The first thing to try is insecticidal soap. Wash the leaves about every three days for nine days. If that doesn’t do it, try a “bug” spray for houseplants. Still have webs? Out the door.
The bunny rabbit plant has mealybugs. If it is not too infested, a Q-Tip dipped in rubbing alcohol touched to the bug may be enough to clean up your plant. Pentac or Di-Syston are sprays that also may work.
Aphids may look like black, green, brown, or even red or purple spots on the leaves of your plants. A strong blast of water will get rid of many of them and may have to be repeated several times to wash most of them off. Wipe the leaves with a cotton ball dipped in alcohol every other day until they are gone. Keep the insecticidal soap handy for this plant, too.
Now to the air show. The flies can be Spring Tails, Whiteflies, or Fungus Gnats. The cause usually is that you have been overwatering the plant. Let it get dry just to the stage of wilting. Then cover the soil with gravel to keep the top 1-2 inches dry. If this doesn’t do it, dump the soil into a plastic bag and seal it, then chuck it. Scrub the pot with hot water and a few drops of bleach and rinse well. Wash all the soil off the roots to prevent a new infestation. Now replant in fresh soil and quit overwatering the poor thing. The old soil can go in the compost pile or in an outside pot after it is thoroughly dried out.
Now to that skinny mini. It is lacking light. Move it to a brighter area. If it starts looking better you may need to cut it down a bit. It should come back bushier. If it doesn’t, chuck it and get a different plant that likes lower light.
If a plant simply can’t be saved, and it is one you want to keep, take slips to start new plants. You usually can get multiple slips from a mature plant. This way, if you kill one off you will have spares and perhaps, a few extra to dump on unexpecting friends.
If all this is too much trouble, pitch the whole works and buy a new plant. Check it for bugs before you give it a room in your house or you will be in the same fix as before.
House plants aren’t usually expensive, they add color and many of them are excellent air purifiers, something most of us need in the winter. And good air isn’t a bad thing either.