Saturday, January 31, 2015

The Problem with Houseplants

People think I have a green thumb.  But I have to tell you the truth - it's probably only because they haven't seen how many plants I've killed.


At least when gardening outdoors, Nature helps quite a lot.  I can dig a hole, amend the soil, put a plant in a spot where it is most likely to survive, water occasionally when there hasn't been rain for awhile, and the odds are good for survival.  But houseplants... houseplants are an entirely different beast.  They depend entirely on me for survival.


Them odds aren't as good.

I closed my greenhouse up for the winter, as it got too expensive to heat for the few plants I had in there.  So in came all the cuttings and the few tender plants I had.  I also got a few houseplants this fall from another gardener that was moving away.  Many of these went into the guest room, with a few houseplants scattered on windowsills or ledges around the house.  After a while, however, I've noticed many of them haven't been doing too well.  I spent a few days in denial, but finally resigned myself to diagnosing the problem.


Turns out I have several of them.

Problem #1:  Spider Mites
I hate Spider Mites.  They are so tiny that it takes forever to figure out what the problem is.  A couple tell-tale signs of Spider Mites are speckling of leaves from all the little hordes of mites sucking the juice out of them...


...and a fine webbing that appears around the plants, much like spider webbing.


But by the time you finally figure out that there are Spider Mites, you are in a war for the survival of the plant.  In two weeks, a female Mite can lay up to 300 eggs.  In a warm, dry climate (say, the climate of a heated house in winter), the eggs can hatch and grow into adults within 5 days.  At which point, of course, the cycle repeats, and before you know it, a bazillion Spider Mites now call your plant home.

Did I mention how much I hate Spider Mites?

Problem #2:  Fungus Gnats
Since noticing those little black gnats that like moist soil flying around my plants, I've tried to let the plants dry out between waterings, but that is hard with some of the small cuttings and seedlings that I have. I've also gone to my go-to solution of watering the plants with water that has Bt in it. (Bt is the bacteria in Mosquito Dunks and other products that kills larvae.)  My Bt must be old or have expired, though, as the Fungus Gnats have only increased in the last few weeks!  Ack!


Problem #3:  Aphids
Really?  How in the world did I get Aphids?!!  As if I didn't have enough problems with the Spider Mites...


Problem #4:  Root Rot
So far this has been limited to one of the plants given to me by another gardener.  She did tell me that it was fine with neglect.  I obviously showed this plant way too much love and care, and it got overwhelmed.  Or overwatered.  Back to the neglect route... I think I can handle that.


Problem #5:  This one is the largest problem of all.  Literally, the largest.  This one pest weighs about 13 pounds, and its sharp teeth and claws allow it to eat and destroy an entire plant in around 5 seconds.  (See my poor defoliated plant in the white and blue dragon pot near the top of the post for reference of the damage.)

This one problem is also the main reason I don't usually keep many houseplants.


I have two cats.  One comes begging when I make tuna fish, like a proper cat.  This one, on the other hand, comes begging when I make salad.  Boy, oh boy, does she love her greens.

I managed to rescue this plant with a few leaves intact (mostly).

So, my solutions?

#1 Spider Mites: I have been giving my plants showers to try to knock some of them off the leaves.  I also have been spraying with Neem Oil once a week.  That seemed to slow them down but not stop them.  I have now been trying Insecticidal Soap.

#2 Fungus Gnats:  I have bought new Bt and have started watered with that to kill the larvae.  I have also put sticky tape around, which the flying adults land on and get stuck to.

#3 Aphids:  Same solution as #1.  Also, whenever I see one, I squish it.

#4 Root Rot:  I removed part of the plant and am going back to the neglect route.  We'll see what happens.

#5 My plant-eating cat: I have resorted to caging...


Anyone else having problems with houseplants?
Anyone have some good suggestions for getting rid of the pests?

Anyone want a free cat?
(Just kidding)

23 comments:

  1. Hello Indie!!!
    Pests, diseases of the biggest problems in the cultivation of our plants.
    I also have to fight them. I try not to use any chemicals.
    Sometimes it is hardly avoidable. Winters are very mild now and freeze-pests in the garden.
    Kitty is beautiful. Each animal is a great pleasure. I have a bitch Beli.
    I wish you a nice Sunday and a happy week.
    Greetings.

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    1. I try not to use chemicals as well. I use the safest, most organic treatments I can. Hope they get rid of all these pests!

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  2. You have my sympathies! I loved your last solution! I spend my energies outdoor, and I have very few house plants. All were given to me. The one that has survived for years is a Christmas cactus, which thrives on neglect.

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    1. I like plants you can neglect! I have a few Spring cacti, which are very similar. I have managed to burn the leaves of two of them with too much sun. (Thankfully they are recovering.) The cactus that is doing the best is the one I stuck in a North-facing window and often forget about :)

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  3. I have my house plants summer outdoors too and run into the same problems. I use the same solutions too. Also I have two cats. Always a chore to keep the house plants from year to year. I was just telling my friend how many house plants are here in Hawaii, yet they are the size of trees.

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    1. It was the same when I went to India. I saw quite a few large plants growing outside that I recognized as versions of the houseplants here!

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  4. maybe, grow a pot of grass, for the cat?
    In Switzerland they sold Katzengras for the cats who lived in flats.

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    1. I do grow grass occasionally and buy pots of grass for the cat. She just eats them too quickly! :)

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  5. I do have those fungus gnats and have the sticky tape up too and never tried the Bt. Sometimes I get the other problems but I water my plants infrequently which I think helps with some of the other problems. I am actually looking for a few good books as I want to add a few more plants. I think it is hard keeping houseplants alive and well in our cold climate with limited light.

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    1. Most of my plants are in a room that gets Southern and Eastern light, which helps. I do wonder if they are getting enough light, though. And some of the tropical ones are likely a little chilly in my cool house!

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  6. I got rid of most of my house plants years ago because of the same reasons. My mom, a botanist, has all sorts of beautiful plants around her house, but it just doesn't work for me. I do have one hibiscus that goes outside for half the year, and that hasn't done so badly. And I do overwinter half a dozen large pots in the basement with lights, but it's much cooler and more humid there, so they have fewer stresses. Insecticidal soap is your friend -- just put the pot in the bathtub, spray with soap and hose it down. Your cats are too cute to even consider getting rid of for a few aphid-infested plants! Good luck. -Beth

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    1. Ha, I am known as a crazy cat lady in my extended not-so-cat-loving family, so there's no chance of me getting rid of the cats :) My mother-in-law has a lot of beautiful house plants around the house. Some people just have the knack! I wish I could have potted plants on floor level or on pedestals like my mother-in-law does, but my Problem #5 prevents that!

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  7. Oh, I feel your pain - and share it! My houseplants suffer greatly, since I must be the world's worst at watering regularly. I should just give up and only garden outdoors, but I do love green plants inside...at least, if I can keep some semblance of green on their stems and branches!

    Good luck! Spring will be here before we know it; then many of our indoor plants can sigh with relief as we carry them outside again....

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    1. The plants doing the best in my house are the ones on the windowsill right over the kitchen sink. That way they have a much better chance of getting watered :) I'm trying to be good about watering the cuttings that I brought in this winter, though - I'd hate to lose those!

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  8. I can so relate to this, Indie! Two years ago I created an indoor fairy garden with my granddaughter, and after a few days I noticed some disturbance in the soil. The next day the same thing happened, until finally I found plants ripped out and the whole pot overturned one morning. Apparently, Widget the cat didn't like fairies:) But I can't blame the cats for everything--I'm the biggest cause of houseplant failure. Somehow I just can't get as excited about caring for plants growing in the house as I do for the ones outdoors.

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    1. Oh no! Maybe the next fairy garden would be better off in a terrarium :) It is much easier to get excited about plants outside. I wonder if that is because there are a lot more of them, so it is much more likely that something is in bloom, which is my favorite part of gardening.

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  9. Haha! I am useless with houseplants! They seem to be on a mission to catch everything going and they are at the mercy of the most forgetful indoor plant waterer to ever walk this planet. With the exception of an unkillable spider plant given to me by a passing dog walker, I have lost every houseplant that has made the mistake of finding itself in my home. I can't even blame the cats... partly because I don't have any cats. I love that photo of the plant in a cage! Great post! Made me giggle on a cold wintery night!

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    1. B.C. (before cat) I had a couple houseplants that were thankfully unkillable. I would recommend the Pothos plant to everyone. That thing must have lived on air half the time, because I certainly didn't water it very often! It's very forgiving of over or under watering. I've heard the spider plant is great, but I'm too afraid that if I get one it will make little babies and then I'll have more plants to take care of! :)

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  10. Someone wiser than me once said: you are not a proper gardener if you are not killing the occasional plant! So there you have it, you are a good gardener, just like the rest of us :-)

    OK, so I can give you a few tips that will help you with some of your problems.

    -Never take indoor plants outside, even if it’s good for them, when you take them back inside you also bring pests back.

    -Never use compost inside that has been opened and stored outside, buy fresh compost and keep indoor compost inside. That will help with fungus gnat. If you develop fungus gnat, one proper spray with a good pesticide on ALL the plants will get rid of the whole problem once and for all and that’s it. Lesson learned, don’t water too much again.

    -Don’t bring cut flowers inside. I know, it’s soooo tempting, but have cut flowers in vases on your table and on the step outside instead. Only exception is very early in spring, before the bugs have started properly, like snowdrops and hellebores, and of course shop-bought flowers. And inspect them thoroughly first.

    -Get a good spider mite treatment and treat all your plants 3 times according to instructions, including those plants that don’t seem to have any infestation. Spray the soil and rim of the pots too and wash any decorative outer pots in a dishwasher or put in a freezer overnight (if they are freezer safe). You have to do all of them the same day every time.

    -As for what plants to have? I have a cactus I have had for 13 years, it has never had ONE drop of water! It takes moisture from the air and that’s enough. I also have quite a few phalaenopsis orchids, once a week I pour water all the way up to the rim of the outer pot, leave them for a few hours, pour off all the water and spray with an orchid fertiliser. That’s it. Every Saturday or Sunday. They flower beautifully every 9 months or so. They are tough plants, not sure if they are cat safe as my cat isn’t interested in plants but they are sure the plant to choose for the gardener that rather would like to spend time in the garden than watering plants indoors.

    Hope this was of a bit help to you :-)

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    1. Thanks for all the advice - you've had much more experience with houseplants than I have! The problem is that a lot of these plants are only overwintering in the house. They came inside from the open greenhouse and many will end up back outside. Next time I'm spraying everything with the Insecticidal Soap before it gets inside! I have some insecticide, but I hate to use it unless absolutely necessary. Your cactus sounds awesome - that's the kind of houseplant I need! :)

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  11. I Had to give my house plants away with these two cats. I don't use anything. I had to fight with my town so that they would not put BT in my part of the wetlands. It will kill other insects, some that are helpful. What a fight that was... Michelle

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    1. Oh, that would be hard! I have a detention pond, but the mosquitoes aren't too overwhelming, thanks to all the dragonflies that live out there too. Nature is in balance. Glad you won the fight!

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  12. I have lots of houseplants. In every room. When they suffer from little creatures it is usualy because the are not happy (to, dry, to wet, to shady, to sunny). Then I swap the plants. If that doesn't help, they end up on the compost heap.

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