Containers & Pests: is this normal, or am I simply unsanitary?

michael_amesMarch 6, 2012

I'm a novice gardener, here, so I fully expect things to fail.

But I've had success growing almost anything outside in containers; anything I try to keep inside (succulents, herbs, scallions) immediately gets infested with something. First whiteflies, then fungus gnats, now I've even found aphids indoors.

Am I committing some basic, fatal error - or do indoor plants generally need this kind of regular medical attention?

I wasn't able to recreate any of Al's mixes exactly, but did what I could to make the media in each pot as well-draining (and low in organic matter) as possible. (Mostly pine bark chips, with some coarse gravel and a small amount of well-draining potting soil.)

None of the plants see water more than once every 10 days, except the thyme, which seems to like it.

It's possible that the soil components weren't sanitary when I bought them, and I didn't bother to sterilize them in the oven. If that seems like a likely culprit, I can repot in a heat-treated mix.

When I lived in colder climes, I knew the dry, heated indoor air in winter was a problem - but here in California the heater is never on and the temps inside basically the same as out.

I suppose I could just move everything outdoors, but I was hoping to keep at least a few green things around the house.

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Well first off, nice to me you!:-)

You said it yourself Mike. When one admits that their plants see no watering for more than ten days out, that tells me that your mixes are staying to wet for too long, harboring insects in the mix, and causing needless stress on the root sytem, which will cause stress on the above the soil line material/plant, which in turn attracts more pests:-(

Don't worry, things will be much better once you make yourself mixes this spring more porous, with hardly any organic matter, that requires you to water your plants more than once a week, even in the winter:-) The more often you have to water, the healthier your plants will be and the less you will see the pests you decribe.
I am surprised you didn't say you have spider mites, but they can be hard to detect anyway, unless you look very closely witha magnifying glass.

For now, I would just try and keep your area clean, you could apply a systemic drench, and if you are into all 'natural', spray your plants down thoroughly from top to bottom, under and on top of all the leaves, even the pots themselves with a good natural warm soapy water and or Neem oil mixed in.

You can also take precautions before ever bringing them in for the winter that anyone else can give you suggestions on. Their turn:-)


    Bookmark   March 6, 2012 at 7:52PM
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Good light and airflow keeps the plants healthy and reduces pests. At the first sign of infestation drench them with a soap solution and repeat it in 3-4 days twice. There is a product called Pyola (basically canola oil and pyrethrins) which is very effective in suffocating those pests.

As Mike said, it is quite possible that your mix is too wet. Next time you are watering take some of those plants out and see how much of the soil is wet. You may be surprised.

Spider mites tend to be under leaves where it is usually dry. Take a white paper and shake a leaf over it. You would be able to see tiny dots scooting around. You may also see tiny webs specially near the base of the leaves or folds. Soap, neem, pyola all are effective.

    Bookmark   March 7, 2012 at 9:04AM
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michael_ames, what follows is textbook pest control on a commercial - even international scale; you can apply the principles to your own situation.

  1. Prevention. This is under the grower's control - the country of origin, nursery, broker etc. You and I have a little control and we purchase imperfect plants, determined to cure the defects.
  2. Exclusion. Here is where we can exercise greatest control. Pretend that your house is a country and the front door is the airport or other port of entry. Establish a DPI and Quarantine facility where you can 'sanitize' plants before they are allowed entry.
  3. Eradication. Complete riddance of the peat. The pest has gained a foothold in your house, garden or farm. Depending upon the environment, you can eradicate a pest - in your house; maybe not in your garden; and certainly not in a country or continent!
  4. Extirpation. This is eradication over a small area. Here is where we can do our best work to keep things pest free. It can be a single plant on the porch or in the drawing room; the Solanaceae plants in your garden e.g. tomatoes, eggplants and peppers which might need protection from a specific insect or pathogen; or a fruit tree with a known predisposition to a condition e.g. crepe myrtle and powdery mildew.
    The routine is inspect - identify - control - repeat.
    Bookmark   March 7, 2012 at 9:25PM
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Ohiofem(6a Ohio)

In answer to your original question, yes, this is a common problem when you try to grow plants that usually are grown outdoors in the house. I try to bring potted herbs inside each fall, and often have this problem. Pests like mites and white flies are kept in check outside by better air circulation and higher humidity along with their natural enemies, like birds, toads and lady bugs. The fungus gnats usually show up when your potting soil is kept too wet. The answer is to treat all your plants before you bring them in and watch them like a hawk while they're inside. Pests can reproduce and spread to other plants explosively if you don't treat them as soon as you find them. And with edibles, you need to use pesticides that are safe for human consumption.

    Bookmark   March 8, 2012 at 12:56PM
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Agree with Ohiofem. Natural predators outside tend to keep things in check, which is no help indoors. In my situation, My wife looks after the plants upstairs, mostly ornamentals, but also some herbs and lettuces and she is often bringing plants inside and out. Upstairs we always seem to have pest issues, mostly aphids on weak plants.

Downstairs, is my garden, which almost never has pests. I normally grow from seed there and use 5-1-1 soil with artificial light. I don't move plants from upstairs to down, ever. All plants have fans on them which I also think helps. I watch very closely, and occasionally I will see an adult whitefly and such, and if so, take immediate action such as spraying with insecticidal soap. I also remove weak plants, as they tend to attract pests. The health of a plant is also important, as upstairs, it's always the weakest plants that get attacked. The healthy ones have no pests.

    Bookmark   March 8, 2012 at 4:46PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

So true. The best defense your plants have is a good offense, that appearing in the form of a robust metabolism. The bio-compounds that deter freeloaders are in fact a byproduct of a plant's metabolism. Strong growth and good health go a long way toward convincing predatory parasites to move on to easier pickings.


    Bookmark   March 8, 2012 at 7:36PM
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Yes Al. I wish my wife didn't have that urge to save every dying plant. I am ruthless. If a plant doesn't perform, out it goes. I grow many more seedlings then I need and cull out all but the best plants. My wife on the other hand, the nurturer she is, will not kill a plant, no matter how badly it is growing or how infested it is. I understand the challenge of bringing a plant back from the dead, but I don't think the problems with pests and diseases are worth it.

    Bookmark   March 12, 2012 at 3:05PM
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