Pest-free plants

mr_subjunctiveFebruary 27, 2007

I'm dealing with several different pest problems at once now: aphids, fungus gnats, mealybugs, spider mites, and whiteflies. None of these are out of control or anything, and in fact the aphids and mealybugs might be entirely gone already, cross your fingers. Considering how much I've been buying lately, I figure I'm probably lucky not to have scale as well.

I've seen the various suggestions around for what to use as a general-purpose anti-bug potion, and I'm fine with that. But.

The question I wanted to ask here was, what plants are known for being more or less pest-free? Or which plants have you had the fewest pest problems with?

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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

The easier question to answer, perhaps, is: which plants are known to be insect magnets? No plant can be guaranteed insect free if pests are introduced to it and allowed to reproduce.

However, I think you need to address the reason or reasons why you're having such a problem. Truthfully, insect infestations are almost entirely avoidable (as in preventable) in the first place. Perhaps you need a bit of help in that regard.

For example, there will be many people in this forum who will tell you that they have no issues with houseplant pests. At least ONE of those folks don't use any typical pesticides (me). BUT, I'll wager that they all do some of the same things to prevent pest invasions. Since I cannot be around chemicals, I make sure that pests aren't introduced into my household. My plants don't summer outside, for example. And any newcomers are isolated for several weeks, and treated to rubbing alcohol sprays all the while. Those two things pretty much cinch that my collection will be free of pesky critters.

Anyway, some of the plants that are reputed to be a favorite meal of some kind of insect are: English Ivy, hibiscus, schefflera, Norfolk Island pine, some cacti, etc. I'll let others add to the list.

Are your plants in a greenhouse?

    Bookmark   February 27, 2007 at 1:08PM
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I have to agree with Rhizo. You can reduce your chance for pests and disease by doing two simple things ; 1. water wisely in winter. don't over water which causes all kinds of problems, and 2. provide air circulation near your plants. set an oscillating fan near you plants and keep the air moving. Even if you run the fan just a couple of hours each day, thats good. If you do these two things, your plants will thank you with fewer pests, fewer diseases and fewer problems.

    Bookmark   February 27, 2007 at 1:24PM
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Rhizo has a great point. It's been a long, long time since I had any pest problems. But I do carry out preventive measures...almost religiously. The reward is healthy plants and no FRUSTRATING battles. Plus, I have so many plants that the introduction of any pest has the possibility of sweeping through most of my greenery and becoming a major headache and nightmare.

I never use chemicals for my plants. I never put them outdoors in the summer. I shower them every so often (all of them) and have found that this is a tremendous help in keeping insects at bay. I open windows daily, run fans and ceiling fans to circulate the air and make sure the humidity is at healthy levels (especially during the winter when it's at Sahara-Desert levels. I usually isolate new plants (sometimes I'm guilty of neglecting to do this) and give them a major shower/bath/wiping of leaves during this period to make sure there are no pests. Overall, this small effort routine has guaranteed a no-insect household full of plants so it's worth it.

In the past two decades I've discovered that there are a few plants that stand out as being bug magnets. Without preventive measures, you are almost guaranteed some type of invasion sooner or later. In addition to Rhizo's list I will add: Croton (major spider mite haven), Alocasia (spider mite haven also!), Palms, many flowering plants, Aspidistra Elatoir and many more. Some other members can continue the list!

Remember that any plant can become infested without preventive measures and by bringing home infected plants.

    Bookmark   February 27, 2007 at 1:58PM
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I know which plants brought in the whiteflies, aphids, and mealybugs:

The whiteflies came along with a Trojan Sansevieria that I didn't examine too closely, because it was a gift. They laughed at insecticide, but seem to be declining now that I'm doing regular sprays with rubbing alcohol. The trouble is that they also seem to have moved on to other plants (Euphorbia trigona, Dracaena 'Limelight') in the meantime. In a very minor way, so far, but still: it worries me that they're so mobile.

The aphids were from a German ivy that I swear I checked over at the store before I bought it. I think they may have gone away, though, with a shower and a few rubbing alcohol sprays.

The mealybugs came with some K-Mart cacti. I bought two pots with three plants each back in November, repotted all the plants individually, and two of the six have recurring mealybug problems. I think this was not my fault, though, because the plants looked absolutely fine, and they're the kind of cacti that have fluffy white stuff at the bases of the spines, so I was kind of forced to guess. Alcohol is apparently not enough on its own, so today I tried alcohol and insecticidal soap, in that order, and we'll see.

The fungus gnats come and go, though I don't really find them all that objectionable.

The spider mites are far and away the worst problem, though they're only ever on a few plants at a time. I cannot seem to knock them off of an English ivy (worse still, it's an English ivy I didn't want in the first place -- the husband wanted it, and I *told* him mites would be a problem and he got it anyway), and my Aspidistra isn't shaking them easily either. Everything else they've appeared on (ti plant, croton, rubber plant, dieffenbachia, bird of paradise), I could get rid of them within a week or two with just a shower and maybe a couple swishes through some soapy water.

Point taken about 1 oz. prevention = 1 lb. cure. I usually have some pressure to get the new arrivals to their final position as soon as physically possible, so quarantining more than a couple days isn't really an option most of the time. I always have wiped new plants off with a damp paper towel, and/or a shower, and I usually do shower the smaller plants every time, or almost every time, I water. The last batch of new plants got washed in room-temp soapy water, leaves, roots and all, though that was partly because I intended to repot them anyway and didn't trust the place they came from.

I didn't realize that rubbing alcohol could be used so liberally; I'm probably going to adopt that (thanks, Rhizo).

Something to keep in mind about my particular situation: there have been a *ton* of new plants in a very short time here. The husband and I had about fifteen between us when we moved in to our current place, and then the new place had much better light and much much much more room, and there was a population explosion. Six months later, we have 122. So it might have less to do with me taking care of them badly once I've got them, and more to do with me picking them kind of indiscriminately in the first place.

    Bookmark   February 27, 2007 at 4:17PM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

Mix up a solution of one part alcohol to three parts water and keep it in a plant mister. That way, you can use it even when you 'think' you've gotten rid of all of the little pests. HAH!

    Bookmark   February 27, 2007 at 4:31PM
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gardengrove_ac(z6 MD)

At home, I'm totally a "pest free" kinda guy. All my houseplants are watched over very carefully. Any new mealy bug or scale problems are solved with a q-tip of rubbing alcohol or my finger tips. I had problems early on with fungus gnats, but just allowing my plants to dry out more before watering has cut down on them. I try to take as many plants outside a summer as I can, and I find that bugs are actually less during the warmer months because the predatory species are around.
At the college greenhouse where I work-study however, I've taken a more "IPM" strategy. I have to stay organic because I have a stow-away Grey tree frog whom I've grown attached to and don't want to poison. I used Safe brand soap spray on pretty much everything. I also use a solution of Neem oil along with a few drops of dish soap on my less sensitive plants. The neem has a definite reducing effect, but it'll burn a lot of plants (I've noticed ferns and aloes in particular) even if sprayed on cloudy days. My main pest this winter has been Aphids. I'm housing two larger sized brugmansia as well as many cuttings and if I don't watch, they get covered in a few days by aphids. Sharply spraying water has been one of the major controls on population this year. I also have a preying mantis nest waiting to hatch which will eat aphids while in the youngest stages.
I wouldn't stress out about minor infestations of aphids or wooly bugs...most plants seem to be able to grow through any damage. However, you have to keep an eye out for some species such as whitefly and caterpillars, because they can quickly ruin plants. Sorry for ranting, hope some of it will be useful to you.

    Bookmark   February 27, 2007 at 10:45PM
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greenelbows1(z9--so LA)

What a neat frog, Nate! But doesn't he eat some of those bugs? Maybe he has to leave a few for tomorrow, and one frog for a whole greenhouse--- My experience has been like yours, that outside they have less bugs. I watch the little Caroline wrens gleaning, and there are anole lizards all over (not so many with these cats, I'm afraid. What can I say, I'm a sucker!) I've even put AVs and episcias with cyclamen mites outside to live or die, and they almost always outgrow them and are fine. (Then I'm never comfortable about bringing them back in without taking cuttings or re-potting and drenching--!) It's late in the season, almost time to take them outside, so I won't worry too much about the spider mites that showed up a week or so ago in a couple alocasias, or the cyclamen mites that spread from a couple new plants I didn't inspect closely enough. *sigh*

    Bookmark   February 28, 2007 at 12:02AM
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I guess I've been very lucky. I probably have 200 or 300 plants. I don't quarentine new acquisitions. My plants are outside from as soon as it gets warm enough in the spring until freezing weather threatens. Rabbits and deer may eat an occassional plant, but I have never seen a mealybug, fungas gnat or any of those other nasties. I did see scale once but they were on someone elses plant. I have bought plants from local garden centers, from mail order, and from any other source I can utilize. I have traded plants with people all over the world. Occassionally in the summer I will find a bug hole or two on some of my plants but never a serious pest. When cold weather threatens and I have to bring my plants in I do nothing to prevent carring insects into the house-- no sprays and I don't even inspect them. Very lucky I guess. I do two things religiously. I keep my plants on the cool and dry side in the winter and I keep a window cracked regardless of the temperature for air circulation.

    Bookmark   February 28, 2007 at 12:14AM
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I too am a lucky one, I buy from my local nursery and my plants have always been bug free.

    Bookmark   March 6, 2013 at 8:35AM
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