Houseplant pests coming home from nurseries?

prairiemoon2 z6 MASeptember 18, 2013

I have gone for periods of time with no pests on my houseplants and then in the last 12 months some of them came down with some bad ones, scale on one and something with stickiness all over everything and webs on the branches on another. I'm afraid that I'm bringing this home from nurseries on new plants. I tried organically to get rid of the pests but it came back on me twice, so I've throw every houseplant out (I didn't have a lot) except a few that were in other rooms, like Sanseveria and Cactus which have been pest free.

Winter is coming when the house will be closed up and I want to start over and start a new collection, but I just don't trust the local sources for plants any more. They always look fine in the nursery but it just can't be a coincidence that after 12 months pest free, that suddenly I have serious pests after purchases.

So what do you do if you don't want to bring home pests? It seems that inspection at the time of purchase isn't enough. I was thinking of starting from seed, but that seems like a slow and limited result. Anyone else have any suggestions?

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I wash new plants' leaves in the shower with flexible shower hose if the leaves can take it. Not all plants can, obviously. It was suggested here to also soak the soil in water with a few drops of dish soap. If I repot a newly-bought plant, which happens often, then I bare-root and wash the roots in a bowl of water. I also quarantine new purchases in another room.

>> I tried organically to get rid of the pests but it came back on me twice

Many pests require repeat treatments. Control is often not difficult, as long as you are thorough, methodical and stay at it on schedule. And then watch for comebacks and react as soon as you see something.

    Bookmark   September 18, 2013 at 10:16AM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

I did wash the whole plant in the sink with a flexible hose sprayer and rubbed each leaf top side and bottom side and the branches and stems with organic dish washing soap and filled the pot with water repeatedly. I was pretty surprised that didn't take care of it. Repeated that again and it still came back. And that was on three plants that fit in a sink.

I'm not willing to use any commercial products on plants and if I had to do that to large plants like palms and had a collection say over 20, I just wouldn't be able to keep that kind of treatment schedule up.

I guess I was wondering if there are any companies that are really careful about not selling you plants with problems, who test for viruses and have some way of making sure they don't send home a plant with a problem.

Or, has anyone started most of their houseplants from seed and if so, were you then free of disease or pest problems?

Your prevention steps are reasonable, but can you tell me if after taking these steps you still ended up with some disease or pest problem?

    Bookmark   September 18, 2013 at 10:42AM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

Spidermites, scale, aphids, and other pests exist happily outside and can find their way inside quite easily.

Houseplant viruses are extremely rare. Fungal and bacterial disorders are more common but are triggered by the use of crappy potting media, inappropriate watering practices, poor air circulation and other environmental influences. It is impossible to maintain a fungus or bacteria free home....we don't live in sterile vacuums. We only have control over how we grow our plants.

Garden centers and other growers/vendors display or grow their plants under crowded conditions and, in some cases.....deplorable care. I've also boarded a huge truckload of plants being delivered to a high end garden center and had clouds of whiteflies swarm me.

So......there can be no guarantee of pest free plants, I don't think. Their numbers can multiply very quickly if not tended to on a regular and routine basis. In other words, you can't expect to treat a plant once and forget it. Some, like spider mites, are very stubborn.

I have never started houseplants from seed. That is no guarantee. But I have kept a houseful of pest and disease free plants by careful growing, frequent monitoring, and simple control measures.

I've never used anything but insecticidal soap (more effective than your dish soap and less harsh on the plant), horticultural oils (including Neem), isopropyl alcohol, and plain water.

    Bookmark   September 18, 2013 at 11:38AM
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I use what Rhizo has used..It works like a charm...

Sometimes if use sestemic depending on the plants and species of pest..

The best thing to do when buying plants is to get them in the spring or warmer months to make sure you can treat them outside... I NEVER buy plants in the winter anymore.
I have not got any space to isolate them for weeks at a time to see if something appears after then.

And treating them for what you don't see does not always work either...There is no guarrentee you will have a pest free home even if you stay away from a nursery...

I use to panick about such a thing now, ever since I brought home a tree loaded with spider mites I was not aware of and have had this problem ever since...

As long as you can CONTROL the problem, as what I say now, and not completely rid of it., your plants will be ok. Thank goodness most of mine can be brought outside and be free of destroying pests until the middle of winter again..

    Bookmark   September 18, 2013 at 12:33PM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

It's really good to get a broader perspective. I have had long periods of pest free houseplants and the only plants I've had any fungal issues with are Rex Begonias which I have stopped trying to grow. So I guess I have had it easy.

I still don't know what pest problem I had this last time, because I never did see an insect, but the rim of the pot, the leaves, even the surface the plant was sitting on was sticky and I saw a few webs on the branches. I have already thrown those plants out and haven't seen any more issues or bugs anywhere.

The scale I experienced was on a Rubber Tree at my husband's office, and a lot of people in other offices have plants, so I feel that could have been the problem. But I don't know if it could have come in on the plant because it was only a couple of months old when we first noticed it.

Thanks for sharing your experiences.

    Bookmark   September 18, 2013 at 4:49PM
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The webs and stickiness were either spider mites (those teeny tiny little red spider looking things) or mealy bug, which look like a small clump of cotton, stuck usually in crevasses or joints of the plant. Insecticidal soap, neem oil and isopropyl alcohol will work wonders.


    Bookmark   September 20, 2013 at 2:49AM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

Nancy thanks for that ID! I looked up insecticidal soap, since I don't purchase products that I don't know what the ingredients are or what they do. The very first link, was a post on these forums, someone asking for a 'homemade' alternative, not because of the content but due to costs of the product. I'm always much happier with a home made recipe and the one suggested, was using a combo of liquid soap or ivory soap w canola oil and water. Adding red pepper flakes and garlic also suggested.

Do you just wipe the plant down with the alcohol?


Here is a link that might be useful: Organic Insecticidal Soap Recipes

    Bookmark   September 20, 2013 at 7:00AM
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ttkidd(Toronto ON)

I always keep new plants isolated for a few months finding that after moving the plant from the near ideal conditions of the commercial greenhouse to the harsher/dryer conditions of my home tends to exacerbate any pest problem that may not have been visible at the store. If a pest problem appears I wash the plant down with soap and water and then spray it down with a mix of isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol, water, and neem oil.

The neem oil, while perfectly safe for humans, will interrupt the life-cycle of pest, keeping them from reproducing. It will also create an oily film on the plant though, so when the problem goes away it should be washed off.

    Bookmark   September 20, 2013 at 9:54AM
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Good Afternoon, Everyone,


Over the years I've ordered from numerous nurseries and local stores.

In '99 I ordered an olive was filled with scale. I took care of the scale by using a home-made recipe.

I continued ordering throughout the years..then, around 2009/10, I brought in a plant/s with mealybug. They're the worse!
My home-made recipe doesn't rid mealy..

So, no matter where a plant is purchased, there's a chance a plant/s contains eggs or tiny insects.

You said, plants at the nursery looked fine at the store, but after your brought them home, you found scale and webs..Webs are spider mites.

It's possible, the nursery was spraying insecides..When a plant has eggs, most likely, you won't notice..once temps are right, eggs hatch.

Plants grown from seed can get infested. It depends on the plant and house conditions.
For instance, I once sowed Marigold seeds indoors, even though Marigolds are annuals grown in outdoor gardens.
When Marigolds budded, I noticed a zillion webs near the buds....spider mites.

Cacti from seed are less likely attracting insects, but there's no guaranty. Again, it depends on house conditions.

My Clivia was sowed from seed, 1982/ insects..However, Clivias I ordered online had mealy..I got so upset I tossed every last Clivia.

Isolating is one way to keep older plants safe, if you have extra space. I don't.

I make-up a home-made recipe and spray 1. before plants come indoors, and 2. every 2-3 weeks during winter. The second recipe excludes one item.

Water, Fish Emulsion, Hot Pepper, Rubbing Alcohol, lemon, rind/juice, Garlic, Mouth Wash, 'Listerine or generic,' and Dish Soap.
I think that's it. :)

When I spray plants during winter, I do not add FE, however, before plants are hauled inside, FE is added.
FE definately kills scale.

Water should be left out overnight with a clove of garlic. All other ingredients are added the day I plan on spraying.

Good luck. Wish I could find a home-made product that rids mealybug.
I've sprayed and wiped leaves with Rubbing Alcohol...doesn't work.

Good luck, Toni

PS. I'm not suggesting you do this, but we have an ant problem. Last autumn, I watered every single plant with vinegar and water, too.

    Bookmark   September 20, 2013 at 2:11PM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

Toni....there's lots of wisdom and experience in your post. I think that when you suggest a homemade concoction, an actual 'recipe ' should be listed. Share the amounts of those ingredients that should be added per the volume of water. We want to be able measure your ingredients accurately.

Are there any plants which should not be sprayed with such products? I know that cacti, ferns, and some others can be very sensitive.

With the above information, others will be able to be have good results just as you have.

I'm thinking about some of the poor folks who have taken pest control in their own hands with disasterous results! There was someone in the Citrus forum who posted pictures of his poor, sick lemon tree. What's wrong....he wanted to know. He had mixed up a batch of vegetable oil at the rate of half and half with water!! OMG

My helpful hint about mealy bugs is to mix the alcohol at the rate of 1:4 (one part alcohol to four or even three parts water) and apply with a plant sprayer. It WILL kill the young crawlers and the eggs.....not so much the adults in their protective cottony coating. Those gals can be removed by hand (cotton swab) or allowed to live their short life unmolested. Repeated applications are required.

    Bookmark   September 20, 2013 at 4:19PM
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Afternoon, Everyone,

Rhizo, you're right, but I was waiting to see if Prarie was interested in FE.
PD said he/she wasn't interested in commercial products, so I didn't know if he/she considered FE a commercial product. :)

Organic Insecticide Recipe

16 oz mister. Filled with water and clove of garlic the night before spraying.

1 cap filled FE.
2-drops of dish soap.
Hot Pepper. 1 teas.
Rubbing Alcohol. 1/4-teas.
Lemon..1 Tbsp.
Listerine/generic 1 teas.

Actually, all ingredients except FE can be added the night before spraying.
Before use, shake thoroughly.

One problem I had with standard 16-oz misters is hot pepper clogging, so I bought a larger sprayer at Home Depot, with a bigger nozzle hole, for 7.99. Well, I also bought a huge mister w/hose

I've never sprayed African Violets, Chiritas with this mix and don't recommend it.
Before cactus and succulents come in for winter, they're sprayed with this mixture..No problems whatsoever. Nor does it harm ferns and palms.

Tropicals and semi-tropicals are sprayed during winter. I used to spray 2 times a month, got lazy, then once a month, now, when I think about it.
Once a month is sufficient.

My goodness, that poor, oily citrus tree.
Its pores are going to be clogged a very, very long time.
I certainly wouldn't want to clean up the container either.
I didn't see the thread on Citrus forum, but curious what advice he was given.

Rhizo, there's nothing in the recipe, if given more or less, that will do harm. Maybe FE, but since it's organic, it doesn't burn leaves/roots.

Rhizo, I sprayed Hoyas with every ratio you can think of. lol.
Perhaps, RA kills a few mealy???
I can't stand looking at that insect. And the dew it leaves makes my stomach turn.
You're lucky RA killed mealy on your plants.

It's the same with FE.
I told an online friend, who had mealy, to spray with FE. She didn't add the other ingredients, just FE, but it didn't kill the scale.

Rhizo, how have you been? I see you post every so often.


I'm cleaning the house then take a break every so often. Read a few threads, blah blah.

    Bookmark   September 20, 2013 at 7:11PM
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well, here's my funny.
i just lugged in 3 new plants and am worried too - even when they grow indoor plants in greenhouses by the time they get shipped and then co-mingled with other 'outdoor grown' stuff - you never know what might hit you.
so my new bromeliad was totally waterlogged and i decided to unpot it to look/dry the root ball a bit - and smth jumped at me from the pot! tiny-winny jumping spider? no! it was a tiny frog....! good it was in a bathtub jumping around..LOL!
dh valiantly offered to catch it in a cup and carry it out to release!
it could've been a millipede...

    Bookmark   September 20, 2013 at 8:17PM
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Pet, I'd rather see a frog than jumping spider or millipede anytime. lol. OMG, millipede!
They're fast suckers!

I bet you jumped..

Thankfully, your dh 'valiantly' offere to carry it outside. My dh won't kill an insect, in spite of its type. I have to o the murdering. Don't want to, but sure don't want some long-legged creature prowling through the house.
With my luck, it'd probably decide to nap on me when I'm asleep. lol.

What type of Brom did you get?

    Bookmark   September 20, 2013 at 9:24PM
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my aechmea fasciata is doing very good, so i decided to try a neoregelia (carolinae tricolor) - so i think it was a tiny 1/4" tropical frog from florida direct, living in the brom! deprived from its' cosy heaven and released into the wilds of jersey... dh loved it! it proly will not survive for long, but i surely did not want it to jump around! it was very cute, i don't think i've seen such a tiny frog before.

    Bookmark   September 20, 2013 at 10:19PM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

Hopefulauthor, Thanks for sharing your experiences and the great recipe for something to use on my plants. Yes, Fish emulsion/seaweed fertilizer is a product I purchase and use, and consider a beneficial organic addition in the garden. The mouth wash would be something I might not want to use, otherwise the recipe sounds good. If you think it is that necessary, I think 1 teaspoon is probably not going to be an issue. What is the purpose of the lemon I’m wondering?

I didn’t think about insect ‘eggs’ possibly being present, or that the nursery might be doing regular pesticide spraying that would keep the populations down until I had them home and wasn’t spraying any more.

I do have room to isolate, but not usually with similar light conditions, but I do try to keep new plants a distance from other plants and sometimes will put them in a separate room. My one problem I’ve had doing that is that if it is a single plant and I put it in the best light conditions for it, it usually ends up in a room I don’t frequent that often and I forget it’s there and forget to water it. (g)

I’ve had trouble with sprayers getting clogged, but I use cheesecloth to strain it before filling the spray bottle and that works well.

Rhizo, thanks for your practical considerations too and thanks for the mealy bug recipe too.

I wonder if anyone ever bothers to replace most of the potting mix after they’ve had pest problems, or is using the spray all the remedy needed? Clearly saving work and money is an important consideration, the larger your plant collection is.

Funny frog story, I’m with hopeful author, millipedes and large spiders and wasps give me the creeps. I used to be a lot more tolerant of insects but the older I get the more they bother me.

    Bookmark   September 21, 2013 at 4:52AM
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Morning, Everyone,

Pet...AWWW, Mr. Frog sounds adorable.
Yep, I'm sure the frog is used to warm areas. A FL native.
Too bad you couldn't keep it as a pet... :)

A. fasciatas are beautiful Broms, and will live forever, if babies are removed, placed in seperate pots.

Neoregelia's are also gorgeous, but I've never had luck removing their children.
Do you see babies? Is it flowering?

Good luck, Pet..


The thing about lemon is, the scent deters insects, including ants, roaches and fleas..and of course, house plant bugs.
Lemon won't kill bugs, however they dislike the scent.

One site advised squeezing lemon juice in holes/cracks where insects hide out. lol.

Lemon is used for cleaning, whitens laundry and supposely kills mold, bacteria and germs. Which is also beneficial to plants..

Listerine works like lemon..deters bugs..Optional.
Before my plants are brought indoors, I add generic Listerine. Believe me, I HATE insects..plant bugs and outdoor types. Spiders, Earwigs, etc.
I don't know if EW's dislike lemon and mouth wash, but spiders can't stand it..BTW, vinegar kills spiders on contact. I'd rather not use chemicals, so when a spiders get inside, I grab my vinegar bottle and spray away.
Spiders roll up then died.

Sorry, to all you spider lovers.:)

Do you purchase plants at different nurseryes/green houses/stores?
I've seen employees spray, 'surely not plain water.' A local gh has sprayers that lightly mist plants every half an hour.

Ever notice residue on leaves? You can bet the residue is from insecticdes. I wash plants off ASAP. Can't stand touching chemicals.

Eggs are hard spotting, especially if ones vision is not 20/20.
Still, when I buy plants locally, I check upper and lower leaves, stems and near plant base.
Sometimes, mold is present.

You're lucky you have a room to isolate..Don't worry about proper light the first 3-days to 1-week.

I've done a LOT of online ordering. 98% of the time, an info sheet is included.
So far, every article I've read says the same thing. Place new plant in shade the first 3-days to 1-week. After the plant is situated, it can go in its permanent location.

So, no need to worry about light while plants are isolated.

Write a note to yourself reminding you to water. lol.
Does 'g' stand for grin???

Cheeseclothe is a great idea, but I can't find it. lol.
Can't tell you the number of sprayers gone bad when I chopped garlic and placed in mixture. Even tiny hot pepper clogged the nozzel. I had to remove cap, then wash and remove particles with a tooth pick. lol.
That's the reason I now add a clove of garlic the night before spraying
Still have difficulty with red pepper, 'when smaller misters are used,' but it's worth a few seconds to clean ut.

To top off misting, I buy inexpensive, crushed hot pepper. .99 a bottle or two for 1.00, then sprinkle outside plants with hot pepper.
Also, when I mix soils/mediums for repotting, I add Cayenne Pepper in the soil mix. lol.

Prarie, we've had ants problems 4-5 years. I spray with vinegar which kills on contact.
Remember ants and mealy work together.

I also add 1-2 drops of dish soap in plants kept in shallow saucers w/pebbles and water.

One last thing. I have 15 or so old, 'cleaned' milk and vinegar containers filled with water. So, when a plant needs a drink, water is room temp, ready to go.
When containers need refilling, I add a couple drops of dish soap.

Please don't think I spend a million dollars on dish soap. lol. I buy generic soap for 1.00 sold at Jewel Grocery Store.
Considering the amount of soap and vinegar used, the cost isn't much....safer than Raid, etc.

Prarie, when my Hoyas had mealy, I dumped every last piece of soil and pots.
Once winter arrived, plants inside, mealy returned.

Yep, Rhizo knows about spiders. She found a Black Window in her LR this last summer. GROSS and SCARY..

Don't like spiders, pedes, or small bees..think they're called Honey Bees..those stingers got me good one day when I turned a window-box filled with water, over another plant. I didn't know bees made a home in the drainage holes.
After water was dumped, those stingers were everywhere.
Other bees don't bother me. Not really. I used to be terrified of all bees, even though I was never stung.

As far as spiders and pedes, I've been terrified of those long legged pests since childhood. And will to the day I'm in heaven. :)

PM, Good luck. I hope thie recipe works. You may need two applications, one week apart. Toni

    Bookmark   September 21, 2013 at 1:40PM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA


Earwigs do the most damage in my outdoor garden. I don’t have problems with Japanese Beetles like most people but the EWs make a mess of a lot of foliage early in the season.

Yes, I’ve seen the residue on the leaves at different nurseries. I wish there was such a thing as an organic nursery. I do have a local nursery that sells some plants for the outdoor garden that are organically grown but even they do not have organically grown greenhouse plants.

Yes, ‘g’ stands for grin. :-)

It’s been awhile since I bought cheesecloth, but I think I found it either at the supermarket, or maybe the hardware store, or at a kitchen shop, like Sur La Table. Garlic will clog it every time, done that.

That’s interesting about adding hot pepper to the potting mix, I suppose you could just lay some on the surface of the soil? But doesn’t it go bad after watering it a few times? I have a large bag of cayenne pepper that I didn’t think I had that much use for, I guess I do now…lol.

I haven’t seen ants in the house.

As for water being room temperature, I think if you leave it to sit out for 24 hrs, the chlorine in the water evaporates too.

That’s very odd that you still had mealy bugs, after dumping all your pots and soil. What is your theory? Do you think they left some eggs somewhere in your house?

I don’t mind the usual small garden spiders, but spiders that are larger, jump or have odd coloring, I am very cautious about. Thankfully I rarely see anything like that.

I get along fine with bees, gardening outside all the time. Honeybees, Bumblebees they’re fine and I don’t even think about them when they are buzzing around the flowers, but I stay clear of Wasps and Yellow jackets. It only takes one bad experience to make you sensitive to even the sound or sight of bees, I guess. I’ve only been stung a few times when I was younger.

I will plan on multiple applications of this spray recipe and see how it goes. Thanks very much!

    Bookmark   September 21, 2013 at 2:51PM
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