Thursday, February 17, 2011

Dealing with Aphids on Indoor Plants and SLT

Greetings folks!
I have to tell you, it was hard to sit down and post today.
Check out our current weather:
Yep, it's the third week of February in Iowa and we're in the 60's.  Needless to say I've been outside soaking it up as much as I can.
Today I wanted to write a quick post about some annoying pests I found on my favorite chili pepper plant: aphids

I bought this plant from the farmer's market and it produced big spicy chilis throughout the summer.
The seller instructed me to bring it indoors once it started getting cold, so I put it in a large pot in the sunniest window I have.  While it still produced some chilis at first, it quickly became clear that the plant was not nearly as happy as it had been while living outdoors.  Around Christmas, it stopped producing entirely.  Although the leaves were still intact, this was my first indication that I had a problem.  Plants produce fruits and flowers when they have ample energy to feed them.  When a plant is stressed, it will drop anything it can to conserve resources.  This is the first lesson in pest management: a stressed plant is more susceptible to pests and disease.
I was watering plants the other day when I noticed that the pepper leaves looked like they had spots on them.  A closer look revealed evidence of my new nemesis, the aphid.
Aphids feed on indoor and outdoor plants. When they eat the green matter from plants, they leave behind a sticky substance called 'honeydew' that coats leaves and stems.  Here are the aphids on one of my leaves:
 Here are the best steps for dealing with aphids:
  • Before anything else, isolate the infected plant. It's very easy to spread infestation.
  • First, try physically removing the bugs.  Two easy approaches are with a fast hard stream of water or with a damp rag.  (Be careful not to bruise the leaves or stems.)
  • Monitor the plant.  If bugs do return, try using soap.  Dilute dish-washing soap with warm water so the soap is only 2-3% of the solution.  After you've thoroughly cleaned the leaves of visible bugs, spray leaves top AND bottom with the soap solution.  (If your plant is an edible one, be sure to rinse it before harvesting any food.)
  • Keep the plant isolated until you are absolutely certain you have no more bugs.
  • If you're interested in insecticides, you can read this publication.  That said, I do not use them in my home or garden.
  • Finally, know when to give up. It's possible that the plant was simply too stressed or the infestation too great for it to recover.  
As with many things, preventing infestations is much easier than dealing with them after they've spread.  Some tips for avoiding infestation:
  • Keep plants in their ideal growing conditions.  If a plant isn't thriving, try moving it to a different location or adding extra lighting, especially in winter months.  A stressed plant is far more likely to have disease and insect problems.  It goes without saying that a plant that isn't intended to be grown indoors will be much more problematic. 
  • Water lightly and at regular intervals and maintain good drainage.  Wetness is the perfect environment for molds and pests to thrive.  Watch for signs like wilting or yellow leaves that indicate over watering. 
  • When you do water, check your plants closely for any problems or signs of weakness.
  • Closely inspect new plants when you bring them home.  It's very easy to bring disease or pests in with a new plant.  
  • Consider choosing pest and disease resistant varieties. 
House plants improve the air quality of our homes, and add warmth and green to indoor spaces, so I think it's well worth it to keep them as healthy as possible.  I'd love to hear about your experiences dealing with pests and disease on your plants, indoors and out.
Let me know in the comments, and link up your posts to Simple Lives Thursday!  What are you doing to consume less and produce more? Remember that these wonderful bloggers and I host:

and Annette at Sustainable Eats

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