Watch out for winter houseplant pests

All of the houseplants I brought into the house this fall, for the most part, have adapted to their indoor environment.  So have the insects that rode in with them.

During the summer when the plants were happily growing outside, the insect pests were hardly noticeable. The rain and natural predators kept the pests pretty much in check.

Now, the insects are free to attack the plants. They are showing up in numbers.

This past week, I’ve been seeing mealy bugs, scale and spider mites on the plants I brought in.  Because these pests don’t look like typical insects, many people mistake them for disease problems.

Mealy bugs hide themselves under a white cottony mass that disguises the fact that they are insects.

The white blobs of mealy bugs could be mistaken for a fungus problem.

Adult scale insects find a place on a leaf to live out the rest of their lives under a hard , protective shell.  This also looks like it could be a disease.

Adult scale insects live under a protective shell.

Spider mites, a member of the spider family, spin very fine webs on the underside of leaves.  There they feed by piercing the leaf and sucking the juice from the plant.  Spider mite damage results in sickly looking leaves.  It would be easy to blame this on a disease problem.

A quick rinse knocked off all of the spider mites from this Ipomea.

You can buy chemical sprays, both organic and artificial, to control these pests.  But the best thing you can do for your plants is to give them a nice shower.  Flowing water will wash off nearly all of the pests and keep them in check.

If you have just a few small plants, take them over to the kitchen sink and spray them off with cool water.  Some people I know take their plants to the shower and rinse them off there.

Rinsing your houseplants like this is the best thing you can do for them.  Not only are the insects washed away but also any dust or dirt that may have collected on them.

Bob Dluzen
As a result of being a gardener for more than 40 years, 30 of those as a professional, Bob's gardening has become an integral part of his life. "It's the ever-changing seasons and the wide variety of plants and gardens that keeps me intrigued," he says. Bob lives and gardens in rural Monroe County.