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Houseplant Help: Pesky Insect Pests

The data on plants as air purifiers has been out for a long time, but not everyone is great at keeping them happy and healthy. If you were not born with a green thumb, check out these tips for the most common plant critters. Fear not,  most of them can be remedied with a little know-how and some TLC.

Insects pests are a fact of life in the plant world but that shouldn’t stop you from bringing your green friends home. There’s no need to worry because the insect pests are more interested in plants than humans! Be sure to wash your hands before you touch another plant after touching an infected plant to reduce the likelihood of transferring pests around to your entire collection.

  • Although many people can’t see spider mites (don’t worry they’re not actually spiders) without a magnifying glass, the damage is a great indicator of their presence. You’ll see your leaves get slightly speckled before they get out of control enough to see the webs develop. While these can eventually take over an entire plant and cover it in their characteristic webs, getting them under control is quite simply. Spider mites hate moisture so just give them a spray of water once a week (add a little dish soap and/or rubbing alcohol if you’re inclined) and you’ll see a decline in no time.

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  • The first indicator of mealy bugs is a cottony spot or two on your leaves or stems. They do really like to hide in leaf axils or anywhere easy to hide. They are mostly an aesthetic pest so the best thing to do is soak a cotton swab in rubbing alcohol and just pick them off. Feel free to use the soap/alcohol water spray combo if it makes you feel better! They are really quite cute if you really look at them, but I realize it’s not a popular opinion.

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  • There are a few varieties of scale insect that can affect your houseplants. Again, these are mostly an unsightly pest that won’t do much harm to your plants unless they get out of control. If you notice a sticky, shiny substance forming on your leaves, then you may be in the early stages of a scale infestation. The best way to get ride of them is to physically wipe them off your plant. You can use a cloth, but a toothbrush is really effective too! They have a tendency to hang out on the underside of leaves near the midrib, aka the middle “vein” of the leaf.

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Of course, if you’re really not a fan of the effort required in these Integrated Pest Management techniques, you can always consult your local greenhouse or florist for some recommendations on a great, non-toxic insecticide.

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