The Plant Doctor is In-Indoors
One of the things I love about this work is the opportunity to help people with plant health questions: For example, people ask what are they doing wrong, or why is their indoor plant struggling? So often, a beautiful plant is purchased in the grocery or garden center based on appearance. Labeling has become an advanced art, so the clues as to where a plant will thrive are usually right there.
Yet often, the plant has been placed in a lighting situation that is not adequate for its health. Bright light or high light means an unobstructed south window without shades, sheers or window film. If you have a south-facing great room, you have high light. If you have a great room, but it faces another direction, you likely have medium light.
When you have typical windows facing north, you probably have low light. When you have windows situated high in the wall, light levels will be low, except right in those windows, perhaps on the ledge or hanging in the window itself.
We are always glad to make an appointment, come to your home and propose plants and containers to fit the various rooms of your home.
The other frequent challenge facing indoor plants involves insects. Lighting and insects problems are often related, as insects usually take hold when the plant is under stress and the insect is present. If the light is bright and the plant gets overly dry, tiny sucking insects called spider mites are able to penetrate the leaf surface more easily and remove the liquid within. These nearly microscopic insects multiply quickly in warm temperatures, reproducing in just five days when temperatures reach the’90s’. One or two mites can become hundreds, and then thousands in a couple of weeks, covering the lower surfaces of leaves and eventually webbing over the spaces between leaves. They stunt new growth, discolor foliage and weaken the plant. They move easily from plant to plant, when plants are grouped, or the caregiver touches an infested plant, picks up mites on clothing or hands, and then distributes them onto another plant surface. Ironically, even if lighting is too low, if insects are present and the plant is weak, mites may take hold.
Mealy bug is another common plant pest. A soft- bodied insect with a cottony white covering, mealy crawl from leaf to leaf and plant to plant, though they also move with tools or hands accidentally. Found in tight spaces where leaf meets stem, they are hard to remove and though slower reproducing, they are also harder to eliminate, as the waxy white fluff protects them from sprays and several applications may be needed.
Scale is related to mealy bug, but rather than an appearance like white cotton, scale is typically smooth and often hard to the touch, like a small brown bump on a leaf or stem. Almost impervious to sprays, scraping the individual insects from the plant is often required. The immature stages are often almost transparent, but once adults are seen, a well-trained eye can spot many more smaller and less distinctly formed insects nearly.
So how do you combat these pests? Any new plant should be inspected carefully in the store before purchase, looking for any sign of insects. Reject any specimen with visible pests. When you bring a plant home, place it where no other plants are near or below it, so if insects develop, they do not transfer. Inspect carefully at least weekly for the first month, looking for insects. If you do see something and you are not able to simply return the plant for a refund, use a baby wipe to remove all visible signs of insect life. Use 3-4 drops of Dr. Bronner’s or Murphy’s Oil soap in a small spray bottle of warm water and clean all surfaces of stem and leaves or fronds. Repeat weekly for four weeks. Remove any visible insects before each treatment.
If you discover that you have a plant with a lot of insects, you may want to simply dispose of the plant rather than struggle with it. If a plant is large and valuable or you are personally attached, there are specific pesticides, including drenches, which a professional who is licensed and certified can apply.