There is one four-lettered word that plant parents never want to say: Bugs! While it is fairly common to experience the occasional pest, one of the biggest fears shared by most in the plant community is an infestation. (For me, it’s that I’ll find a snake in my potting soil… that’s five feet off the ground and stored in a plastic tub. Totally rational, though.) Bugs can be a common problem, but there are a few ways you can greatly reduce their presence and keep your plant collection critter-free.
Eye-Spy Before You Buy
Whether you are buying plants from a big-box store or your local grower, make sure you look the plant over before you buy it. Inspect the soil, look under the leaves and check out the stems.
Here’s what you’re looking for:
- Fungus Gnats: Think “glitter of the plant world.” Easy to get, multiplies to infinity. These little bugs fly around and are quick to spot.
- Scale (Can be brown or white): Flat, oval-shaped bugs that hang out on the stems and leaves.
- Spider Mites: Very hard to see, but you’ll notice webbing at the base of stems or underneath the leaves.
- Mealybugs: White, puffy-looking, sap-sucking bugs that also like stems and leaves. Might look like a little cotton ball to you – nope, it’s evil.
- Aphids: Could be many different colors – white, black, yellow, green. They latch onto the stem and suck liquids from the plant. (Think ticks for plants.)
- Thrips: Tiny, winged, skinny bugs found on leaves and stems.
Now that we all have an appropriate level of the heeby-geebies, let’s move on. Give the plant a once-over and do your due diligence before you bring the plant home. You can save yourself (and your collection) a lot of heartache by being proactive here.
Buy Plants Online
At first, I was hesitant to buy plants online and have them shipped to my house due to concern for the condition of the plant when it arrived. However, after seeing the great care growers take to properly ship their products, I’m officially a fan. One advantage to this preferred method of many plant parents is the plant has already experienced three-to-seven days of isolation from other plants that might have unwelcomed visitors. (Plus, who doesn’t love having access to fresh-from-the-farm plants!)
Be Careful Not to Overwater
Overwatering can create a breeding ground for plant pests. Not only is overwatering harmful to the plant itself, it’s like rolling out the red carpet for vagabond bugs looking for a forever home. Poor air circulation, high humidity, and soggy soil are five-star conditions for plant pests.
Isolate New Plants for Two Weeks
Many plant experts will tell you it’s very important to keep new plants away from your collection for two weeks to prevent unseen pests from helping themselves to your healthy plants. Quarantining your new plant (or any plant with suspected pests) can greatly reduce your chances of an all-out bug infestation. It is much easier to care for one sick plant than thirty.
Proper Preparation and Plant Maintenance
Last but not least, I find proper preparation/maintenance to be the most important factor in keeping bugs out of my indoor plant collection. After going several rounds with spider mites, mealybugs, and fungus gnats galore, I adapted to this routine that I hold to religiously, and it works well for me.
Things you will need and why:
- Your new plant/s – pretty self-explanatory, here.
- “Music for Plants” playlist- plants like music therapy, too!
- Potting soil- whatever is appropriate for each plant.
- Bug treatment/prevention spray- die, bugs, die!
- Fertilizer (if it’s growing season)- grow, plants, grow!
- Appropriate sized/type pot- if you choose to repot in a different pot.
- Waterproof plant name stakes- for quick identification and for common name.
- Camera- for documentation purposes… okay, for social media, proud-parent blasts.
The above list might be a bit dramatic, but I doubt you can expect less from me. New Plant Day is a big day and should be celebrated! Fresh soil, fresh pot, fresh hydration and fertilization – now you know the exact conditions of your plant and have greatly reduced the chance of rogue pests. (It should be noted, here, though, that many experts advise against this, as sometimes repotting new plants can be stressful for the newbies. I have not had this experience – maybe it’s the music therapy.)
Lastly, pictures or it didn’t happen! Take pictures for two reasons: one- to document the infant stage of your plant, and two- to share on social media and tag your Plant Proper pals. We are excited to grow with you!