Monday, February 25, 2013

Common Houseplant Pests Part 3 - Scale

Here's an Agave plant. Notice anything?

Take a closer look!

Brown fleck in red circle.
Here it is on a Yucca plant. And it's not damage or part of the plant.

What I've taking photos of are tiny insects called scale. Here they are feeding both on an Agave and Yucca leaves. There are several species of scale. Scale are sap sucking, flat discs - moving ever so slow, and multiplying under the radar. These insects go undetected until their numbers are high, unless you know what to look for.

I hate using chemicals. I avoid using them as much as possible. Unfortunately, with this practice, patience and perseverance are key and constant monitoring over a period of time is necessary to get rid of them.

This agave plant is young.  It's newly emerging leaves are also targeted by scale more so than then older leaves. The tender tissue of new leaves are more delectable for the scale to feed on. Easier for their mouth parts to tap into.

You may wonder where they come from. Sometimes they go unnoticed when you make the plant purchase or receive one as gifts. Scale eggs are laid in the "crotches" and crevasses of the base of the leaves. Adult lay them in protected areas. Once they hatch, juvenile in-star scale insects emerge. They migrate above their nested area and begin feeding. More often than not, you find greater numbers of scale insects towards the protected areas within the core of the plant. I consider them to be "lice" of the plant world. Real bother and difficult to get rid of.

Ever notice shiny, sticky leaves on your house plants and wonder, where did that come from? With scale and other sap sucking insects, you can detect their numbers by their excrement. They "poop" out honey-dew, the sappy remnants of their diet and it rains down on the foliage below. This poop is quite sticky and it makes the foliage shiny.

Be vigilant, by either gently scraping off the scale with your finger nails, or using a cloth or cotton swab (dampened by rubbing alcohol). If you find scale numbers too high to combat them individually, you can take a water bottle sprayer, and mix 1 part dish detergent, 1 part rubbing alcohol to 10 parts water. Agitate the spray mixture thoroughly. Spray the plant liberally, until all leaves, crevasses and crotches are soaked. After an hour or so, once the spray mixture has dried, take a dampened cloth with rubbing alcohol and wipe off the dead scale. This is important, as adult scale can have young eggs or newly hatched in-star scale marauding under their shells.  Repeat as necessary.  If you have a large house plant, and find it most difficult to spray, reduce it's size by pruning the plant. Less foliage means less chance for the insect to feed from. Reducing the bulk of the plant will eradicate many more insects than just spraying alone. If it cannot be pruned, wait to treat the plant until you can bring it outdoors. Treat then outside, where space and temperatures are more favourable.

In one experience, I had to repeat this process 4 times before I got rid of the insect for good.

Diligence pays off. It also becomes a learning process and a great tool in learning how the scale life-cycles persist. When it comes to plants, I'll give it my all to rid them of this pest.

Keep a close eye on your plants and it'll pay off.

This particular scale I've found on Yuccas, Dracaenas, Agave, Bromeliads and Sanseverias.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Lee Valley Garden Tools Catalogue Feb. 2013

There are not many catalogues that I read cover to cover - except the Lee Valley Garden Tools edition.

Here are items that caught my eye:

Lee Valley's Potmaker
Great way to make little seedling pots for random seeding needs.
Reuses materials and will always come through in a pinch.

Lee Valley's Hanging Plant Rooter
I love this idea. I constantly use my small drinking glasses in order to root on some of my house plants.
The suction cup enables it to be hung directly on the window.

Lee Valley's Flower Well
In the past, I've just lined my wire baskets with a layer of plastic. It's not ideal, but this well enables enough to be stored for dry periods and prevents all the water from draining too quickly.

Lee Valley's Soft Rubber Tie
I bought this last year. Found it to be great. Easy to cut and is gentle on the stems of my plants.
Reusable too.

Lee Valley's Brass Siphon Mixer
I use this at work. It's a great way to water in fertilizer without having to mix several batches.
The larger the siphon pail, the less you have to mix.
Great for organic compost teas. Just make sure the siphon mixture is free of debris.

Lee Valley's Bug Blaster
Yay - I am pleased to see this product. So many times, the use of chemicals are encouraged to treat plants that have insect infestations. When all that is necessary, is a blast of water. Love it.
Would work wonders on dislodging scales too, during their in-star stages.

Lee Valley's Tree Banding Kit
This is a tree's best friend. If your tree struggles from insect infestations year after year, this is your solution.
 Tanglefoot and this tree banding kit works wonders against the Gypsy Moth caterpillar and other insects.

Lee Valley's Upside Down Sprayer
I usually have to hold my plant way up high to reach the underside of its leaves. But this spray bottle lets you leave the plant where it stands. Great idea!

I could showcase more, but then again that's what the catalogue is for. Order one for yourself here. Or have a look at their online catalogue.

Saturday, February 09, 2013

Worms in house plant soil...

"I have worms in the soil of my house plant".  On further investigation, this is not a worm, but a millipede.  When just touching them, they curl into a tight spring like circle.

Here's a closer view. Not to worry, millipede's eat decaying plant matter.  As you can see, the darker areas within the millipede are in fact soil. They help to decompose vegetation. So they are a good thing. However, when numerous are found, they may eat fine roots of the potted plant. So removal is necessary if you want to optimize plant health.

Easy to detect, as they curl immediately when touched.

House plant soil is primarily peat based and a great place for millipedes to hide and nest. There were over 15 found in the above pot - one house plant pot. This potted house plant was brought outdoors during the summer months and I believe the millipede laid an egg stash and once brought into the house, they hatched. Sometimes you find them in your house plant pots because they look to find food or a nesting area when they've made it into your home.  They have a great purpose: to accelerate the breakdown of organic plant matter, acting as "macro-decomposers."  If you find them in your house plants, remove them to your garden or compost bin. They sure are helpful creatures!

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

The Dead of Winter - Part Two

Part two: More plants that offer interest in the dead of winter...continuation of Part One.

Corylus avellana 'Contorta' - Corkscrew Hazel 
 My photo does not do this Hazel justice. The zig-zag and twisted stems are just so visually interesting, you can't help but gaze at it's growth habit. Once mature, the shrub will bear catkins and give more visual interests in winter.

Hydrangea anomala petioliaris - Climbing Hydrangea
Like its shrub counterparts, this vine holds its flower heads over winter, and they stand away from the walls it adheres to. The snow sits and adds real texture to your wall or fence.

Euonymus fortunei 'coloratus' - Wintercreeper Euonymus
This is one of my favourite ground covers. I picked it for its fall colouration that lasts throughout the winter. Unlike english ivy and pachysandra, this ground cover brings colour to the ground in the dead of winter. 

Anemone x hybrida - Snow Drop Anemone
When maturing overwinter, these seed heads open and release their fluff. This fluff catches your eye, and also provides bedding for birds nests in the spring. Quite lovely seeing this in the garden. Great paired with Rudbeckia seed heads.

Cornus sericea - Red Osier Dogwood
Every garden should have this as a background plant. Pruning and thinning of branches gives a great resource to empty winter containers. The bright red stems just add great accents to the container and to the landscape.

Yucca filamentosa - Adams Needle Yucca
A tropical feel poking through snow. I love yuccas. They need to be thinned out every few years, but there's nothing more beautiful, then to see green, healthy and rigid stems still remaining when everything like it goes brown and dormant. 
More to come...
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