Tag: pests

Home Pest Remedy for Houseplants

There are little bugs on my houseplants. Help, I need a safe solution to treat the problem! What do you recommend?

Have you ever wondered how people dealt with problems in the garden long before so many different products were available to us? Well, many times they used products that were common to the household or farm and perhaps designed for other purposes, but could have a positive impact on plants.

For example, it was discovered probably quite by accident that throwing dirty dishwater out the back door onto plants could rid them of certain insects. And over time, this practice of using soapy water in this way became fairly common.

I’ve had reasonable success going up against certain plant loving insects both in my garden and in my house by mixing a couple of teaspoons of dish washing liquid to a quart of water and spraying them.

Now what this solution does is break down the outer covering or cuticle of an insect, making it more susceptible to disease, dehydration and other insects.

If you use this solution, you need to be careful because the same sort of outer covering, or waxy coating is also on plants. And this can damage young, tender plants in particular if you get too much on them. So I recommend spraying a select spot on the plant first, wait twenty-four hours and if there is no problem, go for the pests.

A simple solution of 1 part rubbing alcohol to 3 parts water can have a similar effect on these little devils.

Another tip to keep in mind is to isolate infected plants to prevent the pests from spreading to your other houseplants.

White Flies

Could you please tell me how to get rid of white flies?

One of the ironies of gardening is that often some of the smallest pests can create the biggest nuisance. White flies are a prime example. They plague many of our favorite plants such as gardenias, angel’s trumpets and even tomatoes!

You can see the evidence of their damage in the lack of vigor in the plant and the sickly yellow discoloration of the leaves.

You can tell that you have white flies by doing a simple test. Just shake the foliage of the plant and if a cloud of white insects fly out then you’ve spotted the culprit. I was able to get this infestation of white flies under control with repeated applications of an insecticidal soap.

Now, for this to work best, you really need to soak the underside of the leaves and the top of the plant all the way down to the base. My second line of defense is to use sticky, white fly traps. They are basically adhesive strips that are yellow in color. The yellow color is attractive to white flies and other insects so they’re drawn to land on it, stick, and eventually die.

You can pick these up at your local garden center and they’re easy to install.

Tick Control

Having grown up in the country, I am very familiar with ticks and the problems that they can cause. These days, ticks are no longer relegated to rural settings and their damage goes beyond a few itchy bites. Ticks are carriers of pathogens that can cause diseases such as Lyme arthritis, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and ehrlichia.

Now, back when I was a child the "country remedy" for ridding yourself and your pets of ticks was to bathe in a diluted solution of liquid pine cleaner. In hindsight this was probably not the safest or most effective solution and fortunately we now have better alternatives to choose from.

Brittany SpanielWhenever I am faced with a pest problem I like to take an integrated pest management or IPM approach, which simply means I first take measures that have the lowest impact on the environment. And then, if necessary I take a more aggressive approach later. Below I’ve listed some methods and products that you can try to help eradicate the ticks in your garden.

For Your Garden – Environmental control of ticks is a two-part procedure: clean up and then chemical application. First you need to clean up the area where the ticks are present. Overgrown areas serve as habitat for tick hosts such as birds, rodents and ground squirrels as well as providing the tall vegetation ticks need to gain access to people and pets. In your case the area is a thick grove of bamboo. While it may be undesirable or even impossible to completely remove the bamboo you can thin it out. This will not only reduce the amount of habitat available for tick hosts, but it will also make chemical application more effective. Tall grass, weeds and other vegetation should also be cut back to a manageable level. Be sure to wear protective clothing and plenty of repellent when you tackle this job to minimize exposure to the pests. Light colored shoes, socks, long pants and a long sleeve shirt are recommended so that you can easily spot ticks on your garments. Tuck your pants legs into your socks to prevent ticks from getting under your clothing. Apply repellent to your clothing and not to directly to your skin.

The next step is to apply a pesticide. I like to start with those that are known to be environmentally friendly. I prefer to use a product made from pyrethrins because it is safe and effective. The active ingredient in this pesticide is actually extracted from a plant or a family of plants that we traditionally associate with the fall, the chrysanthemum. For the garden it is best to use a water-soluble product that you can spray using a hose end sprayer. The added benefit of a pyrethrin based products is that they also help control things like roaches, ticks, silverfish, lice, fleas, bedbugs and I like to use it to control ants in certain parts of my garden, particularly when I’m working. One word of caution, while this can’t hurt us, it is toxic to fish, so be careful when applying it around water features or ponds.

You can also use an insecticidal soap to control ticks. Insecticidal soaps are safe for both people and animals.

Before you apply any type of chemical on your plants, make sure they are fully hydrated by watering them well a couple of days before you spray.

Another product to try is a synthetic pyrethroid called Damminix®. This pesticide is packaged as permethrin soaked cotton balls stuffed inside of cardboard tubes. The idea is that tick hosts such as mice will gather the cotton balls and use them for nests. The permethrin kills the ticks in the nests, without harming the mice. Simply scatter the cardboard tubes around your bamboo thicket and in other areas mice are likely to make their homes.

Of course my favorite method of tick control is Guinea hens and chickens. Both are excellent tick eaters.

For Your Pets – Tick borne illness not only pose a problem for you, your pets can contract them as well. So it is important to keep your pets free from ticks. To begin keep your animals well groomed and check them on a regular basis for ticks. You can use a flea comb to remove unattached ticks. If you find an attached tick it is important to remove it without allowing the head or pinchers to break off in the skin. Using blunt tweezers, grasp the tick near the head and gently apply pressure until it withdraws from the skin. Clean the site with antiseptic and dispose of the tick in soapy water or alcohol.

You can use a powdered form of pyrethrin on dogs to eliminate ticks and fleas. If you do this follow the directions carefully as an excessive application can make them sick and DO NOT apply pyrethrin to cats.

Tick collars are a popular method of controlling ticks on both dogs and cats. These collars work best on small to medium sized dogs and cats. Also, it is safest for your animals to use the collars for a limited amount of time. Six days or less of wearing the collar is ideal. When not in use keep the collar in a jar with a tight fitting lid in a cool, dry place.

There are also many topical flea and tick preventatives that you place between the shoulder blades of your cat or dog. These are generally available through your vet.

Sometimes even the most safeguarded pet can contract a tick borne illness. Some common signs to look for include increased bruising, blood not clotting well, nose bleeds, intermittent fever, weight loss, depression, fatigue, and joint pain If you observe one or more of the symptoms in your pet, you should contact your veterinarian.

Termites and Pine Bark Mulch

I have been informed that pine wood chips attract termites. The previous owner covered about a 1/4 acre of our lot with the mulch. Is there a safe way to use them, or should I consider keeping the chips a reasonable distance from the house? We like the appearance and would like to use them again if it is safe.

Many people ask whether wood mulch will attract termites. Studies show that while termites may feed on wood mulch it is not an adequate source of nutrition. Therefore, it is unlikely that termites would seek it out as a food source. However, subterranean termites favor the cool, moist soil conditions created by mulches, especially inorganic ones such as gravel, which retains more moisture. This does not mean you shouldn’t use mulch, just be sure that it does not touch the foundation of your house or any other wood structures such as deck supports, or steps. It is recommended that you keep mulch about 18" away from the foundation of your house. This will prevent termites from attacking your house undetected. It also allows the soil between your house and your flower beds to dry out, making it less attractive to subterranean termites.

You can also apply a termite barrier around the foundation of your house to further prevent termites from moving from flower beds to your home. Check with your pest control company for the best options in your area.

You might want to consider using cedar mulch if available. Its aromatic oils are a natural insect repellent.

Tent Worms

I have a lot of what I call wooly worms this year. They are black with yellow down their backs. What do they eat? I usually see them in the fall not in the spring. Thank you. Jonesboro, AR (zone 7)

What you are seeing are tent worms. I too have seen a huge number of these in my garden this spring.

The caterpillars hatch in early spring about the time leaf buds break. They have a voracious appetite for tender, new foliage especially on fruit trees and roses.

As summer progresses, you will see their webs in the crotches and on the branches of trees.

In time the worms will metamorphose into a tan moth, which will mate, lay eggs and next spring new tent worms will emerge.

Every now and again there will be an outbreak and large numbers of tent worms will appear. An infestation will quickly defoliate a tree, but this is not fatal, new leaves will emerge. However, repeated infestations can weaken the tree making it susceptible to disease and other pests. So it’s a good idea to try and minimize the population.

One method of control is to simply remove the webs from the tree with a long stick, dip the web in soapy water and then dispose of it.

Spraying with an insecticide is also effective. For the least impact, choose an organic product as Garden Safe’s Lawn and Garden Insect Killer.

To get to the worms it’s important to tear into the webbing and spray inside. This treatment may require several applications and anytime you are spraying you should always hold off if rain is in the forecast.

5 Ways to Combat Squash Bugs in Your Garden

The squash bug, Anasa nistis, is a common pest for plants in the cucurbit
family such as watermelon, cucumbers, pumpkins and, of course, squash.
Both the adults and young bugs (nymphs) feed on the leaves and stems of
plants. As they draw the sap out, a toxin is left behind that causes the
plant to turn black and wilt. Referred to as anasa wilt, this condition
will kill young plants and cause stems to die back, and results in
malformed fruit or even no fruit on established plants.

Adult squash bugs are about ¾ of an inch long, with a flat,
brownish-black back, and wings. Sometimes there will be a tan or gray
mottling on the back as well. The nymphs begin life with red legs and a
green abdomen, turning darker as they mature.

Adult bugs hibernate during winter and emerge in spring to mate and lay
eggs. The eggs are produced until mid-summer.Squash Bug and Squash Bug Eggs You will find them on the
underside of leaves clustered around the leaf veins. The adults and
nymphs are likely to be found beneath the cover of dead leaves, near the
crown of the plant or under mulch. Look under anything that offers them

Since squash bugs only produce one generation during the growing season,
early detection will give you the upper hand in dealing with this pest.
If you can break the life cycle this year, there will be less of a problem
next summer.

Here are a few ways you can combat squash bugs.

  1. First, cover your plants with a floating row cover. Leave this on until blooms start appearing. At this point the protection should be removed so that pollinating insects can reach the flowers.
  2. Instead of straw use a dense mulch material around the plants such as grass clippings, compost or sawdust. This will eliminate at least one place where squash bugs like to hide.
  3. Hand-pick and destroy both the insects and the eggs. If you place a board on the ground near plants they will congregate under it. This makes it easier to get rid of a large number all at once.
  4. If your plants are infested, insecticides can be effective on the young bugs. Use something earth-friendly and safe for food crops such as an insecticidal soap. You may need to spray several times.
  5. To prevent squash bugs from overwintering and becoming a problem again next year, clean up your vegetable garden in fall, pull out and throw away the dead plants, and remove anything that they can hibernate under such as straw, plant debris or wood piles.


I have an herb garden and there is something that looks like foam on my parsley, lavender, hyssop, sage and bergamot. I have tried some herb friendly insecticidal soaps, but it still comes back. Do you have any suggestions as to what this may be and how to get rid of it?

It sounds like spittlebugs have moved into your herb garden. The telltale sign being the foam that you mention. In addition to garden plants, spittlebugs are also frequently found in pine trees.

During the nymph stage of their life cycle these little bugs attach themselves to a plant’s stems and create a frothy home where they hide until emerging as an adult. As a nymph the spittlebug is vulnerable to drying out and predators. This froth provides them with moisture and a protective covering. To make the spittle, nymphs position themselves upside down on a stem, ingest plant juice and then excrete it along with air to form tiny bubbles.

The adult spittlebugs are less obtrusive. After several molting periods they will appear in late summer. They are about 1/8 to 1/2 inch long with hard brown bodies and live in lush grasses. They have the ability to hop quite a distance and are often mistaken for leafhoppers.

Spittlebugs won’t cause much damage to your plants although sometimes they can transmit leaf curl disease, which is unsightly but not fatal. In such cases damaged leaves should be removed and thrown in the trash not the compost bin. That being said, an infestation can be hard to work around especially in an herb garden where you will want to harvest leaves and stems on a frequent basis.

Because you are dealing with plants that are edible, I suggest you use natural pesticides in your battle with this pest. During the nymph stage, while the body of the insect is still soft, dusting with diatomaceous earth can be effective. Diatomaceous earth is basically fossilized algae. It acts as both an abrasive and desiccant against the spittlebug, breaking down its outer coating and drying the insect out. Select natural diatomaceous earth and not swimming pool grade (used as a filtering agent) because swimming pool grade is chemically treated.

Both nymph and adult spittlebugs can be eliminated with a pyrethrin-based product. The active ingredient in this pesticide is actually extracted from a plant or a family of plants that we traditionally associate with the fall, the chrysanthemum. For the garden it is best to use a water-soluble product that you can spray using a hose end sprayer. Before you apply any type of chemical on your plants, make sure they are fully hydrated by watering them well a couple of days before you spray.

Finally, one other way you can attack the problem during the egg stage is by applying a dormant oil to the area in late winter or early spring before the leaves begin to emerge.

Spider Mites

I’ve noticed lately that the leaves on my azaleas look somewhat sickly. They are rough looking with the tiniest of spots and have a web-like substance.

It sounds like you have spider mites. The pest itself is microscopic, so it is the resulting damage that alerts you to their presence. Spider mites suck the chlorophyll out of plant leaves causing the foliage to dry up and turn yellow. The leaves become stippled with tiny, light colored dots. Each of these dots represents entire areas of the leaf’s tissue that has been destroyed by the mites. Affected leaves feel like sandpaper, the texture is rough to the touch. Often you will find a fine webbing in and around the plant leaves.

If possible, affected plants should be removed as soon as possible, isolated, if not quarantined, from your other plants. I had success treating my plants with a spraying routine alternating hot pepper spray and insecticidal soap. You can find both of these products at most local garden centers. I first sprayed with the hot pepper, then about 7 days later I sprayed with the insecticidal soap and then the following week sprayed the hot pepper again. It helped that we had a few good rains, as spider mites hate the rain. I saturated the undersides of the leaves thoroughly because that is where the pests reside. Now, even though this method of insect control is earth friendly, I never do a wholesale spraying of my garden. Instead, I spray strictly in isolated areas where the problems persist. And I only spray in the early morning, when my plants are full hydrated.

Optional Commercial Earth Friendly Insect Control:
Neem Tree Oil
Garlic Insect Repellent
Insecticidal Soap
Hot Pepper Spray


My hosta garden is over run with slugs. What can I do to control these slimy garden pests?

I also have problems with slugs attacking my hostas. Just about the time the plants are looking their best, holes begin showing up in the leaves making them appear tattered and worn. However, I have discovered a few treatment options I’ve found effective.

Trapping – Slugs are attracted to cool, moist, shady areas. By placing traps in these areas you can collect slugs and dispose of them. Set an overturned terra cotta flowerpot or inverted grapefruit half on the shady side of the plants you want to protect. Put the traps out at dusk and collect the slugs in the early morning before the day heats up. Beer traps also work well. Slugs are drawn to the yeast. Take an old can with a plastic lid or a mason jar, and cut a hole into the lid. Then fill the can with beer. Bury the can up to lid level. The slugs will be attracted to the beer and fall into the can. Beer traps need to be cleaned out and refilled on a regular basis.

Barriers – There are many commercial slug barriers on the market and several home remedies that work, too. Sawdust, crushed eggshells and diatomaceous earth are effective barriers to repel slugs. If you use diatomaceous earth, be sure use a safety mask to prevent inhaling the dust. The key to these barriers is that they must remain dry so they’ll need to be refreshed after it rains or watering.

Copper – Another, more permanent barrier, can be made from strips of copper. Copper is toxic to snails and slugs. You can purchase pliable copper strips from hardware stores. I’ve also found them at local farmer’s co-operatives. Place the copper just outside the drip line of the plant. Check the strips on a regular basis to be sure there is no overhanging foliage that the slugs might use as a bridge to get over the barrier.

After you set up your protective wall, be sure to collect the slugs that are already hiding around the plant. You can do this by hand picking them at night or setting up traps as mentioned above.

Scale on Houseplants

I have a schefflera that is 20 years old. It has started to “weep” a sticky sap like substance. This has now spread to my palm plants as well. On the leaves of the palms there are small brown nodules also.

It sounds like you have a problem with an insect called scale. These pests have a hard outside coating that makes them appear to be brown nodules. They are most frequently found on the underside of leaves.

The sticky sap that you find is actually secreted by the scale and is called honeydew, an oddly appealing name for such an unappealing substance.

It’s amazing to me how these pests can just suddenly show up. One day the plant looks fine and the next day it’s infested. So how do you handle such a problem in a safe way?

The first thing you should do is isolate your infected plants from your healthy plants.

One way to kill an infestation is to simply use a cotton swab and rubbing alcohol. Dip the swab in the alcohol and brush it on the scale. One touch with the alcohol is all you need. Another way to remove scale is to use an insecticidal soap. You can buy this at a garden center. Follow label instructions. Contact with the soap begins to break down the outer covering of the insect’s body, exposing it to the elements. Now the nice thing about this is that it is made of fatty acids so it won’t harm children or pets.