Five Best Ways NOT to bring Pests Home
Although you certainly can’t prevent every single pest from entering your house, there are some steps you can take to minimize the likelihood of bringing in bugs. These steps would also apply if you have plants in your garden that you dig up and bring in for the winter, like I do.
Step One: Inspect your Plant
If you’re buying plants from a nursery or greenhouse, very simply inspect them before you bring them home. Don’t be shy about checking on top of the leaves, under the leaves, and even disturb the soil a little to see if anything flies or crawls out.
I would also suggest inspecting other nearby plants. So many of the nastiest houseplant pests can crawl or fly to nearby plants that this is a must! I made the mistake of not doing this years ago and have been battling scale on my houseplants ever since.
Be particularly careful when buying from greenhouses
I’ve found over the years that greenhouses tend to have more pest problems than open outdoor spaces, I assume because outdoors, there are predator bugs to take care of the pests and there is usually more space between plants.
The closer the plants are crammed together in the greenhouse, the more chance for pest problems.
I visited a wonderful greenhouse (that I won’t name because it really is a nice place and their online orders seem to be fine), but their plants were so crowded that I brought home several diseased plants without even knowing it.
Bringing plants in for the winter
This also applies if you’re bringing plants in from your own yard for the winter. Check them over carefully, top and bottom, to make sure you don’t see anything that could potentially be an issue.
Although I’m not a real fan of spiders, I don’t necessarily knock every small spider off my plants before I bring them in (the big ones are another story, however….) The spiders do eat some pests, so I figure having a few hanging around (hehe, hanging around, get it?), won’t hurt anything.
They tend to stay right on the plants they came in on, so we can all get along without too much trouble.
Step Two: Inspect the Root Ball
You’re going to want to inspect the root ball of your new plant (or the one you bring in from outside) for bugs. I don’t recommend doing this at the nursery or greenhouse as they might frown on it, but definitely do it as soon as you get the plant home.
If you see any, the easiest fix is to swish the roots off in a tub of warm water until all signs of creepy crawlies have been washed off. Yes, you may wash off beneficial critters, too, but unless you’re very sure they’re the good guys, you’re better off getting rid of them now, than having a big problem later.
Step Three: Repot your New Plant
Since you’ve hopefully followed my advice given in #2 above, you’ve now got a plant sitting there with no soil or pot. That’s good, we want that.
You’re going to take that naked plant and give it a new home, with a clean pot and brand new potting soil. Doing this almost guarantees that nothing is going to be hiding, just to pop out weeks or months later and give you a nasty surprise.
Wash that Pot!
If you’re reusing a pot you already had, hopefully you washed it with a mild bleach solution and rinsed it well? You didn’t? Well, go do that now, I’ll wait. This step ensures that you won’t introduce any diseases to your new plant either.
I get that sometimes you can’t take the plant out of the pot and clean the roots or repot it. Maybe it’s a 6 foot banana plant or a cactus with 4″ spines and transplanting it is a sure ticket to the nearest Emergency Room.
Have no fear! If you at least inspected it and its friends before you bought it, tip #4 below will help ensure problems are kept to a minimum.
Step Four: Put your plant in Quarantine
When you get your plant home (or bring it in), put it in quarantine. That’s right, isolate it somewhere in your house away from any plants already living there.
A separate room is always best, but if you must put it in the same room as other plants, keep it a good distance away.
Another thought: DO NOT put it on a shelf above your other plants. Yes, they are separate, but there are pests (such as scale and aphids) that can fall from one plant onto another and we don’t want that, now do we??
If you can manage a full month, and it looks clean after that month, you can be pretty well-assured that the plant is clean of pests and can be integrated with your other plants.
Step Five: Give your Plants Space
When you do integrate your new plant into your existing tribe, try not to let them touch each other. I know, I know, that’s tough to do when you have 10 gazillion plants everywhere and no available space.
But as we talked about in our first tip above, crowded plants are more likely to have pest problems than ones that have a bit more space. Partly, this is because many pests cannot fly, so they can only move to a new plant if given a “bridge” to do so.
I believe it’s also due to the fact that more airflow makes for a healthier plant, which makes it more resistant to pests and diseases.
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Bonus Step Six: Feed Those Plants!
Although you don’t want to feed your houseplants heavily in the winter (assuming your winters are cold like mine and you keep your house relatively cool), a healthy plant is much more resistant to lots of bad things, so giving them a little shot of fertilizer every now and again is not a bad idea.
As you can see, it’s not that hard to keep pests on your houseplants to a minimum. I can’t promise that you’ll never, ever, ever see one if you follow my advice, but you’ll be much less likely to have a problem.
You’ll also be much MORE likely to find any problems very quickly, where they can be corrected before they become BIG problems!
If you’d like to read about how to deal with houseplant pests if you do happen to get some, you can read all about controlling houseplant pests here.
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