Category Archives: Slugs and Bugs

Quarantines are Not Just for Humans

By Mary-Jane Pilgrim, Master Gardener

Seeing bugs outside is generally pretty tolerable as we know that many of them are pollinators, but seeing them inside our houses is a completely different story, right? Fortunately, it’s usually easy to manage most indoor pests with little more than some water, a cotton swab, and a soap solution. It all starts with a few preventative actions:

Aphids
  1. Whenever you happily bring home a new treasure (or sometimes, victim!), make sure that you carefully inspect them. Many types of houseplant bugs piggyback their way into your house from friend’s homes or stores. Look on leaf undersides, along the stems, and even in the soil for signs of common pests (sticky substances, flying cloud when disturbed, little bumps, fine silky webbing).
  2. Put your new treasure in solitary confinement for a few weeks, like in a spare room. Even if you think a new plant is pest-free, it may have pest eggs or larvae that you can’t yet see. Watch it carefully and only put it in close contact with other plants after it’s been confirmed to be pest-free. If the pandemic has taught us anything, quarantining is right at the top of the list and it applies to plants as well as humans.
  3. Place a few yellow sticky cards in among your plants. Many pest insects are attracted to the color yellow, and they’ll quickly get trapped on the card. Check the card every few days for any insects. If you have some on the card, you probably have many more on the plant itself.

What if You Detect an Infestation?

The most common pests are aphids, fungus gnats, mealybugs, scale, spider mites and white flies. See this resource for bug-specific instructions.

For all infestations, the first thing to do is to move the affected plant away from all other plants. Quarantine!

Then, take the plant to the bathtub/shower and spray it with water. Many bugs are tiny and are easily washed off the plant. Be sure to rinse both upper and lower leaf surfaces. After the plant has fully dried, use a light-weight horticultural oil or insecticidal soap to smother the pests. Reapply the oil/soap every 10-14 days for two more applications for the best control.

If you detect small bumps, wipe the plants with a cotton ball soaked in rubbing alcohol and remove the bumps if possible.

If you detect pests in the soil, it’s often caused by overwatering. Reducing the amount of water, or watering your plants from the bottom instead of the top should take care of the problem. Spraying the soil lightly with insecticidal soap occasionally often helps as well.

Resources

How to Get Rid of Bugs on Houseplants
Common Houseplant Insects & Related Pests
How to Get Rid of Common Houseplant Pests

Spider mites


A Slimy Subject

by Lois Scott, Master Gardener

I recently read the book “The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating” by Elisabeth Tova Bailey. The author recounts her observations of a common woodland snail while she was bedridden. Although the very title of this book could strike fear and loathing in a gardener’s heart as we imagine our plants being shredded, it was an enjoyable, informative read and made me curious about the slimy creatures that lurk in my garden.

What I have learned about snails and slugs (gastropods) can hardly be described as scratching the surface but here are a few details.

In their natural settings gastropods help disperse seeds and spores, break down decaying plant matter, consume empty snail shells, sap, animal scats and carcasses and provide food for other predators like birds, small mammals, salamanders, turtles and invertebrates like firefly larvae that feed exclusively on snails.

Gastropods are equipped with thousands of sharp teeth that are routinely replaced.

Non-native species of gastropods are higher risk for damaging agriculture and preying on native species of gastropods and are most likely the ones we encounter in our own gardens.

The fact that non-native gastropods are likely the predominant ones in my garden might make me more interested in spending evenings in the garden with a flashlight picking slugs off my plants but some studies have shown that doing so doesn’t make a dent in their populations. So, for the time being I will continue to do what I have in the past which is essentially nothing. In a ‘Laidback Gardener’ blog, Larry Hodgson discusses Snails (okay) and Slugs (bad!) and one in which he discusses the effectiveness of various slug control methods. Both blogs are informative reads.

There is really only one of his ‘effective’ treatments that I engage with in my garden, and that is to encourage slug predators by providing an environment for wildlife. The rest can seem like too much work! Planting slug resistant plants is also something to consider and Larry Hodgson provides a list for that too.

In my garden I find practices such as seeding lettuce in containers and planting out hardened off nasturtium seedlings slow down slug predation but I generally accept some cosmetic damage to plants and at the same time enjoy the sight of the resident chipmunk munching on a slug.

Other Resources

The Secret World of Slugs and Snails’ by David George Gordon

Slugs of the Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern United States