DEALING WITH COMMON HOUSEPLANT PESTS AND DISEASES

Houseplants are usually relatively free of pests – and provided they are properly looked after little difficulty should be experienced with diseases or disorders either. But even well cared for plants fall victim to problems sooner or later. The difficulties that can beset a plant in the home may look formidable, but remember that the chances of most of them troubling your plants is remote. The important thing is to be able to recognize the first signs of distress, and to act quickly. Troubles spotted and treated at the earliest symptoms are much easier to control and cure. Most of the things that go wrong with houseplants are due to cultural mistakes. and these are easy to put right by attention to detail. Once pests and diseases take hold, however, it is almost inevitable that chemicals of some kind have to be used. Select the right treatment. and use it strictly according to instructions, then you can be assured that plants, people and pets are not put

at risk. Treat all insecticides and fungicides used in the home with even more respect than you would in the garden.

USING CHEMICALS INDOORS There are many chemicals besides those mentioned here that will kill pests and diseases of houseplants – but some are totally unsuitable for use in the home. A few could be particularly dangerous to humans as well as pets if used in the confined and enclosed environment of a room: some also have a most unpleasant smell that would be highly undesirable indoors: others may mark or damage furnishings. If it is necessary to use an ordinary garden chemical on houseplants. take the plant outside to be sprayed,, and do not bring it back indoors until the spray has dried. The problem is that for more than half the year the weather is going to be totally unsuitable for this simple course of action. An alternative worth considering, even

for sprays designed for use in the home, is to place the plant in a large plastic sack or clean dustbin, apply the spray while outdoors then seal or cover- and then if the weather is bad place it in a shed or garage. Leave the plant sealed in for 15 minutes, then ventilate to disperse any unpleasant fumes before returning the plant to its rightful place – hopefully completely cured.

Watering the plant with a systemic insecticide may seem a good idea, but it renders the plant toxic for some time and it is not worth the risk if you have pets or young children as they may try to eat the leaves.

Undoubtedly, aerosols are the most convenient form in which insecticides can be bought for indoor use – there is no mixing, if only one plant is affected there is no waste with unused solution, and they are extremely easy to use. Those designed for home use are generally safe. normally containing natural substances such as pyrethrum. Some sprays can be

harmful to fish. so the aquarium must be protected. Care is also needed in the way the aerosol is used – always hold the can at least 45cm (15in) away from the plant, otherwise the propellant may damage the foliage. And avoid spraying a plant standing on a polished surface (don’t spray directly on to fabric either). Some sprays should not be used on open Mowers. Read the label – and lake seriously any advice that it contains. Only use indoors those products clearly marked for use in the home – ‘use only as a garden insecticide’ means just that: only in the garden.

Some of the indoor insect icicles may need to be applied several times (perhaps every three days when dealing with whitelly) to achieve a total kill, but this is preferable to using anything stronger. Another possibility, if there is a stubborn problem and more potent chemicals have to be resorted to. is an insecticidaI clip. If the solution, of say malathion. is placed in a suitable container (kept for the purpose, always rinsed out. and stored in a safe place), a small plant can be inverted by holding one hand over the soil-ball in the pot while supporting with the other, and the foliage clipped into the solution. Always wear rubber gloves if doing this as many poisons can be absorbed through the skin. And even if gloves are used, wash your hands well afterwards – and don’t touch the plant again until the insecticide has dried. Fungicides are not normally formulated as indoor sprays, so these should be sprayed or watered on outdoors.

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