Meet the mites who’ll keep plants bug-free

The Observer Magazine - - Gardens -

With the ex­plod­ing in­ter­est in house­plants, I am in­creas­ingly flooded with ques­tions about how to deal with in­door pests. It seems to be a par­tic­u­lar prob­lem at this time of year as peo­ple bring plants, which have been hol­i­day­ing on the pa­tio over the sum­mer, in­doors and with them come un­wanted hitch­hik­ers. The closer con­fines of plants now ar­ranged more densely fa­cil­i­tates the spread of the pests from host to host, and sealed in the warm, cosy en­vi­ron­ment of a liv­ing room, without the nor­mal sum­mer preda­tors, pop­u­la­tions can quickly start to build. And as plant growth rate tends to slow in the lower light lev­els of win­ter, they can be­come more sus­cep­ti­ble to in­fes­ta­tions, which they might shrug off in sum­mer.

While I tend to adopt a far more lais­sez faire ap­proach to pests out­doors, this unique com­bi­na­tion of fac­tors means that many nor­mally rel­a­tively fuss-free plants, such as alo­ca­sia, plume­ria and brug­man­sia can be­come a real chal­lenge (if not al­most im­pos­si­ble) to over­win­ter. That’s be­fore we get on to the drip­ping of sticky hon­ey­dew these crit­ters can cre­ate, ru­in­ing up­hol­stery and wooden sur­faces. As some­one who has had his fair share of all the above (and, trust me, it pains me ev­ery time), I de­cided to go straight to the source to ask com­mer­cial grow­ers for their ev­i­dence-based tech­niques for tack­ling pests in the great in­doors.

What makes deal­ing with in­door pests par­tic­u­larly tricky is that many pes­ti­cides that could tackle them aren’t ap­proved for in­door use – and for good rea­son. Phy­to­seiu­lus per­sim­ilis, Hy­poaspis miles, mon­trouzieri,

Alo­ca­sia bright­ens any room with its im­pos­si­bly ex­otic leaves and, with bi­o­log­i­cal con­trols, over­win­ter­ing ng it be­comes less im­pos­si­ble, too. Brug­man­sia flow­ers its socks off all sum­mer long out­doors, but often suc­cumbs to red spi­der mite within a few weeks of be­ing brought in­doors. But now there’s a so­lu­tion…

Curry leaves cost a for­tune, but are so easy to grow as house­plants – as long as you can keep the pests off them.

Win­ter won­ders: brug­man­sia and (right) alo­ca­sia

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