Pest control for indoor plants | James Wong

It’s easy to keep indoor plants free from unwanted visitors – put new arrivals into quarantine

Time for a controversial opinion… While indoor gardening is often considered second fiddle to its outdoor cousin, I think it is superior in pretty much every way. First, it is far more democratic. The vast majority of people have access to a sunny windowsill, but those with substantial outdoor space (and the resources needed to landscape this) are significantly more limited. Secondly, for those living in less idyllic climes, it means you keep growing all year round, even at 10 o’clock on a stormy February evening. It even comes far less encumbered with dusty, cultural baggage of not only the “right” way to do things, but even the “right” way to think about them – including the idea that indoor horticulture is not “real” gardening.

However, there is one aspect of gardening in the great indoors which can put it at an enormous disadvantage: pest and disease control. Perhaps counterintuitively, although living rooms and conservatories provide in many ways a sealed sanctuary, protected from external threats, these very same conditions mean that if a pest hitches a ride on new plant purchases they can quickly reach plague-like proportions. In a stable, warm, indoor climate with an ample food source and no predators, populations of mealy bug, scale insect, red spider mite and thrips can explode, and quickly cripple the health of many plants. This has been made especially likely in recent years as most of the big houseplant growers in the Netherlands, who supply the vast majority of the market, have done a really commendable job improving their environmental footprint by slashing the amount of pesticides they use to essentially zero. When once plants arrived pretty much sterile to store, they now often come with a hitch hiker or two. Sometimes doing the right thing can have its downsides!

Fortunately, there is an incredibly simple practice that can dramatically reduce the risk of an outbreak striking your indoor oasis – and that is proper quarantine. This is standard practice at all the big botanic gardens and commercial growers, and on a domestic scale takes no more than five minutes work. The first step is to carefully inspect any new plants for signs of pests and disease. You don’t have to be an expert to do this, as most have quite easily identifiable tell-tale signs. If new growth is contorted, mottled or yellow, or there is any evidence of tiny bugs or sticky residue on leaves or stems, this is not a good sign. The best time to do this, of course, is before the plants enter your door. So give everything a good once over at the nursery or garden centre before you make your purchase. If in doubt, do not buy them. If you’ve bought online or via mail order, take pictures and contact the supplier straight away.

Once in your home, place new arrivals in a separate room from the majority of your collection. For tiny flat dwellers like me, this can be tricky, but even a 6ft distance can make a difference. I like to give them a good spritz with a commercial “plant invigorator”, which contains low doses of safe, mild detergents, which act to physically tackle any potential mini beasts that have missed your checks. Keep the plants there for two weeks, if they have stayed symptom free then they can be set free to mix with the rest of your collection.

Follow James on Twitter @Botanygeek

Contributor

James Wong

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
How to tend indoor plants in winter | James Wong
Bringing plants inside isn’t always an act of kindness if you overwater or overheat. Here are the rules for keeping them happy and healthy through the cold season, says James Wong

James Wong

03, Nov, 2019 @8:15 AM

Article image
Indoor plants that move out for the summer | James Wong
Look beyond garden centre standards to these flowering, fragrant plants that love a holiday in the sun, says James Wong

James Wong

24, Mar, 2019 @11:00 AM

Article image
Bring a little colour back to indoor plants
Let’s reintroduce the delight of dainty flowers and elegant blooms to our houseplants

James Wong

26, Sep, 2021 @7:15 AM

Article image
Indoor gardening? Just add flowers
Those of us with no garden can still learn from traditional outdoor techniques

James Wong

07, Jun, 2020 @5:00 AM

Article image
The brilliant indoor benefits of LED grow lights
Grow lamps were once massive, power-hungry, expensive and hot. Meet the amazing new LEDs, says James Wong

James Wong

03, Sep, 2017 @5:00 AM

Article image
Indoor waterlilies, the flowers that float
Not only is it possible, it’s wonderfully easy says James Wong

James Wong

29, Oct, 2017 @6:00 AM

Article image
Floating plants: putting ponds centre stage
Keep your pond sparkling with pretty oxygenators, says James Wong

James Wong

12, May, 2019 @10:00 AM

Article image
How to grow plants using hydroponics | James Wong
Indoor gardeners can forget soil – some plants thrive in water alone, says James Wong

James Wong

17, Jan, 2021 @8:15 AM

Article image
Shady characters: plants for dark corners
These summer bedding flowers thrive in shady areas, adding bursts of colour and natural, woodland look

James Wong

04, Apr, 2021 @7:15 AM

Article image
Grow cut branches in vases for indoor winter magic
Not only does this great trick give you colour and life in the darkest time of year, the branches work as cuttings and can in due course be planted out. By James Wong

James Wong

13, Jan, 2019 @11:00 AM