Aphids, house plants, and quarantine!
Lately, I have been a bit obsessive about checking my plants for mites each day (and keeping my kitchen free of the blasted sugar ants.) I think I wished it upon myself, but the day finally came when I discovered little, insect-like dirt specks… To my credit, I wasn’t haphazardly obsessing without reason.
My neighbors moved out recently and offered me some of their plants and pots. They offhandedly mentioned that some of them had some sort of disease, or possibly spider mites, which they hadn’t really been able to completely eradicate. So, rather than keeping the plants, I decided to keep some of the pots and re-purpose them. I didn’t see any mite activity on the plants when I examined them, but I still decided it would be best to dump the plants and wash out some of the pots. By some, I mean maybe not all of them.* I am not sure why, but I don’t remember washing all of them out. I had quite a few stacked up and I grabbed what looked clean. *This may not even be the reason of my issue. Who knows.
So, over the last two weeks, I’ve been obsessively checking the leaves. One of my plants had a few dirt specks on the leaves. Only for a second did I think they might not be JUST dirt. Well, after washing the plants and seeing new dirt specks appear, I decided to get my zoom camera out. And that is when I discovered:
NOOOOOO!!!!!! What seemed so innocently dirty was actually NOT! Now, I know when you look at these photos, IT SEEMS OBVIOUS that I would have aphids crawling all over my plants, but honestly, without the (awesome!) zoom capture, they look like mere dirt specks when they haven’t completely infested your plant. Little, horrible, uniformly-shaped dirt specks…
Sadly, aphids weaken and destroy plants by sucking out the life-giving sap from leaves, stems, and fruits. Plants attacked by aphids get yellow leaves and start to wilt, dying a slow death. They also transport viral and bacterial plant infections and, because they secrete honeydew, they encourage the growth of sooty mold and fungus. Blah!
So, after pondering the existence of life and the cycles of nature, I put together a plant wash.
1/4 cup castor oil
a few drops of rosemary essential oil (supposedly works for mites, not sure about aphids…)
4 cups water
a few drops of free & clear liquid soap, like Dr. Bronners (only use a few drops, or else you may burn your plant!)
Before spraying on the plant wash, I did a few hose blasts on the little meanies. It didn’t seem to help because a few hours later, they seemed to be even more prevalent on the new growth.
So, my next plant protection purchase will most likely be neem oil. I had rosemary oil on hand, but if it doesn’t seem to be working, neem is my next option. Neem oil is derived from the neem tree. In addition to its insecticidal properties, neem is also a fungicide and has systemic benefits (meaning the plant absorbs it so it can control insects it doesn’t directly contact!) According to the Environmental Protection Association, neem is safe for use on vegetables and food plants as well as ornamentals.
Another option I’m consider is complementing my favorite aphid-loving plants with plants that aphids, well, don’t love. I’ve learned that aphids dislike garlic, chives, onions, mint, petunias. Aphids love nasturtiums (and so do I!) I have lots of mint, so I may try to keep some nearby in a pot once I control the current family line.
Another cool tip I found is to dig banana peel into the ground. :
Cut-up banana peels or use dried banana pieces for this. Dig the cut-up peel or dried pieces 2.5–5 cm / 1–2″ into the ground around the base of every plant that aphids are attracted to. The aphids will soon be gone.
The banana peel seems like a nice way of getting rid of the aphids, even though I am not quite sure what it actually does. I will keep you updated on whether it works or not! If you have any tips on getting rid of aphids naturally, please share!