Natural Pest Control for the Indoor Gardener
To a plant, our home is a micro managed paradise! The temperature is always perfect, there is usually a nice sunny spot and for the most part, there is no pesky bugs that can reek major havoc on an unsuspecting plant. However, there is also a lack of the beneficial organisms that help keep life in balance in our outdoor gardens. This means that when a pest does get introduced, it can sometimes sore to epic scales in no time.
Have no fear, we are here to help! There are a few key tips that will help you avoid the problem all together and when a pest does show its tiny annoying face, there are great products out there that will help you ‘deal with’ them in no time.
Tip 1: Know thine enemy
There are a few pest that are well know to indoor gardeners. Learning to recognize them and eliminating them immediately is the best way to avoid long term problems. Here are the most common trouble makers:
WhiteFly (or greenhouse whitefly)
These are the worst. I’ve seen them rise up in a cloud after brushing an infested area. Once they establish, they are pretty hard to get rid of as well. look for small white flies that sort of look like tiny moths. they feed of the underside of leaves and cause the surface of the leaf to change colour and eventually die. The eggs are laid in a spiral on the underside of the leaves they have been feeding on.
Aphid (also know as plant lice)
Aphids suck… the life right out of your plants. These sap hungry buggers can cause havoc on an indoor garden if left unchecked. Aphids will suck the juices out of leaves, stems, buds, flowers fruits and roots of your plants leaving behind a dried up shell of a plant. The good news is they are fairly slow moving and easy to control. Look for yellowing, deformed or stunted leaves and check the underside for little green bugs.
Spider mites can be recognized the the thin protective web they weave around their colony. They also prefer to live on the underside of the leaves of your plants and feed by sucking on the sap found in the leaves and stems. There is about 1200 different varieties of this little pest and some of the more common type are extremely common in urban areas. You’ll quickly notice that section of the leaves will be dried out while the rest remain intact at first. This is a sign to investigate further. At less than a millimeter in length, you’ll want to look closely!
This stuff is nearly impossible to get rid of once it takes hold of a plant. Sometimes it’s best to discard it before it spreads to other plants in your garden. Although this problem is more common in commercial growing than home indoor gardens, it can really weaken your plant and grind productivity to a halt.
It’s pretty easy to identify. It looks like white powdery spots that form on the leaves of your plants. After it takes hold, the leaf will either wilt or turn brown and die. I’ve found that it is best to cut away any leaves that are showing even the slightest signs of it to mitigate any further propagation.
Tip 2: Keep clean
When you are preparing an indoor garden, most problems can be avoided by maintaining a clean working environment. The pests you find in your indoor garden where not just sitting there hoping that one day you’d discover you had a green thumb. They are there because you (or someone else) introduced them. Don’t worry, it’s not your fault. It just happens.. eggs, mold spores, tiny insects… they are out there and somehow mange to find there way into you garden one way or the other. So to avoid this to the best of your ability do the following:
- always wash your hands before you handle your garden. ALWAYS. This is your first line of defence. Plus it is generally a good habit.
- when bringing in plants from outside, wash them thoroughly with a mild insecticidal soap and quarantine them for at least a week before introducing them to you other plants.
- Use indoor specific soil. A lot of the pests that occur indoors are brought in with poor quality potting soil.
- avoid using your home made compost. I know it’s fun to make compost, and it’s great for your garden! But the truth is, there is a lot of problems that can arise from making your own compost, from bringing in pests to much worse. We’ll post a whole other article on composting here, but in the meantime, keep it for outside!
- wash your pots thoroughly when starting new plants. Sometimes eggs will stay dormant for a long time and only activate when we prep them for planting.
Tip 3: Don’t be afraid of the ‘cides’
Did I just say that? Yup. I know what your thinking, pesticides? Really? Use pesticides. There, I said it. More specifically, use a good insecticidal soap and a good all natural fungicide. You can make both of these yourself, or buy all natural ones here, or from any garden centre.
Here are a few recipes that are simple and effective:
insecticidal soap – for all your buggy friends
I start with a base of 1 heavy tablespoon of soap to 4 cups of warm water. This will be enough to fight whitefly. IF you are dealing with aphids or spider mites you may want to add a teaspoon of cayenne pepper to the mix. Be sure to wash both your hands and your food after handling or harvesting if you do this. You can also add an optional teaspoon of apple cider vinegar to the mix as a fungicide.
Fungicide – for Powdery mildew
I have had good results with any of these 3 options. All 3 should be mixed in a spray bottle and vaporized thoroughly from stem to top, making sure to get the underside of the leaves. Remember. if handling a plant with mildew, make sure to wash your hands before touching another plant!
- 1 part milk to 9 parts water (make a fresh batch right before application).
- 1 teaspoon of baking soda to 4 cups of warm water.
- 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar to 4 cups of warm water.
Preventative spray – good practice to avoid potential trouble
Neem oil is a well known to protect plants from both insects and molds that can affect your garden. It is a very safe, natural and effective way of preventing possible disease and pests in your indoor garden! You can either buy a spray from your local garden centre, or make some yourself:
5 ml of neem oil to 4 cups of warm water in a spray bottle. (neem oil is available at most natural health product stores)
Tip 4: Good old fly trap.
Use a fly trap to both catch potential pests and warn you of their presence when they do happen to land in your garden. Here is a good one that I use at home. Make sure to check it often as it will probably be your first warning sign of whitefly.
All in all, the secret to maintaining an indoor garden in good health is experience. Don’t let the possibility of some pest getting in your grub get you down. It will happen at some point and the better prepared you are to handle it, the easier it will be put behind you! Don’t let a few potential problems prevent you from experiencing the ultimate joy of growing your own food indoors!
most of all – Keep calm and garden on!