Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Pests, prevention and cures.

If you are a succulent grower, then you I am sure to have been visited by some pests.   Aphids, Caterpillars, Scale and Mealy Bugs are my most common pests that I see.  This time of year you wont find too many scale, or mealy bugs outside, but if you are over-wintering your plants it is very possible that you have them.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure:  This old saying always made me laugh as a kid, but it makes sense in the prevention of pests.   Here are some great tips for preventing pest breakouts.

1.  Inspect often!   Look at growing points, buds, and stems for scale and mealy bugs.  These two types of pests are extremely hard to get rid of, so catching them soon is vital.   Separate infected plants immediately. I move them out of the greenhouse and put them outside in a sheltered place.  However if you are in an area where that is not feasible you may want to discard the plant.  If it is an easily replaced plant, chuck it!

2.  Spray safer soap when ever you see even the slightest hint of bugs.  Neem oil can also be beneficial, but it needs to be done often.   I try to do one or the other on a weekly basis as a preventative.   Soak plants that seem to have an infestation, above and under the leaves.  If you don't have a pump sprayer you might want to get one.

3.  Air circulation,  set up a fan in your plant area or greenhouse and open the doors as often as feasible. This can help with the pests and keep them from getting started.

4.  Water and fertilize carefully. I keep plants pretty dry in the winter, but in the warmer months water when the soil is dry to the touch, a stressed plant is like fast food to bugs.   I fertilize with dilute fertilizer (1/2 strength) about once a week in the summer or every third or fourth watering in the fall and winter.

5.  Keep it clean! Sweep and discard debris from bottom of greenhouse and off of tables.  Dilute bleach in a sprayer on the floor and tables before setting plants in for the cold season.

So, the ounce didn't work and you need the pound of cure....

Pesticides are extremely dangerous especially if they are concentrated.  Read labels carefully, wear appropriate clothing and safety gear.   Organic pesticides can be as bad or worse for you than the conventional non-organic ones. I always try to use the safest chemicals first then work up to the serious stuff.

This is the order that I usually work in;
Safer soap, or dish soap.
Hydrogen peroxide 1:1
Isopropyl alcohol (I use a q-tip and dot the buggies) some growers are using a dilution of IA, but I had a burning problem when I tried it 1:1.
Neem (but I try to hit everything with neem at least 2 times a month)
Azomax -expensive concentrated neem.
Don't Bug Me (a locally made  pyrethrin pesticide) There are I am sure some that are similar in your garden shop.  (treat as dangerous)
I have also tried Cinnamon oil and other organics.   A great place to find some organic, and powerful insecticides is your local grow shop  (everyone has those right??) Note!  Cinnamon oil is extremely irritating treat it with caution.

There are of course commercial non-organic pesticides, but if you are using the above materials and are vigilant, you shouldn't need anything else.   I will not be making any product recommendations as many of the commercial pesticides are dangerous to humans, pets, and other beneficial insects.   Before you make the jump to the big guns you need to know what the pest is that you are battling, and you need to know the correct concentration and have appropriate clothing and safety gear.   Please also research the product extensively.

Here are some pretty pictures, better than any icky buggies.

Remember that flowers are fast food for bugs and they need to be checked regularly for activity. Aphids reproduce extremely quickly, just one will be a hundred before you know it.  Ants will move aphids around and farm them for their waste products.   Use ant traps as well as any pest regime. 

Snails and slugs are another problem for another day.  My method is trapping them in plastic pots and collecting them every morning.  I also go out before I go to bed and pull them off my plants and throw them in the compost bin or the street.   I will go into them in more detail later. 

I hope you have a succulent day!   Only 27 days till spring. 
 Find me on Facebook! I have a current contest going on.


  1. Thank you for this information. I have had problems with fungus Gnats and have read Neem Oil might work. I think I will give it a try. Can I buy this in any garden center? Thanks. Irene

  2. Yes you should be able to find it, if not amazon has some. Do not buy "pure neem oil" it is sticky on succulent leaves, I use Safer Bioneem. I would suggest trying hydrogen peroxide for the fungus gnats. If the neem doesn't work. 1 part hydrogen peroxide, 4 parts water is what is recommended online, but I usually start with a much lighter concentration of anything I read online.

  3. Good post on these buggers! Mealies and scale are my arch enemies! Just ordered more Neem oil.

  4. Thanks for your very comprehensive blog and FB page. I am just starting my 1st succulent garden in a galvanized steel tub container set up and realize that these insect control suggestion will be needed. Also the fun part-pictures and names of gorgeous succulents and cacti.