, Salem, MA


November 22, 2013

Column: When unwanted pests come in with your plants

Q: All of a sudden there are little white things flying around my plants. I never had them before, but I think maybe they came in with the plants I had outside all summer — or maybe a new plant I bought in December that was very wet when it came. What could they be — maybe white flies? But they seem to be staying closer to the dirt.

A: Could be either! Use a soap spray to get rid of them. The real trick to getting rid of white flies is to be persistent with the spraying. Repeat every week to 10 days, and there will be a better chance of killing each generation as it hatches. If you don’t get rid of them, you’ll see leaves begin to yellow and drop — and the plant will die. You will see them fly any time you disturb the plant — shake gently or brush by and you’ll set off a cloud of the tiny pests.

Fungus gnats are common in plants that were outside — they thrive in rich, moist soil. The gnats live by eating the plant roots, so you do need to get rid of them for that reason — and for esthetic reasons!

The same soap spray that you use for white flies will help. Use it as a ground soak. But easier still is to place a half-inch layer of dry sand over the top of soil in the pot. Sand will keep the soil surface drier, and the tiny bugs won’t be able to reproduce as rapidly, as you’ve changed their ideal living conditions.

Q: I have a basil plant (started from seed last spring, of course!) that has grown into a small bush. It’s still outside (in a pot, not the garden) and I’m wondering, can I bring it in and winter it over? I did that with a pepper plant one year and was eating peppers earlier than ever the next year!

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