Fungus gnats, scale, whiteflies, spider mites, ants… there are a wide variety of creepy crawlies that can affect your indoor plants – and make having plants indoors at all downright unpleasant. Here are some safe, natural remedies that can help keep your potted plants, indoor garden or greenhouse happy and healthy.
Probably one of the easiest and most cost-effective natural remedies available, simply mix about five tablespoons of Castile or other natural dish soap with four cups of water and spritz over your plants and soil surface. This treatment is great for dissolving the waxy covering that protects the exoskeleton of pests like aphids and spider mites, causing them to dehydrate and die. It’s wise to test the spray on a leaf or two before you treat an entire plant: some plants are sensitive to soap and may react badly. If the leaves show signs of distress, dilute your solution or try a different type of soap. Be sure to avoid anti-bacterial or dishwasher soap, degreasers or skin moisturizers. Tap water is fine to use, but bottled might be necessary if you have hard water in your area. You’ll know if you find soap scum building up on your plants.
With an impressive array of uses, Neem Oil is one of the natural remedies you must have for your garden, indoor or out. It deters pests from eating plant matter that is coated in it, and disrupts the hormone and growth cycles of pests, preventing proper maturation for reproduction. As an insecticide, Neem Oil kills soft-bodied insects like aphids, mealybugs, mites, thrips and whiteflies on contact. It also doesn’t harm beneficial insects in the area. While it kills plant parasitic nematodes, it doesn’t harm beneficial nematodes, which feed on the larvae of pests like fleas and flies. It can also be used as a fungicide and bactericide.
The scent of garlic repels more than just vampires. Lightly crush garlic cloves and poke them into the soil to keep crawling pests away. To treat the whole plant, make garlic tea to spritz on leaves and stems. Boil water, crush cloves and steep them together overnight. Strain when cool to avoid clogging your sprayer. For a weaker, preventative spray, six cloves in one gallon should do. For a stronger treatment, use two full bulbs worth, pureed roughly in a blender. You can kick it up another notch by adding a tablespoon of crushed red pepper, natural dish soap or hot pepper sauce to the mix. If using any spicy ingredients, be sure to avoid contact with your skin and eyes.
Really anything with capsaicin will do. Soak two tablespoons of ground red or black pepper, dill, ginger or paprika with six drops of dish soap in one gallon of water to make an effective spray. You can also use fresh peppers in the same way; simply chop about a half pound and soak them overnight in a gallon of water, add the drops of dish soap, strain and pour in your sprayer. When handling anything with capsaicin, always protect your skin and eyes with goggles, gloves, long sleeves and pants.
It might seem like a sin to waste a beer, but if it rids your garden of slugs and snails, it’s probably worth it. The jury is out on whether this is an effective technique, but it seemed like a fun option to throw out there. Place shallow dishes of beer at soil level to attract – and drown – snails and slugs. Pie tins work well and slimy pests seem to prefer Budweiser. Slugs and snails do, too. You’ll need one every few feet, because they need to smell it to be attracted. It also needs to be deep enough that they drown. Otherwise, they might just escape and only suffer a hangover.
Ever, ever, ever use vinegar in direct contact with plants, at least, not plants you want to live. Vinegar is a fantastic tool in natural household cleaning, but keep it out of your garden. Sprayed directly on leaves, even greatly diluted, will destroy the cell membranes of your plants. If absorbed by the roots, it will dehydrate them. Do spray white vinegar directly on weeds growing up through sidewalk cracks and pavers, because the surrounding area isn’t soil that will someday host life.
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