Moving Houseplants Indoors & Pests that May Come with Them
by Don Janssen, Extension Educator
When cool night temperatures signal that it's time to bring indoors houseplants that spent the summer outside, a host of insects and insect relatives may come indoors with them.
Some are insects that feed on houseplants. Indoors, these can undergo a population explosion and spread from the plant they came in on to others in your home. Other pests -- such as millipedes, centipedes, sowbugs and pillbugs, spiders, and ground beetles-- may not harm plants or other materials, but their presence indoors makes them household nuisances.
Even shrews and slugs have been known to come indoors in plant pots or in that moist, cool area between the pot and the saucer. The family cat might be happy with a live shrew for a plaything, but chances are the homeowner is something less than thrilled.
Millipedes, the so-called thousand-legged worm, have hard, multi-segmented bodies with two pairs of legs on each segment. The common ones have around 80 pairs -- 160 legs -- and are dark-colored and cylindrical.
Centipedes -- "hundred-legged worms" -- also fall short of living up to their nickname. They usually have 18 segments with one pair of legs per segment for a total of around 36 legs. The common types are flattened rather than round and have long, fairly distinct antennae. The house centipede is the most common centipede found in homes.
Millipedes feed primarily on soft, decayed plant materials. They're commonly found inside and under rotting logs, around compost piles, under garden mulch and in lawns with heavy thatch. They prefer a spot with abundant moisture and cool temperatures -- such as the space between a clay pot and its saucer. Once away from moist areas, millipedes will die in a day or two. Centipedes are fleet-footed predators that feed on insects and other arthropods, subduing their prey with the help of a toxic bite. They'll bite in self-defense if they're handled.
Sowbugs and pillbugs are land-dwelling relatives of lobsters, crabs, shrimp and other marine crustaceans. They can survive only in areas with abundant free moisture or high humidity. As any youngster interested in bugs can tell you, the main difference between sowbugs and pillbugs is that pillbugs can roll up into a hard ball when disturbed, thus their nickname, 'roly-poly'.
Both feed on soft vegetation, particularly plant material that has begun to decay. Like millipedes, they tend to hide during the day and become active at night.
Spiders, like centipedes, are predators and use toxic fangs to subdue their prey. Most people appreciate the work that spiders do but prefer that they do it outdoors.
Ground beetles coming in on plant pots are likely to be ï¿½ to ï¿½ inch long and dark-colored. Like all beetles, they have hard shells. Whether predators or seed eaters, they tend to be active at night and hide during the day.
These pests are best controlled mechanically -- by broom and dustpan, vacuum cleaner, flyswatter or sole of the shoe.
Better yet, inspect plant pots closely before bringing them inside. Separate pots and saucers and dislodge any creatures lurking there. Shake or tap pots vigorously to disturb beetles, millipedes, spiders and other creatures and encourage them to leave their hiding places.
If you find scale insects, mealybugs, aphids or other plant-destructive pests, use a hard stream of water or insecticidal soap to remove them. Then quarantine these plants separate from other uninfested indoor plants and observe them closely, treating any new outbreaks as they occur. Discard severely infested plants.
University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension in Lancaster County is your on-line yard and garden educational resource. The information on this Web site is valid for residents of southeastern Nebraska. It may or may not apply in your area. If you live outside southeastern Nebraska, visit your local Extension office