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submitted by Don Janssen, UNL Extension Educator
Insects on your houseplants? In the winter? Sure -- especially if some or all of your plants spent last summer outdoors, or if you've added to your collection recently. It takes only a few insects hitchhiking into your home on a single plant to multiply into an outbreak.
After all, in your home there are no natural enemies to keep insect populations in check. And the climate indoors, though not as warm as some pests might prefer, is warm enough to keep insects active and populations expanding.
Damaging insects may occur on plant foliage, flowers, stems or roots. Various insects may chew on leaves, suck plant liquids from foliage and stems, devour roots or rasp brown spots on flower petals.
Sucking insects include aphids, mealybugs, spider mites and whiteflies. Chewing insects include beetles and caterpillars. Fungus gnat larvae and springtails may infest plant pots and injure roots. Adult, immobile scale insects may be found on foliage or stems; the more active crawler stage may be found anywhere on the plant.
Controlling pests may be as simple as washing them away with a stream of water or cleaning the plants with an insecticidal soap. Spraying or dipping plants in an insecticide solution is another alternative.
A problem with using chemical insecticides is that malathion, the one most commonly recommended for home use, damages some plants. These include certain ferns, African violets, gloxinia, orchids and begonias. Treating them with malathion is simply trading insect damage for chemical injury.
If you decide chemical controls are necessary, read product labels carefully before you buy anything, and make sure that the plant you want to treat and the insect you need to control are both listed on the label. Read any precautions about plants that should not be treated and follow directions for use exactly.
The label directions tell how to use the product safely and effectively. Following the directions gives you your best chance of success in controlling the insect and minimizes the chance of problems related to the product's use.
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