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Alien Invaders In Your House Plants

blurb: It doesn't take long for a few invaders to start a major infestation of your favorite plant.

Exercising your green thumb is a year round opportunity, even in the coldest, darkest days of winter, when you bring new potted plants into the home. That bold, bright amaryllis can really liven up your interior spaces when you can't be outside. But the joys of indoor planting are sometimes tainted by bugs that hitchhike on your new plants from outside or from the nursery. In the hospitable confines of your home, it doesn't take long for just a few invaders to start a major infestation of your precious plant. The money you spent at the nursery soon goes down the drain.

Fortunately, half the battle is just knowing how to identify the critters.� Then you can use the right control strategy to eliminate or keep the population under control. On a cautionary note, be sure to look on the pesticide label before you start applying it. Is the specific pest listed?� Is the product approved for indoor use? Follow the label directions carefully, they're designed to keep you safe and make sure the product is effective. You can also limit your exposure by treating the plant outdoors, weather permitting, or in the basement utility sink. You may need more than one treatment to cure the problem.

Here are several obnoxious critters and helpful cures.

Mealybugs: Minute, white and oval shaped insects, hanging out in cottony masses. They suck the plant's living fluids and kill it if not controlled.� Solutions include dabbing bugs with a cotton swab dipped in alcohol, spraying with horticultural oil, or using a pre-formulated insecticide containing pyrethrins and labeled for indoor use.

Spider Mites: Tiny, almost invisible bugs that usually manifest their presence in yellow stippling (dots) on top of the leaves. Once they're really bad, you'll notice webbing. One way to confirm this pest is to hold a white notecard or piece of paper under the leaf while gently tapping the leaf's upper surface. The buggers should fall off and become visible on the paper. Treat with superior grade horticultural oil or a miticide.

Aphids: Green, black or yellow oval-shaped insects. They're sap suckers that can cause distortion, discoloration or stunted growth on leaves. Spray with horticultural oil or insecticide using pyrethrins.�

Whiteflies: Gross little flies that secrete a sticky substance called honeydew. They feed on the underside of leaves, which then become mottled or yellow. As if that weren't bad enough, a sooty mold can develop on the honeydew for a disgusting combination of bug and gunk. Again, the solution is to spray with horticultural oil or insecticide using pyrethrins or permethrin.�

Slugs and Pill Bugs: Bigger, more obvious critters. Slugs eat holes in the leaves at night. On a smaller plant, just remove it from the pot and check around the root ball, and around the inner sides of the container near the drain holes for the invaders, or tunnels that lead toward the center of the root ball. Usually, slugs and pill bugs can be removed by hand.

Sources used to create this article include H.S. Stevens and The Dallas Morning News.