Olbrich Home Bolz Conservatory

Pesticide alternatives for houseplants

by John Wirth, Olbrich Conservatory Curator

As we all strive to provide the best growing conditions for our houseplants, we often create a comfortable home in which plant-damaging insects can also thrive. We give those bugs not only a cozy environment in which to reproduce, but a tasty food source as well. At some point in your plant growing pursuits, you may find yourself with a need to control these pests.

To eradicate these unwanted houseguests you don't necessarily need to expose yourself or other unintended targets to toxic chemicals. In the Bolz Conservatory we're always looking for the least toxic method to reduce the insect population on our tropical plant collection. One control used quite often is a simple but thorough washing of the plant foliage.

In the home situation, placing your plants in the bathtub and giving the foliage a gentle rinsing can help in controlling spider mites, aphids, and mealy bugs. Using slightly warm water is best, especially if your water is softened. This softened water is good for giving the leaves a clean and healthy sparkle but should not be used for routine watering of the soil as it contains too many harmful salts.

Make sure your water spray covers both the tops and bottoms of the leaves and wash the plants several times every few days. This method of insect control won't work for all insects, but it will reduce populations of some bugs down to a tolerable level while remaining an environmentally friendly alternative to pesticides.

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Olbrich Botanical Gardens is operated as a public-private partnership between the City of Madison Parks Division and the Olbrich Botanical Society.
Olbrich Botanical Gardens | 3330 Atwood Avenue, Madison, WI 53704. | Phone: (608)246-4550 | Fax: (608)246-4719