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Pest-free plants in 3 simple steps.

by The Nitty Gritty Team |
Do It Yourself

As if just keeping plants alive wasn't hard enough, there's always a chance you and your beloved philodendron will find yourselves up against a full-on insect infestation. One day you're standing back thinking, "Maybe I have a green thumb after all." And the next you're the proud owner of a browning, bug-covered shrub.

So, what should you do if your plants are under invasion? First thing's first: don't freak out. At least not about the plant. How you respond to bugs is entirely up to you. But take heart knowing that most plant parents will deal with insects at some point. Even if you do everything you can to prevent infestation in the first place—inspecting plants before you buy them, using clean pots and soil, isolating new plants from others for the first few days or weeks—when you're working with dirt, bugs literally come with the territory.

If you're a plant lover, the words insecticide and pesticide likely make you tense up. (You're interested in nurturing life, after all, not cutting it short.) There are things you can try to get pests under control before resorting to an insecticide. You can spray infested plants with a blast of water, hand-pick insects off leaves, or introduce beneficial insects to the pot or garden, for example. If you've tried all that with no success, you're going to need something a little stronger. The friendliest solution we've found—if not to insects, at least to your health and the plant—is insecticidal soap.




Insecticidal soap is essentially soap diluted with water. It kills common plant pests on contact by disrupting the permeability of their cell membranes, dissolving their exoskeletons and fatally dehydrating them. Yep. Savage. 




One not-so-savage thing about insecticidal soap, though, is that it's a "selective insecticide". Broad-spectrum insecticides work on all insects, including the good ones. But selective insecticides, like the recipe we're about to share, work on the most common soft-bodied plant bugs—aphids, thrips, whiteflies, spider mites, mealybugs, leaf hoppers, earwigs—without harming wee wigglies your plants like having around, like lady bugs, lacewings and bees.

Many insecticidal soap recipes call for regular dishwashing detergent. Convenient, yes. But you should keep grocery store dish detergent far, far away from your plants. Here's why: this stuff isn't simple soap anymore. They contain "power scrubbers” and fragrances, lotions, and other junk, like surfactants. (Don't get us started.) These extra ingredients are thought to be phytotoxic to plants, and may cause their leaves to become discolored, deformed, or even straight up die. 

A clean and simple answer to phytotoxic detergents is Castile liquid soap. A plant spray made with an all-natural, plant-based Castile soap like Cove will wipe out soft-bodied insects without damaging your favorite fiddle leaf fig. You can find commercial versions at home improvement stores, but it's such an easy and cost-effective DIY, you should absolutely try this at home.

Here's the recipe:

Cove 1% Insecticidal Soap

Makes 1 quart.

Gather:

  • 1 quart spray bottle
  • 1 quart water (ideally distilled or filtered; hard water can make the soap less effective)
  • 1 teaspoon Cove Castile liquid soap

Do:

  1. Fill a quart-size spray bottle with water.
  2. Add soap. 
  3. Shake well before use.

Before use:

Do a test spray on a small area to see how sensitive your plant is to the soap. Wait 24 to 48 hours and check for brown spotting before going ahead with a full application. If there is any leaf damage, rinse with water to remove residual soap.

 

Let's do this:

Make sure your plants are well watered before treating. If you’re indoors, be sure to protect your surfaces from overspray. Better yet, move plants to a patio or garage where you can spray with wild abandon. 

Less is more when it comes to spraying anything on your plants, even natural stuff. Apply a fine spray everywhere you see pests, including the undersides of the leaves. Insecticidal soap only works on direct contact with insects, so you'll want to make sure you spray any and all you see. 


Be consistent:

Use once a week (or every 4 days for more serious infestations) for 4 weeks until you see improvement. Stop spraying and let plants rest after that period, so as not to strip their leaves of all the natural oils and waxes that protect them from pests and disease.

This spray is perfect to use indoors and out. It's best to apply it in the early morning or evening when temps are cooler and evaporation slower. Hot, dry conditions can stress plants and increase sensitivity, so avoid using when it's 90°F+ out. 

A pure Castile liquid soap like Cove Unscented is going to be the most versatile. If you need a little extra help with certain creepy crawlies, a Castile soap with essential oils could provide an added punch. Lavender is known to repel mosquitoes, moths, flies and fleas. Peppermint deters whiteflies, aphids, cabbage loopers, and squash bugs. 


Keep plant care simple, friends.
Cove


Have you tried insecticidal soap? How'd it go? Or maybe you have a killer plant care trick of your own! Please share. We can use all the help we can get.

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