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slow death of all my house plants

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by ab on September 11, 2005 03:54 AM
All was going well with my new plants, all bought this past winter. In the spring, a basil and rosemary plant were introduced. The basil plant succumbed to what I think were spider mites. I threw it out, and all seemed okay. After a week out of town, I came back to two more infested plants (dying, webbed, with just-visibly crawling creatures) , and threw them out. Again, a month later everything seemed fine, but with another week out of town, one more is now definitely infested with mites, the others are not looking so well.. I pulled leaves off of two different plants that were not looking well, and a white substance oozed out of both. It seems that all of my plants (6 now) are becoming infested/diseased, though they are in various points around the apartment and I do not understand how the mites spread in this way..

Any help/advice is hugely appreciated. I am a novice in plant-raising, and this recent turn has been quite frustrating.

Is there hope in battling the mites, or should I throw them all out and start with new plants? If I do the latter, is there advice in preventing them for the future, or particular plants less susceptible to mites?

Also, fyi, I live in an apartment that gets very hot/dry during the days when I am not here, hence a lot of the problem..
by Torby on September 11, 2005 08:55 AM
Not really an expert, but try spraying them with soapy water.

My apartment plants usually die of root trauma from being blown off the windowsill all the time. [scaredy]
by Will Creed on September 11, 2005 09:34 AM
AB,

I hear your frustration.

If you buy plants from quality sources, they probably are pest-free because quality nurseries spend the extra money to take preventive pest measures. Discount growers don't bother because they are looking to save money. When you purchase a plant, always inspect it very carefully in good light for signs of insect pests.

Even so, insect pests may be present on a plant in very small, almost undetectable, numbers for a very long time without increasing their numbers. This can happen with healthy plants that have immune systems that prevent the pests from multiplying. However, once a plant is under stress from inadequate light or poor watering, then it is susceptible to pests multiplying rapidly if the pests are already present. This is why a plant can appear to be pest free for many years and then suddenly get an infestation for no apparent reason. Thus, pest infestations are often an indication that a plant is under stress for other reasons. Treating the pests may not be enough if the plant is not getting enough light or too much water.

If you live in a small NYC apartment, as I do, then it is easy for plant pests to travel from one plant to another. They can also spread via your hands, your watering equipment, your tools, your clothing, and air currents.

Herbs are very prone to spider mites and they are often under stress indoors because they don't get adequate light. You didn't mention what other plants you have (had!) in your collection, so I can't comment on them.
by ab on September 12, 2005 12:38 AM
Thank you so much, and what you wrote makes a lot of sense..

Are there particular plants that would be better suited for an NYC apartment, one which gets very hot and dry during the days? This seems the largest problem with my plants, as well as my trips out of town necessitating closed windows for days at a time. I thought the rubber plant would be fairly durable, but this is the one in the worst grip of mite gangs at the moment.

I have been spraying (with water) all of the plants under the faucet for the past few days, and also sprayed with soapy water.. I just don't know if it's worth battling, the mites still seem to be getting the better of them all. Is it wise to hold onto them?
by Will Creed on September 12, 2005 02:50 AM
Ab,

I have sent you a Private Message in response to your most recent post.
by Triss on September 12, 2005 03:33 AM
I have to say I am not an expert in houseplants, but wanted to toss out that maybe cactus would do better in a heated indoor environment as they require less care. Anyone can correct me if I am wrong here. Just wanted to throw that out.

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We are all under the same stars... therefore we are never far apart.
by Will Creed on September 12, 2005 03:58 AM
Good suggestion, Triss. I would add that other succulents, such as Jade, Aloe, Sedum and Euporbias are also good options.
by Triss on September 12, 2005 04:11 AM
Did not think about those ones. Question Will, do all of those do well with no direct light? I have a very bright bathroom but it gets no direct sunlight at all and I have not put anything in there because of that.

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We are all under the same stars... therefore we are never far apart.
by Will Creed on September 12, 2005 04:33 AM
Hi Triss,

Most succulents do require at least some direct sun each day. What is the source of light in your bathroom? Describe it in detail and then I will be better able to assess it for you.
by Triss on September 12, 2005 05:05 AM
There is one window that faces due north. The counter top is on the south side of the room and offset from the window so any light coming in is very indirect, but in general the room is bright. Even if I were to put a plant in the window it would get very little direct light.

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We are all under the same stars... therefore we are never far apart.
by Will Creed on September 12, 2005 07:44 AM
Hi Triss,

There are lots of plants that thrive in bright indirect light, which is what you have close to your bathroom window. Even a Cactus would be OK there for a long time as long as you didn't water it too often.

Space is often a problem in bathrooms, so you may be looking at small plants. Sedums are very good. Small Bromeliads would also do well on the windowsill and would add color. Pothos are good hanging plants, if you want to do that.

You have lots of options. What would you like to have in your bathroom? And where would youn like to locate the plants.
by Triss on September 12, 2005 07:50 AM
We have a ton of counter space actually. I would love something there. And would like a hanging plant over the tub, ceiling is high enough and the window is close. I would prefer not the window sill. Also directly across from the window is a corner shelf that I would like plants on. Each shelf is about 5 inches from the next, 5 total.

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We are all under the same stars... therefore we are never far apart.
by Will Creed on September 12, 2005 08:00 AM
How about a Pothos as your hanging plant? Some small ferns might do well on the 5" shelves. (Be sure not to ever let them dry out.). Try a ZZ Plant and an Aglaonema on the counter top.
by Triss on September 12, 2005 08:32 AM
Works for me, I will look for them! Thanks!

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We are all under the same stars... therefore we are never far apart.
by ab on September 12, 2005 09:09 AM
After another 24 hours, and several washings of the leaves (which may have made it worse), it looks like the mites have won out. Two met their final death to the garbage this morning, I am preparing to let go of the rest tonight.

So, the next question is..

How long should I wait before buying new plants?
Do mites lay dormant for a while, or live on other substances?

Thanks for all your help, much appreciated
by Triss on September 12, 2005 09:16 AM
So sorry that you were not able to save your plants. I am sure that Will can tell you all you need to know about starting over.

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We are all under the same stars... therefore we are never far apart.
by Will Creed on September 12, 2005 10:36 AM
ab,

Sorry about your plants. Mites need plant tissue to suck on to survive. Don't reuse soil from discarded plants and wash the pots with soap and water. Buy healthy plants from reputable plant sellers. Be vigilant and you should be OK.
by ab on September 14, 2005 06:40 AM
Are there particular plant sellers in nyc that you might recommend?
by Will Creed on September 14, 2005 09:24 AM
Ab,

I can best answer your question by phone. Call me at 212-807-7642 or 917-887-8601.

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