One thing I like about life is its unrelenting cheerfulness.

Yesterday, I wrote about a pet peeve of mine – buying potting soil, only to get it home and realize there are Fungus Gnats inside. Grrr, I wrote.

Today, like magic, the pet peeve’s gone. Poof! The problem is solved – I no longer am going to worry about those annoying little Fruit fly lookalikes.

I had an interesting day, that’s for sure!

Before I tell you what happened to change my perspective, let’s back up a sec.

Fruit Flies Vs. Fungus Gnats

Both Fruit flies and Gnats are small, annoying bugs that you’ve probably seen before flying around your kitchen, or perhaps floating dead in your lemonade. Gnats are darker, but really, it’s hard to tell the difference with the naked eye. (Maybe that’s because I just don’t care – neither are acceptable in my home.*)

Fruit flies don’t normally live in houseplants – they live where there’s rotting food, like in composts, refrigerators, kitchen trash cans. Often, they’ll come home from the grocery store with bananas or other fruits. Hence the name. Get it? GET IT?

Haha, just kidding. Fungus Gnats, on the other hand, like wet places – wet soil, standing water, drains, plumbing. If there are plants in the house, they should be suspected first.

Clearing the Air: How to Kill Fungus Gnats

I’m going to assume that if you’re still reading, you’re generally a clean person and not one who would leave say, rotting chunks of pineapple at the bottom of your trash can creating a Fruit fly invasion. Why? Because I like to believe that of my readers – you’re adorable and clean!

So, from here on out, we’ll assume you’re battling Fungus Gnats. Here’s what to do:

First, check the soil of your houseplants to see if Gnats live there. Usually, you can see the adults crawling all over the soil. If you’re still not sure, stick your finger in the dirt – they will fly right in your face, leaving no doubt.

Second, once you’ve located the infected plant (or plants, as the *&^% Gnats multiply fifty million times faster than rabbits), pull it away from your healthy plants.

Third, check the plant’s saucer to see if it’s full of water. If it is, empty it.

Here’s the thing about Gnats – they need moisture to live. So either there’s standing water or the soil is really wet.

There’s no shortage of chemicals and toxins out there to kill insects. But they are not necessary.

Here are four safe alternatives to using pesticides to kill Gnats.

1. Use fly traps.

These yellow sticky traps are great! The adult Gnats are attracted to the yellow color, then they get stuck. Lay them on top of the soil, or attach them to the side of the pot. They get gross once they get filled up with dead Gnat bodies, but I suspect you won’t mind as long as they’re not flying in your face.

You can make your own yellow stickies using yellow paper and Vasoline or some other gooey substance. These were $6.99 for seven traps (which I cut into smaller pieces, easily doubling the number of traps).

The traps won’t help you with the larvae in the soil, however. For that, try one of these treatments:

2. Either repot the plant, replacing the dirt entirely. Or, scoop out the top two inches or so of soil and replace it. They lay their eggs in the topsoil, not the bottom. Remove the eggs, remove the problem.

3. Cover the soil with a few inches of sand, suffocating the eggs and forcing the moisture out of the soil.

4. Use clear plastic wrap to suffocate the eggs.

I had a Ficus tree that was infected with Gnats at one of my client’s office. It made me mad, because I had gone to Osuna nursery to get potting soil, Black Gold soil, because the last few times I’d bought Miracle Gro soil at Home Depot, the bag was infested with Gnats. The nursery people kept their bags of soil inside the store, so I figured the chances of it being infected was low.

I was wrong. Within a few days, everyone in the office was complaining about the flying bugs. So I broke out the yellow sticky traps first, and then, I went to town on the grower’s pot with clear plastic wrap. I kept it as tight as possible, so adults couldn’t escape and eggs would be suffocated. Took about a week, but it did the trick.

Rant? What Rant?

Yesterday, I was ready to rail against soil companies and places like Lowe’s and Home Depot, who store their potting soil bags outside in the elements, making them vulnerable to Fungus Gnats.

I’ve been really frustrated because it seems like there’s nowhere in Albuquerque to buy decent potting soil. When you’re in the plant care business, that’s important! Even if you’re not, you should be able to buy soil that at the very least isn’t already infected with Fungus Gnats.

But then something nice happened.

I stopped by a different local nursery, Jericho Nursery, which some of you may remember from my post about holiday plant gifts.

One of the employees was outside when I pulled up, so he immediately asked if he could help me find something. I asked about the yellow sticky traps for Gnats. As he was showing me where they were, he started to tell me that Fungus Gnats are a classic symptom of over-watering. I laughed and said I knew.

We got to talking, and I asked if he’d noticed how many bags of potting soil are already infected with Fungus Gnats. He looked at me quizzically and asked what I meant.

He said the potting soil they use isn’t infected. It’s called FoxFarm soil. Check out their website, they’re a family-owned farm, and seem really nice!

And there it was. Just like that, my pet peeve was gone. Why would I worry about Fungus Gnats again when I know now where to buy bug-free soil? This is my second visit to Jericho, and I do believe they have a customer for life.

There’s a Lowe’s five minutes from my house, and a Home Depot that’s not too far. It’s been so convenient for me to shop there for potting soil or the occasional plant. But I’m starting to realize how widespread the consequences of shopping there can be – I unknowingly buy infected soil, bugs break out in an office, my clients get annoyed, I scramble to kill the bugs.

Now, I know how to avoid all that hassle. Life’s fun like that.

Not to Kick a Big Box Store When It’s Down, But…

I visited the Lowe’s downtown (the one at 12th and I-40) yesterday to take pictures of the potting soil outside. Before I left, I couldn’t resist checking their houseplants for Mealy bugs.

Can you see the bug? It’s that white spot at about nine o’clock on the inside of the leaves. That’s pathetic, it was the first plant I picked up!**

Coming Up Tomorrow!

We’ll back manana with a new edition of Ask the Experts. Hope to see you there! Until then, happy indoor gardening everyone!


* It’s only fair to note my hypocrisy in my view of bugs. Awhile back, I scolded my then 13-year-old niece because she killed a spider she’d found on the wall by putting a band-aid over it and smashing it. “Why are you killing spiders?” I demanded. “What’s that spider ever done to you?” At the same time, I conveniently neglected to mention that I was in my own personal war against a steady stream of ants determined to invade my kitchen. I probably killed ten thousand ants to her one spider. So who I am to decide that Gnats must die? Because I’m human, and this is my house. I also decide what gets to live in my yard. Sorry, Gnats and Goatheads, better luck next incarnation!

**I’m totally taking advantage of the growing trend to ignore the rule of not ending a sentence with a preposition (I say lest you were just about to call the Grammar Police).